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  • Valerie Hope

Ep. 40 - Not Quite Strangers: What’s So Funny? The Humor In Being Human

Not Quite Strangers | Humor In Being Human

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Not Quite Strangers: What’s So Funny? The Humor In Being Human

I want to start with Lia. Lia, what did you bring?


I got a yummy pie cookie from Costco.


Costco is always good. Shruthi, what did you bring?


Something very different. I brought a picture, not food but now I wish I brought food.


I think Lia should send us food.


I agree. I'll give you my address. Just ship me some pie.


You have to go to the Costco run. It's an interesting dynamic on the show Not Quite Strangers. Welcome everyone. The purpose of this show is to help bring two people together who do not know each other, and by having a conversation, inspire curiosity, build connection, and also disrupt the status quo. I have the fortune of bringing two ladies that I've known because of my involvement in Toastmasters here in the Dallas, Texas, area. I'm going to start off by introducing Lia. Lia, you and I have known each other for almost a year, I believe, more or less.


A little bit longer because of your involvement in the area and also direct into our club.


A little over a year, and I remember you and I having several conversations. We only met in person one time. We met up for a little smoothie or coffee or something a couple of months ago. You told me some things that you were shifting about your speaking, the focus that you wanted to have in your speaking now being humor, and you're doing comedy shows. When you shared all of that, I was like, "Lia, you have to be on my podcast because you had some very interesting takes about what you're doing and why." I thought, "Who might Lia meet that could have an interesting conversation about humor and comedy?" Immediately, I was like, "Shruthi Garimalla." Shruthi, you also were in one of the Toastmasters clubs that I supported last year as a director. You have a background in stand-up comedy. 


I like that you said background in stand-up comedy. That makes me seem so professional.


Because you are.


I think you all take it.


It's fantastic because I don't think I know someone personally. I did date a guy who was a stand-up comedian for a little while. It was not Trevor Noah. I didn't get to know that much about it but I was like, "Shruthi might be a great conversation to have." It might be a great place to start and have a conversation with Lia about humor because Shruthi, I know with you and your background in computer science, you're a student in college and you're working on your career, it has to be fascinating to think about where comedy and humor fit for you and how you get there. This was a dream matchup for me. Thank you both for saying yes.


I'm super excited to be here.


Why did you two say yes to meeting relative strangers? You've never met each other, although all three of us are part of the same organization. Why did you say yes?


I love meeting people. I find enjoyment in being around new people. More than that, when you called me and you were like, "This is my show, and this is what I'm doing,” I loved it immediately. The idea of talking about something that I'm very passionate about, getting my voice out there and saying, “This is why I like comedy, and this is the actual benefit of comedy,” because people honestly look at comedians and humor and just think it's lighthearted and fun. I was excited by the idea of saying humor is so much more than just lighthearted fun. The idea of doing that with someone that I've never met and maybe seeing like, "Do we relate to what our idea of humor is, or are we completely different?" I would love to see a totally different point of view. It was very intriguing to me.


Lia, what about you?


Because you asked, I trust you. If it's ABC on the street asking me to meet with a stranger, I might not say yes. To answer your question, you asked about why I would be doing this show, I also have a personal mission, which is to meet new people who are different from me because that's how you grow. We live in America. It's a huge country with people from diverse cultures. If you miss that, you are missing your opportunity to learn something new from others. Same mentality. That's why I say yes.


 Meet new people who are different from you because that's how you grow.


You're speaking my language, Lia.


That's why we are your friends.


Not only do you two have that in common but I do want to call out the fact that both of you come from different backgrounds culturally. Lia, what is your background?


I have lived in Texas for more than twenty years now but I came from China originally as a foreign student. I was a native Chinese.


What part of China, Lia?


The hometown of a giant panda, the cute one, and the spicy food. When you hear people say this is a Sichuan food, Sichuan is a province. That's the name of the province. I live in the capital city of Sichuan called Chengdu. If you like spicy food, travel with me to Chengdu.


Yes, please.


I pack you next time as the pandemic is over. Right now, I even can’t go back there to see my mom.


No worries. We'll go, and Shruthi looks like she's down for that too.


I'm very down. I'm vegetarian. I'm sure I can find something.


They know how to cook vegetables there.


I'm very interested.


Do you like tofu, very healthy? Very nice.


Shruthi, what about you? What’s your background?


I was born and raised in America but my family is all from India. Hundred percent Indian. I've lived in America my whole life but I have a lot of ties to Indian culture. I love being Indian. One of my main personality traits is like, "I'm Indian." People are like, "We know."


