S.F. doctor helps kick off South Asian comedy fest

Priyanka Wali’s résumé would gladden the heart of any stereotypical South Asian parent: She’s a University of Southern California graduate and a successful doctor, even appearing in Women’s Health magazine.

But by night, the Glen Park resident leads a shocking double life. Or at least a funny one.

“At the end of a long day, I love running out of the office, going to an open mic and meeting my comedy buds,” says Wali, one of a dozen or so performers kicking off the Zee TV Desi Comedy Fest at Cobb’s Comedy Club on Thursday in The City.

The 11-day festival (running in nine Bay Area cities) was founded in 2013 by Bay Area comics Samson Koletkar and Abhay Nadkarni to put the spotlight on South Asian comedians from the U.S., U.K., India, Pakistan and beyond.

Wali was born in Southern California to a family of physicians from the Kashmir region of India.

“I was psychologically coerced at a very early age to pursue medicine,” she deadpans. “It was basically medicine or bust.”

Wali joined an improv comedy troupe to help “blow off some steam” during med school, but she only scraped together the courage to try stand-up after moving to San Francisco a few years ago.

“I was on this ‘must face my fears’ kick, like a self-improvement phase of my life,” Wali says, “and so I literally Googled, ‘good places to try stand-up comedy in the Bay Area for the first time.’ The first thing that popped up was the BrainWash Cafe.”

She hit the laundromat/performing venue (armed with three minutes’ worth of “some jokes that weren’t funny”), where she met Oakland comedian Stroy Moyd.

He invited Wali to perform at his upcoming comedy showcase. “It’s a 10-minute set, in a month,” Wali recalls. “And at the time, I didn’t even have 10 seconds’ worth of good material.”

She hustled to as many open mics as she could in that month, making jokes and making contacts. Now, she hosts her own monthly comedy showcase at Blondie’s every fourth Monday of the month.

Although many of the Desi Comedy Festival’s performers are traveling from abroad — including headliners Shazia Mirza, Sundeep Rao and Vasu Primlani — Wali was raised in Orange County, which gives her an interesting perspective on South Asian and American cultures.

“Culturally here in the United States, there’s not as much pressure to get married and have children as there is within the Indian community,” she says. “I make fun of an online Indian dating site, Shaadi.com. I just think it’s funny that the website isn’t like, eHarmony or OKCupid. [It literally translates to] MARRIAGE dot com, which says a lot about how Indian people think.”

The Desi Comedy Fest is doing the grand tour of Northern California’s South Asian communities, with shows in The City, San Jose, Union City, Santa Cruz, Kenwood and even Sacramento.

Wali is also performing at the festival’s closing-night show Sunday, Aug. 21, at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre. There will be some special guests in the house: Wali’s family.

“They haven’t actually seen me perform,” Wali says. “So we’ll see how it goes!”

Zee TV Desi Comedy Fest opening night
Where: Cobb’s Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 11
Tickets: $30
Contact: www.desicomedyfest.com
Note: Additional San Francisco performances in the 11-day event are at 8 p.m. Aug. 15 at Doc’s Lab and 7 p.m. Aug. 21 at Marines’ Memorial Theater.

Giselle Velazquez

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