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eople quite frequently and a little hesitantly tend to ask Sunkrish Bala, “Were you by any chance on Grey’s Anatomy?”

A fair enough question, since the 22-year-old actor has made eye-catching appearances on such hit television shows like Will & Grace, CSI: NY and My Name is Earl. And yes, he was on a very memorable episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Just pop in your season two DVD and reintroduce yourself to Meredith’s one-night stand who later develops a case of priapism. Yes, he’s that guy.

“I watched Grey’s Anatomy from the first episode and then all of the sudden there I am kissing the main character. Because everyone watches the show, I had a good week of recognition,” Bala recalls. “And when the DVD just came out, people started pointing me out in the street, ‘There’s that penis guy, again.’”

License To Be Funny
License To Be Funny

You quickly learn that this up-and-coming star is just as funny in person as he is on screen. So it’s no surprise that the actor will soon be recognized for more than just his guest appearances. The UCLA grad is starring in the upcoming ABC comedy Notes from the Underbelly. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the series chronicles the lives of three couples embarking on parenthood. Bala’s character Eric and his onscreen wife (played by Melanie Paxson, of Glad Bag commercial fame) find out they are pregnant.

“We’re the couple that’s just way too excited about everything,” he says. “We’re too enthusiastic about being good parents. We assume everyone shares in our enthusisasm, but just end up being a little overboard.”

So how did the young actor relate to playing a soon-to-be dad? “Being 22, I know nothing about this,” he says with a laugh. “It helps a little bit because the guy I’m playing is absolutely ridiculous. And that helps, because I understand that. I understand someone who’s just exuberant about everything.”

Just pop in your season two DVD and reintroduce yourself to Meredith’s one-night stand who later develops a case of priapism. Yes, Sunkrish Bala is that guy.

Bala describes the new show as a mix between Arrested Development and Sex and the City. In a sea of gimmicky sitcoms, he explains, “It’s the kind of show where you want to get to know these people and see where they’re going week after week.”

Hear Bala talk about Notes, and you instantly realize how excited he is about becoming a series regular: “I didn’t think things would happen for me so soon.” But Bala won’t just be seen on the small screen. He also recently co-starred in his first motion picture: American Blend with Bollywood star Anupam Kher. The film opened in India in September and releases in North America in 2007. Bala describes it as very much “a family’s story” involving a mixed marriage (his father is played by Kher, with American stepmom played by Dee Wallace). Bala says “Thank god, it’s not about cultural identity or some guy who changes or anglicizes his name because he’s ashamed of his Indian culture and then learns a lesson. It’s more the director’s idealized version of America and about how a family deals with each other.”

The San Jose native embarked on the path to his thespian dreams early: While only in high school, he started a theater group with other South Asians in the Bay area. And it was around this time that he met someone who would push him towards a career in acting: “Kal Penn is the guy who convinced me that I should do this professionally and talked me into going to UCLA.” Both are graduates of the university’s theater program.

“I gravitate toward comedy, because I understand it. The moments I remember from my life the most vividly are the most excruciatingly awkward moments.”

In fact, Penn and other South Asian actors maintain a strong supportive network as the group works to move away from stereotypical roles. Bala has been fortunate enough to be offered parts—such as the one in Grey’s Anatomy—that are ethnically ambiguous. He’s particularly proud of Notes from the Underbelly: In the first 13 episodes, “there is not one ethnic joke.”

sunkrish-bala-3.jpg
The cast of Notes From the Underbelly

“I don’t have a problem with playing Indian and I’ve done it before,” he says. “The problem I have is, it just seems so tired playing on ethnicity as a punch line. That seems to be happening less and less but it’s definitely still out there. The town I arrived in is different from Hollywood now. When I first got here, the vast majority of roles were cab drivers, terrorists, 7-11 clerks. And even though I look as Indian as they come; now they are much more willing to see me as just another guy versus an Indian guy.”

Just another guy who no doubt has some interesting laughs in store for us. “I love comedy,” Bala says. “I gravitate toward that, because I understand it. The moments I remember from my life the most vividly are the most excruciatingly awkward moments. And that I’m able to translate best to my work.”

Translate away, Sunkrish. We’re looking forward to it.n

Sarah Das is very excited about seeing the premiere of Notes from the Underbelly. She also worked very hard to refrain from asking Sunkrish about Dr. McDreamy.
Published on December 4, 2006.
Photography: Courtesy of Sunkrish Bala and ABC.
Comments are closed.
  1. December 7, 2006, 5:55 pm Amee

    I like Bala’s comments about branching out beyond typical indian humor such as the cab driver jokes or 7-11 or curry or whatever it is.
    And then there’s THE KUMARS at 42…i’m not english enough to appreciate everything that show offers.
    This one looks like my kind of humor. I can’t wait!
    You know i LOVED acting in middle school and high school. This article really inspires me to act again. 🙂 But for now I’ll be acting as a dorky mechanical engineer…. 🙁

  2. December 10, 2006, 8:25 pm Seema

    Good looking guy! Excited to see what happens with him… hopefully he doesn’t end up making crud like that van wilder.