Have you been in Texas the whole time?


I was born and raised in Illinois. I moved out to Texas almost eight years ago, something like that. It was right before I was in eighth grade. I've been here for a while. I call Texas home. Someone asked me, "Where do you live?" I'm a Texan. I say y'all. I've been to Buc-ee's. I think I'm a true-blooded Texan at this point.


Those are the two criteria. Can you say y'all and go to Buc-ee's?


I've been to Whataburger.


That was setting the stage and getting a little bit about your background. I want to go back to the original connection point, which is humor and comedy. I asked you both to share an object that has some meaning and relevance to that. Let's start with Lia. You brought a pie. Tell us about the Costco pie here.


I'm on an intermedium fast. That means I don't eat until 12:00 noon. I will stop eating after 6:00 pm. This is a reward. I want to eat as much as I can between the windows I can eat, which is cheating. That's the fun part. Before the meeting, I brought this up. I said, "Should I try something? What if I have something stuck into my teeth?" That's not very good for the show so I stopped eating. That's the story of this pie sitting here, not making any contribution to me.


When I asked you to bring something relevant to comedy and humor, your thought was, "I'm going to be breaking my fast around the time of the show, so I should have my pie handy." Did you eat all of it?


I didn't touch it because I don't think it's professional. When you eat the pies, anything can happen.


I promise you, Shruti and I will let you know if you have anything in your teeth. If you want to take a bite.


I had a pretty relatively decent lunch. This is just the cheating part.


That's a dessert. It'll be a reward for after the show.


I will enjoy that after we turn off everything.


Fair enough. Shruti, what about you? You brought a picture. Tell us about it.


I brought a picture. In this picture are my mom, my brother, my cousin, and I. We're all much younger. I chose this photo because the three of them are just sitting there smiling, and I'm over here like this. I think it's funny but I found this photo randomly the other day, and I looked at it. I sent it to my family group chat, and they were like, "Ten years later, nothing has changed." This is a random photo, and I just think it's funny that I've always just tried to steal the spotlight and try to be funny my entire life. I was like, "This is somewhat relevant."


That's excellent. Stealing the spotlight and being goofy is your thing.


With my family.


Wait, you have a background in comedy now, so hello.


Stealing the spotlight. I'm trying to make myself look better here. I promise I won't steal the spotlight from my friends or anything.


No worries. We are all sharing the spotlight right now. I want to get into the humor and comedy pieces. Lia, you inspired this for me when you started sharing about your shift out of Toastmasters into your next phase or career path. I'm not sure how you want to describe it, but tell us a little bit about that.


I have been a Toastmasters member for ten years. I joined in the winter of 2009. I remember that when I had a big dream to become a professional speaker. I was very thankful for my experience that Toastmasters were helping me to build my confidence as a speaker. How do I view Toastmasters? I think it's a university. No matter how good the university is, you need to graduate and test your skills in the real world. For me, as a speaker, the biggest challenge for me is to find my niche. When people ask me, "What do you speak about?" Valerie, your topic is leadership. My topic is I position myself as an expert on diversity and communication. I found out that from the client's perspective, they say if I need a speaker to talk about communication, what can you teach us?


 I say, "I help people, global leaders, to improve their communication skills." The question that came back to me was, "Why should we hire you?" We can hire a native speaker, a blonde, perfect White lady, or a professor from SMU.” I need to have something unique about myself to separate myself from other speakers. This is true in the marketplace. I was looking for the niche, and when one of the potential clients challenged me, saying, "Why should I hire you? We have a trainer in-house. They can train perfectly our staff." I was thinking, "Am I a trainer?" I'm not. Who am I? I said, "I'm a performing artist." As an artist, what's unique about you? Like a singer. Tracing back to my experience in the deep value of my career, I worked as a banker for a huge financial institution for five years.


That career was not going anywhere. Bankers do not make much money, and in the bank with the very structured categories, it's pretty hard to get a promotion to the headquarters for a marketing role because I have a background in marketing but they don't give me the opportunity. I'm not a perfect banker. As a banker, to be successful, you have to be hungry and aggressive. Valerie, where's your money? How can I bring your money to our bank for investment? I'm not. I'm a talker. I enjoy talking with my customers. It was my customers and my coworkers. Even my bank branch manager told me to say, "You're funny." Am I funny? I didn't know that. I even compete at Toastmasters for humor speech contests. I never went beyond that area because Toastmasters have a certain expectation, structure, or judgment.


