From Engineering to Entertainment? It’s No Joke for UC’s ‘Funny Indian’
UC probably won’t be altering its engineering student recruitment pitch anytime soon. Rajiv Satyal, CEAS ’00, aka “The Funny Indian,” is more of an outlier than a typical example of where engineering degrees might lead. And yet, perhaps his story speaks to the essence of the UC experience.
A Cincinnati native born to Indian parents, Rajiv originally started college at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland but missed the fuller student experience that he knew existed back home. “I found it at UC — it felt more real,” he said. “I got involved in Student Senate, became president of the engineering honors society, and took part in the nation’s first co-op program, working at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Johnson & Johnson.”
Like so many of his Bearcat peers, Rajiv traces a key turning point to the vision of a faculty member. He asked the late Dr. Monte Pool if he could take a co-op quarter off to intern on Capitol Hill.
“Approaching his office, I was physically shaking,” Rajiv recalled. “He was as much a student’s teacher as you could imagine, but also such a hard-core engineer. Well, he thought my missing ten weeks of co-oping was ... a swell idea. He said something like, ‘You’ll further enhance your leadership skills and bring some cross-pollination to this department. I think it’s exactly what we need.’ Imagine my pleasant shock. But it was this embrace of the real world that I found so refreshing at UC.”
It was one of a series of developments that ultimately let Rajiv be Rajiv. Two years into his materials engineering studies at UC, he knew something else was in store for him. “I liked it, but I didn’t love it, and people told me my personality was more suited to business. I like to think I have the brain of an engineer but the ... heart of a marketer? If marketers have hearts, even. Ha.”
Rajiv started with Procter & Gamble, progressing from purchasing to media to marketing before finally giving way to the entrepreneur and comedian that had been clamoring to get out. He’d done his first standup sets as a UC student, even opening for Dave Chappelle at Zimmer Auditorium in 2000. Once he decided to go “all in” and pursue his dream in California, he knew he could draw on the breadth of his UC experiences — people, opportunities, abilities.
So far, so good. Among many other things, Rajiv has co-founded the world-touring Make Chai Not War, a Hindu/Muslim show that played seven Indian cities in 2012, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. He has spoken to audiences from Fortune 500 companies to NFL players on innovation, diversity and personal branding. He does standup at over 40 colleges annually and all of L.A.’s major comedy clubs. And he has garnered more than 2 million YouTube views, performed on three continents, and been featured in a variety of major media.
“I still have friendships from UC who I’m guessing will be lifelong,” Rajiv said. “I enjoy going back to speak and perform. My UC education is valued by world-class companies, and I highly recommend UC whenever people ask me. But mostly I treasure the network of family, friends and acquaintances I’ve built along the way. I can’t do it without their support, and though I’ve lived in LA for six years, my heart is still in Cincinnati — and yes, I have one.”
Rajiv Satyal can be found and followed at funnyindian.com, on Facebook and Twitter.