Exit Interview: Comedian Yogi Paliwal

Another week, another young comic leaving Seattle for a first-tier media market. This time it’s Yogi Paliwal, host of The Early Late Show with Yogi Paliwal and a genial, humane and reliably funny presence at shows around town for the past six years.

He’s part of a cohort of comics who started before the current so-called “comedy boom,” actually more of a “comic boom” since the number of performers has skyrocketed while audiences, pay and opportunities remain the same or continue their slow decline (more on that in an upcoming column).

He’s been doing standup here for as long as he’s been a legal adult, long enough to have started at the Comedy Underground’s earthquake-mangled original location. He leaves for New York with an established sensibility, a handful of successful productions and festival credits, and enough youthful optimism to warm him through the brutal East Coast winter.

I conducted an Exit Interview with Paliwal, who leaves early next month.

It seems inevitable that ambitious comics will eventually leave Seattle to go to LA or, in your case, New York. Describe the moment when you decided you were going to move. 
There wasn’t really a plan when I started comedy or even for the first three years. I wanted to move, but thought I needed to finish my degree or figure out a career outside of comedy before I left Seattle.

I worked the door at the Comedy Underground when Heneghen stopped closing out the open mic. It felt weird without someone to properly end the show. I knew I wasn’t tenured or ready for it, but I decided I want to try to be that performer. That was probably about three to four years ago. It’s how I got enough stage time to stretch and be comfortable on stage. 

About a year ago I got tired of telling people I hadn’t been to LA or New York so I took a weeklong trip, three days in each city. LA was fun, but New York felt like an old glove. The moment I got off the subway in Union Square I felt exactly what it was. The best of the best in every profession have worked tirelessly to be in the great city of New York. If you aren’t there to be great, get out of the way. After that, the wheels went in motion to figure out how I could move.

How long have you been doing comedy? What was the scene like when you started? Who did you look up to? Who were your contemporaries?
The first open mic was on January 28, 2008. I was 18 years old, and it was at the old Comedy Underground. 

The comedy scene then is hard to describe. I used to say it felt a lot colder as a comedy community, but to be fair I was 18 years old. I didn’t feel like I belonged, but I knew that this is where I wanted to be. 

The comedians who made me want to pursue stand up are Dave Attell and Zach Galifianakis. In Seattle I looked up to Solomon Georgio, Rylee Newton and Ross Parsons. They were where I wanted to eventually be in stand up. 

My contemporaries are hard to describe, because no one really started around the same time I did. So here’s a list of comedians who started in Seattle, which I consider my peers. Barbara Holm, Mike Coletta, Nam Huynh, Andy Palmer, Albert Kirchner, Sean Murphy, Evan Morrison, Cameron Mazzuca

What do you like about comedy in Seattle?
I really love the fact that since we are in a secluded part of the country, and because of the issues with how expensive it is to film in Seattle, there is zero to little influence from the industry. No one is told be anything they aren’t, and in comedy that is one of the most important factors in finding your voice. It’s not a town where you can get away with being flashy. I like that. It’s not about money and fame. The city respects talent. 

What would you change about Seattle comedy? What won’t you miss about this city? Feel free to burn bridges!
I would change nothing about Seattle. This town has been great to me. Yes I’ve had my gripes, but the more I think about it the more I honestly feel that this town is one of the best places to hone your craft. Seattle treated me right. It doesn’t do that to everyone. I’m very happy to say I can leave Seattle on good terms.

This breakup feels mutual. Seattle knows I need to go, but I’ll miss those rainy nights when Seattle stayed up late with me and held me when I thought I wasn’t good enough. Thanks Seattle I’ll never forget you. 

Oh, but the Seattle International Comedy Competition is a joke. My congrats to everyone who’s doing it, and every one that will in the future, but, like The Simpsons, some things should’ve been put out to pasture a long time ago. 

What’s the best time you’ve experienced doing comedy here? 
I think this last year has probably been the best. We did the last Early Late Show with Yogi Paliwal at Bumbershoot. I got to perform at SF SketchFest and Bridgetown Comedy Festival. I shared the stage with James Adomian, Jared Logan, and Dave Attell, a personal idol. It truly was an amazing year, and moving to New York before I turn 25 is the perfect way to cap it off. 

On October 29, Paliwal will record an album at his going-away show at Columbia City Theatre. On November 7 he will give comedy tours at the Seattle Art Museum for SAM Remix

Photo by Christan Leonard.