The way Toastmasters teach us to write humorous speeches has also limited the way I express myself. In June, I feel like I'm no longer learning anything new. No complaints about Toastmasters. If you are not learning anything new as a student, no matter how great the university is, Harvard or Stanford, it's time for you to leave, so I left. After I left, I was lost. I say, "I have reached the brick wall in my world. What should I do next?" I say, "Maybe I’ll just randomly do some research to learn something about comedy." I did comedy before the pandemic. I had a very successful solo show by myself, 30 minutes, with a group of White ladies. That was not my typical audience. I know I belong to people.


Maybe not the typical corporate world they were asking for. Why should I hire you? I belong to people. I can connect like my customer at the bank. With that motivation, I started doing a little bit of research online. I randomly found a guy's teaching course about how to write comedy. The so-called writing is totally different from what we learn about writing. They say, "As a comedian, you don't write your comedy materials. You speak." I learned a great deal from his short courses.


I'm a pretty cheap person. I normally don't pay money to buy online courses. When I went through his free lessons with what he was teaching, I paid the money, and I went through the course. It was eye-opening for me. I learned a couple of major things. First of all, he said, "If you are a female Asian, if you do write, that can become your advantage as a comedian."


A disadvantage or your advantage?


Advantage because not many Asian female ladies are doing that. The second part, which I had a misconception about comedians. I thought to be famous, you have to be dirty, talking dirty, all that gross stuff, which was wrong. You can be a clean comedian, have fun, and still make a career. You will be more attractive if you are a clean comedian. I said, "That fits my values because I don't want to become dirty in order to become famous. That's not who I am."


The last part is that I share with him my review and the video I recorded with the comedy show I did with those White ladies, about 50 of them. He sent it back to me. He said, "Lia, you have a natural talent. You just need a stage time to polish yourself." That gives me the confidence to dive into the comedy of art, and the show I shared with you was my first public show after the pandemic.


That was your first public show?


Yeah, I've never done that before.


Shruthi, did you go?


I was not able to go but it sounds like everything went great. I am just finishing the story now, and I share with you about the show more. It was a test for myself to get myself out there to do something impossible. I can relax now. I was stressed out not because of my performance. I also have three other comedians. We do the show together. I know we can take care of the guests. The biggest concern came from the theater. You have to sell your tickets. It will be a very bummer if you have an empty theater for your comedy show. In the second part, I got a lot of my Asian community to support me. A lot of Chinese friends came to my show, which was great.


That was the first time I ever invited my own people to my show. Why? Because in the silence of laughing, there are several types of people you should try to avoid. One is an all-male audience because males don't laugh unless they are with their ladies. That's one. The second part is to try to avoid people who are very good with logical thinking and analytic skills. Most of my friends are IT, engineers, and accounting. I wasn't sure we could make them laugh but they were great last night.


As a comedian, try to avoid people who are very good with logistics, thinking, and analytic skills.

I think it was a great challenge for me. I'm glad I did it. Who am I going to do that next time? I'm not sure but I'm going to keep searching and diving into the comedy art, learn the art, become better and better, and bring comedy back to my keynote speech to give me a competitive advantage. If you are funny, you can add value and inspire people, and you have more to offer to the marketplace. That's a long story short.


Thank you, Lia. Shruthi, I saw you react a few times. First of all, before we hear your version, I'd like to hear a little bit more about what you're thinking as Lia was sharing her pivots


I was seeing a lot of similarities because, for me, it wasn't as much of a pivot moment. It was more of a few realizations over my life because I'm still pretty young. I'm in college. Rather than having that one big shift that I think you had, Lia, I was just sitting there and I'm like, "We are two different people." Our experiences and our feelings surrounding certain events and comedy, in general, are so similar despite us being from two completely different backgrounds and two completely different ages. I'm like, "I relate a lot to that.”


Say more about that, Shruthi. What was it that you experienced?


Specifically, being a woman and doing comedy is a big thing for me because, unfortunately, one of the biggest compliments I ever get is, “You're funny for a woman.” I'm like, "Why are you putting that for a woman there? What is the point of that? You can leave it at you're very funny." I think how Lia was saying, never have an all-male audience because they won't laugh. It's because there is that sense of ego there. That is their sense of like, "No woman could be so funny." It's like because we're people. We are more than just our gender. We're people with the experiences and the ability to speak. I don't know why this is a shocker to you. That's one of those things that gets to me and irks me.


