As told to Jen Doll
From Disney to The Daily Show, and beyond.
1. I used to watch Happy Days on TV.
I wanted to be the Fonz. I also saw this movie, Bugsy Malone, with kids playing gangsters. I remember thinking, “That looks like the coolest thing in the world.” It was a light-switch moment for me.
2. I’ve had two of those moments:
When I discovered I wanted to be an actor, and when I discovered I love peanut butter. They happened around the same time, when I was around 12 or 13 years old. I never looked back from either. It was literally, “I love this thing,” and I never wavered from that.
3. Other things, I have wavered from.
I used to love bell-bottoms.
4. My mother, unlike a lot of Indian Southeast Asian mothers,
was not discouraging. She was like, “Go and do it if you enjoy it.” I started going to children’s theater in England. We came to America, I took drama in high school, I got a theater scholarship at the University of South Florida, and it just snowballed.
5. I got Ds and Cs and Fs in math and science.
My parents knew I wasn’t going to be a doctor.
6. I got a job as a performer at Disney right out of college.
I was part of a street improv comedy troupe. It was a great training ground for comedy; a lot of people there have gone on to do Mad TV and other things. It was like grad school—I was getting to act every day.
7. Anything I’ve ever done, it’s never been what I imagined initially.
I think that’s good, otherwise you’d be limited. I never know what I’m going to write until I’ve written it.
8. I try to give myself personal deadlines,
but I find it hard just to write things abstractly. I’m always writing, but I need to give myself reasons to write—I’m going to read this, I’m performing somewhere. That gives me motivation.
9. When you’re writing, a lot of the time you’re incredibly precious
[about your work], but when you have two deadlines converging at the same time, you stop sweating the small stuff and you just have to get it done. I wish I could self-create this attitude.
10. When I was onstage
doing [the Pulitzer Prize–winning play] Disgraced in 2012 at Lincoln Center—it’s a very dramatic show—there was something cathartic about doing that, combined with the goofy stuff on The Daily Show. Each became a respite from the other, weirdly.
11. Procrastination is underrated.
You can appear to be procrastinating, but what you’re doing, often, is taking in information and letting stuff inspire you.
12. You don’t have to go to the Met.
You can walk around the streets of New York, or wherever you live. There’s always a story, or a person. I’ll see people I think are interesting, and look at them, and ask myself: “If I had to play that person in a show, what’s going on with them? Who are they? What’s their day about?” You’re working, in a weird way—gleaning specific stuff that you’re going to use [as an actor].
13. The weird thing is, you never feel like you’ve made it.
I’m just way too neurotic to be like, “This is my dream job.” There’s still stuff I want to do. I always had dreams and aspirations that were large, but my goals were always short-term. For me, that’s the best way to think about them. It’s about getting from here to there.