Comic Nimesh Patel Keeps Topical

NimeshThe comedian Nimesh Patel was in town this week, playing the Improv. His first D.C. show, he says, came in opening for Michael Che at the old LivingSocial on H Street.

It was the Che connection that helped land his “Saturday Night Live” gig last fall, where he writes as part of the “Weekend Update” team, which is on a break because of the Olympics.

“You’re working constantly,” Patel told me of the “SNL” gig. “It’s just intense. It’s very rewarding place, but it’s also a highly watched show, so the pressure to create very funny stuff is always on.”

There’s a lot of competition for new takes on a fast-churning news cycle that’s already been considered on late night shows and across Twitter.

“Because we’re on Saturday nights,  the news that breaks on Friday and Saturday is still stuff we’ve got to generate ideas about,” he says. “Saturdays get kind of crazy just because we’re the only show that’s on Saturday nights, where people are looking for political or topical stuff.”

And when things happen, they have to react, as happened last month when the Stormy Daniels story broke on Friday, and there were jokes on Saturday (Che jumped on one detail, saying of course Donald Trump is afraid of sharks; “the man has the body of a seal”).

Patel learned to adjust for breaking detail from his first big job, writing for the 2016 Oscars for Chris Rock, who hired him after seeing a club set.

“It was pretty intense,” he said of getting together with writers for the first time. “Once you’ve bombed with a joke in front of Chris Rock, what else matters? Obviously, he’s the highest caliber judge you can have. And if you bomb in front of him and live to tell the tale you can pretty much go through anything. That’s how to look at it.”

He diligently watched the nominated movies for a month until nominees came out and they were all white. “What jokes matter about ‘Mad Max’ when there’s not a single black nominee,” he says. “It was obviously so messed up that that happened, that there were no black nominees. But at the same time, what beautiful serendipity in that you have the best comic to host in that situation. Who better than Chris Rock to navigate that fiasco?”

Something similar happened when he helped write Hassan Minaj’s 2016 Congressional Correspondents Dinner monologue that occurred three days after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. “We had to change everything up,” Patel says.

Minaj made an impassioned plea for Congress to do something. “Please persevere,” he said in a withering closing that went viral. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

“Obviously nothing happened in Congress because of it, but it got some heat, and people talking about it, and bombarding Congress to do something,” Patel says. And Patel got the gig helping Minaj do his White House Correspondents Dinner last year.

The bulk of my interview with Patel appears here in the Washington Post Express.

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