I wish it wasn't like that. I think that's a big reason for me wanting to get into comedy. I want to be known as a funny person, not as a funny woman. Also, you were talking about how you are talking. Talking is a big thing for you. You're not as aggressive as maybe other people would need to be in certain professions. I'm the exact same. I'm such a non-confrontational person. I avoid conflict at any given time. I love talking. I think I'm a very good talker. From a young age, my friends would come up to me being like, “I'm in distress. Help.” I never understood why they would come to me. As I've gotten older, I've realized it's because I'm good at vocalizing my thoughts and saying what needs to be said at the right time in the right way.


That's why comedy has been, I don't want to say easy, but it's come a little bit more naturally to me. I'm able to shift my focus from I need to be stern and strict at this moment too, I can have a little bit more fun with what I'm saying, or we need to dial it back down very quickly. I relate to you. That was another thing I related to you. I can't be aggressive with someone I cannot. I should not get into a profession where I have to be aggressive with people because it's not going to end well for me. For me, I don't think I can say the true moment where I started doing comedy, where I started becoming a comedian. I guess I'm just going to get into my little life story. They say that comedy comes from a dark place.


I was a very overweight kid. I was bullied a lot growing up. It sucked and I got into a dark place. I remember as a kid thinking to myself, “If people are going to call me funny-looking, I'm at least going to be funny.” I said that and people laughed. I was like, "Are they laughing at me?" Someone was like, "We're laughing with you, Shruthi. That was a funny thing to say." I found so much joy in the fact that I made other people laugh. I was a kid when I said this. I realized this over time. I was like, "Making other people laugh makes me feel better." I enjoy that. When I was in high school, in theater class, we had to write a monologue for an assignment. I went up to my teacher and said, "Can I try doing this almost like a standup style?"


She was like, "That's going to be difficult, Shruthi. I don't know if you're going to be able to do this but if it's your grade, I'm still going to grade you on the same rubric." I was like, "Okay." I did. I ended up getting 100 on that. She came up to me and said, "I am astonished. Absolutely, truly astonished that you did that." She was like, "You have a real talent for comedy, Shruthi." She's like, "Comedy is not easy. Comedy is not the type of thing that you can just do. You have a knack for it, do it." Also, in high school, I was in speech and debate, and my event was humorous interpretation, which basically, you have ten minutes to do a comedic play on your own. You have to do all the characters, different voices, and no props. I ended up going to nationals for that.


I've always had this little knack for comedy, and I find joy in making other people laugh. They worked together very well. It comes from a dark place. It comes from me being bullied for pretty much my entire life, but I found a way to spin it into something much more positive. I found a way to use it to help other people and help myself. That's where I think humor and comedy are such a useful tool. I want more people to explore that. I want more people to be aware of that and understand that if you don't know what to do, try being funny. I know that sounds so dumb but try it because you'd be surprised that if you open yourself up a little bit, if you try, I think everybody has a little comedian inside of them. It's just whether you're willing to let it shine or not.


It takes a little courage.


It takes a lot of courage.


Shruthi, you said something that I find that was so true. Everyone has a little comedian inside. It's up to you how much you want to let that thing come out. You don't have to become a professional comedian, which is a very challenging, tough career to make a living. If you have the courage to share the funny side of yourself with other people and bring humor and positivity to life, you can make yourself more likable. If you are a leader in the workplace. You probably will be a better leader. Humor is one of the top attributes for a leader beyond hard work. That's very true. It's just how we can tell people, "Be funnier." I said, "I'm not funny."


Everyone's always like, "I wish I could be funny, Shruti. I just can't do it." I'm like, "You can."


It's like love and expression because what you guys are pointing to is that humor is a level of self-expression and ease in one's self-expression. We all have a little comedian but we all tend to have our own defense mechanisms to hide or protect certain aspects of who we are and how we are. Some people use humor as a weapon or use humor as a defense mechanism. When they want to cut through. I remember a few weeks ago, my brothers and I had a little Zoom gathering with our dad. I have three brothers. I'm the only girl. Our daddy used to be super strict when we were growing up and angry with us. Sometimes, he'd yell and raise his voice, and all of us were super intimidated while growing up. Over time, all of us now are in our 40s and we were like, "You know how dad was."

Not Quite Strangers | Humor In Being Human
Humor In Being Human: Humor is a level of self-expression and ease in one's self-expression.

What was so funny is that now my dad has warmed up considerably, we were having this fun conversation about, you remember when you told us XYZ, and there was something that freaked us out because of your voice or your facial expression. We laughed so hard throughout that conversation. What was funny is to realize that all of us use humor as a means to release tension because when we were young especially, we felt like there was so much tension in the house and my dad was upset about something or somebody got in trouble about something. That was our way to look out for each other to lighten things up. The other piece was also to stay sane. It was a wellness thing, a well-being issue. For us, being funny or being humorous came very naturally.


I'm taking a course on humor. You guys will be proud of me. This whole week I've been studying for this show. I feel like I've been cramming. There's a book called Humor Seriously. I think back to what you were saying, Lia. This is about how to teach leaders how to incorporate humor, just lightening up. It's not about being funny on purpose but not taking ourselves so seriously, not taking the things and the stresses of life so seriously. It’s finding a lightness.


I had to do an assessment as part of this course. I had to send it out to my friends and close friends, only send it to a handful of people, an assessment of my humor. I sent it to different people. What I got back essentially was that people did think I'm funny but they found that the humor that I use tends to be more in observational humor, situational humor. It's not quips and jokes and one-liners and is not necessarily to hurt or to criticize.


I'm not a very sarcastic humorist. I try to make fun of the things that are happening at the moment. It was fascinating to hear other people describe what I did as being funny because I'm like, "I don't think I've ever analyzed that." I'm curious about what you guys think is funny though. What makes you laugh, and what makes you say something humorous? If you could analyze that, what would it be?


Comedy is not purely but I think a major factor of comedy is timing. You got to get that timing right. Otherwise, your jokes won't land. I don't have a specific thing that makes me laugh. I don't have like, "This is like a funny thing to me." Anything can make me laugh as long as it's delivered properly. You were saying your dad, growing up, was very strict. My mom is a very honest person, a little brutally honest sometimes. I don't remember her being funny growing up.


A major factor in comedy is timing.

Off late, she'll just say something at the perfect time. I will break down and cry laughing. I'm like, "When did mom get funny? When did this happen?" Both me and my brother are like, "What's going on here?" She was like, "I don't know. Shruti's funny. I've been watching her for some time and trying to pick up on what she does." I'm like, "Timing." If you can deliver something properly, I will laugh. I'm very easy to make laugh.


That's interesting. Did your mom change her delivery, or did you and your brother start listening to her differently?


She changed her delivery. She was like, "I have been picking up on what Shruti has been doing recently." I'm trying to become a little funnier. She's like, "You guys think I'm just so strict and so mean." I'm like, "Because you are but you're all so funny, apparently."


Lia, what about you? What makes you laugh or what brings out your funny?


I think that came from your life. Funny can be written verbs but a lot of the time, it can be how you express yourself. Just like Shruthi was talking about, it can be a non-verb and a verb. Silence, your facial expression, and your gestures can make you funny. The funny part is what's funny to America may not be funny to the Chinese. I didn't grow up in this country. When I was first doing comedy, my biggest fear was something I think funny, I didn't know about those White ladies and what their reaction would be.


Those poor White ladies.


I purposely met a lot of non-Chinese friends. A lot of them are White ladies.


You have to get some other people of color in there too. Maybe that'll expand.


I know. The secret is as a human being, we share more in common than our differences. If you talk about your struggles, your mistakes, your embarrassing moments, or parenting challenges, everyone can relate to that. Let me give you one simple example that happens on a daily basis. One of my experiences was I was walking my dog in the morning, and I bumped into a young dad. He was walking his dog while he was pushing a stroller with two young babies there. They were only six months old. One boy and one girl. They were so cute and adorable. Suddenly, at that moment, I had a thought. I said, "I want to offer that young dad free babysitting so I can smell their babies." You might think I'm creepy. I said, "You don't understand." My daughter used to be cute and adorable. Now, I have to ask for her permission before I kiss and hug her. She's a teenager.


The final one is the punchline. The funny part is all your expression, how you think, how you see something, your personal reflection, and how you express that. That's the combination of comedy. There's no one word for what's funny and what's not. You just express what you think is interesting, what amazes you, and then the audience responds to your expression and kill or not kill it. You cannot control it. You might impress one group. Tomorrow, when you try to entertain a group of men, they might not be laughing at all. You just have to keep trying. That's my experience.


That is probably the most difficult part about comedy. You have to come to the acceptance that not everyone is going to find you funny. Not every joke you make is going to land every time because I've made jokes before that are so funny. I think I'm the funniest person in the world. My friends are laughing their butts off. It's a good time. I'll make that same joke at another place. Everyone is laughing. It's a good time. I'll make the same joke. Everything is the exact same to a whole new audience. People are like, "That's not funny, Shruthi." I'm like, "It was funny to everybody else. It was funny to me. What do you mean it's not funny to you?" That's the brutal part. When you think that you're like, "Everyone is going to love this."


Some people just don't like it. It's not their humor. It's not for them. That was a big part of me. When I started to get into writing some bits and getting material put together, a lot of my material came from being a South Asian woman growing up in America because there's a lot to be said there. It's a weirdly relatable experience for a lot of people. I wrote the first part and I was just talking about this is what I am. I'm South Asian. People like my non-South Asian friends were like, "I don't get it. I guess it works for you." I was like, "This is very much a niche, and I need to broaden it a little bit." I started making fun of everybody else. My South Asian friends were like, "Shruthi, that doesn't apply though. We don't care for that."


I was like, "How do I appease everyone? How do I please everyone?" I can't just make fun of being South Asian. I can't just not make fun of being South Asian. I don't know what to do here. I realized I was not going to please everyone. I just wrote what I thought was funny. It's turned out a lot of people, it didn't matter their ethnic background, were like, "That's funny." It’s surprisingly relatable. If you just look past it being about me, the content was pretty universally experienced. When you stop caring about everyone liking your jokes, it takes your humor up a level.


You guys both said something that reflects exactly what I experienced when I went to see Trevor Noah and Hasan Minhaj. Lia, Trevor said exactly the same thing you said. I wonder if maybe you guys are friends because one of the things he said is we have a lot more in common than we often think we do. He said most people don't connect because when we start our conversation, you don't make friends because you all of a sudden decide you're going to share what are your political views. What are my political views? What do you think about the vaccine? Things like that. Those are not the topics that you want to start off in building a relationship.


If you think about the human experience, we all cry, we've all had parents, we've all had a childhood. If you think about all the human experiences, that's what draws people together. That's the first thing. The second thing that came to mind was that both of those comedians went live. They're both my celebrity crushes. I had to go. There was no way that I couldn't. It was back-to-back. One night, Trevor. I went to see their show. I didn't like to see them. I went to see their show back-to-back. What was fascinating was that the crowd was mixed. There are a lot of people from everywhere. Trevor Noah's crowd, for example, were Americans, Africans, Asians, Latinos, Middle Eastern, you name it. As far as you can see, some of the languages I heard are amazing. It was fantastic.


With Hasan's crowd, I would say perhaps the majority was Indian or South Asian. I think there was also the Middle Eastern in there. He's Muslim. What was so fascinating about their styles of humor, I laughed my head off with Trevor Noah. I walked away with a humor hangover because my head hurt and my cheeks were burning. I was laughing almost the entire show. He was hilarious. He had serious moments but he was hilarious.


Hasan made me think, though. Hasan's humor was like a professor. He's like that professor whose classes sell out because he's very edgy. He has a lot of conviction in his opinions. He pushes the envelope but not in ways that are inappropriate, gross, or offensive. We had some blue moments. Some sexual humor innuendo. For the most part, he took us to the edge of a lot of his opinions. He was surprisingly intimate. He shared a lot about his feelings about being a father, about trying to get pregnant with his wife, like all of this stuff, very intimate moments.


What I thought was interesting, and I wonder if it has something to do with this. Lia, I want to get your take on this. With Trevor, they asked us not to record. No audio or video recordings of the program. We could take pictures. We could still have our phones and take photographs, which I did. With Hasan's show, they locked our mobile devices, including watches, in a little pouch that you could take with you but it was locked until you walked out of the building. There was no recording, no pictures, nothing while we were watching the show. He did make a comment during the show about trusting the audience. He goes, "I know you have your phones but we locked your phones but we trust you."


One of the things that he mentioned is this allowed him to say things that he may not be able to say if he were going to be recorded because the context would be different. There's something else for, like, "Shruti saw Hasan, and she said XYZ, and he said XYZ." It wouldn't have the same meaning or the same impact as you're showing a recording of him saying XYZ and then people making a big story about it without the context. Anyway, I just wanted to get your take on that because both of their styles of humor are so different.


With Hasan, I had a more emotional roller coaster. I almost shed a tear at one point, anger, frustration, and then also very funny. With Trevor, it was mostly funny. He has some eye-opening moments, too but I know Hasan comes in hot. One last thing I'll say. Shruti, you reminded me of this. He said one of the first punchlines he landed, which made him decide to become a comedian, was a moment where they'd called the police on him and a few friends. There was somebody who was pretending to be interested in converting to Islam but apparently, he was some agent or something. This was during the Patriot Act days.


Apparently, someone called the police because they overheard Hasan say something, and he said the police had taken them, slammed them across the hood of the car, and started asking him questions. A friend came by, and she was like, "Hasan, what's wrong? Are you dealing drugs?" He's like, "I'm dealing terrorism." Everybody starts to laugh, and he's like, "I'm funny." Apparently, that was the joke that put his career into motion. I'm curious about you guys. What do you find funny, or maybe some of the comments that I just made about those two particular comedians and what they attract? They do attract a very diverse crowd.


What you said about Hasan Minhaj is probably the reason I think that he is probably one of my favorite comedians. He and John Mulaney do a very good job of using humor to talk about serious subjects. I think they do it in very different ways. Their comedic styles are completely different but that's the type of comedian I want to be. Talk about very real issues and things that are happening in the world, things that have happened in their life. John Mulaney has, on multiple occasions, talked about his struggles with drug addiction and things like that in a very funny way. At least for me personally, I think that you've done your job well as a comedian when your audience leaves, and they leave with, "Wait a second, huh?"


It is clearly what you had. You clearly said, "It got me thinking." At the moment, you can have a good time. You can just laugh, it can be easy, it can be fun but as long as you're thinking about the messages after the fact, in my mind, that is what separates a funny person from a comedian. Hasan Minhaj has put a lot of thought, effort, and time into his jokes. He knows the subject matter he wants to get across. He knows what he wants to talk about. I know for him, a big thing that he talks about is being a Muslim brown man growing up in America. I don't know if you've ever seen his Netflix special, Homecoming King.


Yes, amazing.


It's so good.


Have you seen it, Lia? 


I haven't seen that yet.


You should check it out. It is so good. I have seen it over and over again. What he talks about in the Homecoming King is his experiences I can relate to. It's things I will never be able to relate to. It's things that were maybe only issues or as prevalent of issues back when Islamophobia was probably at its peak. It's all so intense. If he were to just speak on that very bluntly, I would freak out. I'd be like, "This is terrible. This is horrible. I'm so sorry for you." You watch that and you laugh, and you get something out of it. You start to think, and that's what I like to applaud Hasan Minhaj for doing. That's the type of comedian I want to be because that's not easy. It is not easy to resonate with your audience in a way and get them to start thinking about very important topics and world issues in a funny way. He's brilliant. My comedic idol would probably be Hasan Minhaj.


It's not easy to resonate with your audience and get them to start thinking about very important topics and world issues in a funny way.

Lia, how about you?


I have a different perspective about what comedian I like or want to be. One of the takeaways from my recent discovery about comedy art is to be a successful comedian, the most important part is to be yourself. I don't worship any comedians, even though they are very successful and famous. I feel guilty. I haven't got a chance to watch those famous comedians yet but I'm not in a rush because I used to be a very serious person and position myself as a professional speaker. I want to change their world. Even after I left Toastmasters, I forced myself to relearn a lot of these styles, facial expression and body language. You are not natural because real people don't talk like that. For me, what comedian I want to become is I want to talk about what I'm passionate about and what I'm interested in.


For me, right now, I care about my family. I talk about my husband. I talk about my daughter, and I talk about our wrinkles, aging without wrinkles, and things that make me happy. I want to relax and slow down and talk about what matters in my heart. For those political things, if it's related to China and the US, I might touch a little bit but I'm not the person who purposely pays attention to what happened in the news. I'm not that person because we happened to have a conversation with my husband because my husband was in my show yesterday being on camera. He supported me but not in a willing way because he knows it's so hard for you to want to speak professionally to make a living. For comedians, that's even harder.


I'm a little bit different. I'm a first-generation immigrant, and English is my second language. Just learning ABC is enough. You try to make people laugh. As I said earlier, we share more things in common than our differences. As long as we touch what matters to you, that's who you are. People want to hear about your personal story. They said comedy is the art of tragedy. You mentioned something earlier about that. You don't have to be miserable because a lot of comedians talk about their beat-up lives. They live a homeless life, that stuff. That's not how I want to position myself. I want to share with people my piece of the world, how I see the world, and express it in my own way.

Not Quite Strangers | Humor In Being Human
Humor In Being Human: Humor comes from a dark place. Comedy is the art of tragedy.


Whether I become famous or rich or not, that's not important. Luckily, I don't need that to pay the bills. I want to be who I am and make people laugh. Yesterday was the first time that I invited my Chinese friend to my show. That's my first time speaking for ten years. I was able to put my Chinese banana friends and my non-banana friends under the same roof, laughing together for a good cause, which was to raise money for St. Jude Children's Hospital. That's my take on where I want to go as a comedian.


Congratulations, Lia. I think that's excellent. 


That is amazing. You're saying that I want to be my own comedian. I don't want to be necessarily someone else, good for you. Also, you are saying that the whole humor comes from a dark place or that comedy is the art of tragedy. You're like, "Not for me. I just want to share my life in a funny way." That is such a positive look on it and such a positive outlook. I love that. That was a good response.


The difference is we are two generations, me and Shruthi. It's so beautiful, Shruthi. I'm still trying to say that again. My daughter is sixteen. I look at you. I almost feel like I'm looking at my beautiful daughter the same way. I want to share with the world my tragedy. My career is a mess. I started as an engineer, and now I'm trying to make a living by telling jokes. That's not even funny. As a first-generation immigrant, we went through a lot but I was amazed if you talk about who you are and share the truth of life. You can still make people who are not the typical customers laugh with you. That's the magic of comedy. With the laughter I left at Toastmasters, I found that comedy is more a down-to-earth entertainment. If I do my keynote speech about diversity and communication, there's no way I can bring everyone I invited last night to the same location. Comedy united us. That's the magic.


Lia, you might need to explain the term banana to any listeners or viewers. Did you just call your friend Banana?


I was going to say something but I was like, "I'm just going to let it slide."


Did you watch the movie Crazy Rich Asians?


I didn't.


That was a movie very popular back in 2018. It was about Rachel, an American Chinese raised by a single mother, a Chinese, and her love story with her boyfriend, Nick. Nick came from a crazy rich family in Singapore. Nick's mother rejects Rachel because she is not rich and her mother is single, and all that BS. Rachel's mother, a single mother, told Rachel, you are not a typical Chinese. You are a banana, yellow on the outside and white on the inside.


There's a word for that for Brown people. It's coconuts, brown on the outside, white on the inside.


When you're Black, we call that Oreo.


Fruits for different cultures.


Banana, coconut, and Oreo cookies.


In my daughter's generation, she's a typical banana. I'm a first generation. I'm probably yellow on the outside and yellow on the inside. She's pretty much yellow on the outside and white inside. That’s how she feels about herself.


What was the last time the two of you laughed so hard you cried? What made you laugh?


It was probably last night. I was hanging out with a couple of friends, and we were sitting in my bedroom, and I honestly don't know. The conversation was so weird. We were talking about boys and school and what we wanted to do with our lives. It was three of us. My one friend is talking about like, "I can't wait to do this with my life." My other friend was sitting there and she said, "This boy is so cute." I'm sitting over here. I was making spinach artichoke dip. I'm sitting there and I'm talking about this dip. No one is listening to us. Nothing is happening. It's just life, boys, and dip.


I paused and I was like, "Are you guys listening to me?" They're like, "Yes." I'm like, "Because I'm listening to you." None of us are in the same conversation. The timer goes off. I'm like, "I'm going to go make this dip." I bring the dip back. We're like, "It is 2:00 in the morning, Shruti." We're having the worst conversation. No one is talking about the same thing. We're eating spinach artichoke dip. That whole thing was so funny to us.


I love it. I want to hear Lia's example in a second but I love the fact that something can make someone laugh so hard that, like the borderline, you don't have to burst into tears. There's no more emotional range other than expressing tears. As you're sharing, it has happened to me before. I've done silly things that sometimes made me laugh. I'm trying to tell somebody, and they're like, "That's not even funny."


They're going to be like, "That was not a funny story." She'd be like, "What's happening?" I'm like, "I can't even explain this."


You don't have to explain it.


I gave you an honest answer. It was last night. I was eating dip and laughing my head off. It was so funny. You had to have been there. I'm trying to think, "How can I explain this? I can't explain this without talking about my friend's life." The context was funny. I promise you it was funny.


I believe you like everybody else. I tried telling my mom some of the jokes that Trevor said that made me laugh. How I was sweating by the time I was done with this bit, and I was like, "Oh, my God." She's like, "Oh." Anyway, you had to be there, I guess. Lia, what about you? When was the last time you laughed so hard that you cried or were close?


I don't remember. I had that experience recently. It's funny when you focus on developing your own comedy bits, you start to look at life with a different attitude. Right now, when I see something happen in front of me, I just record it on my iPhone. When I'm done, when I have time, I sit down. I go back to polish that. One small experience was right now, I'm doing a one-minute story, and I tried to develop a punchline by the end of the one minute. One example was my husband and I went to Lake Lavon with a friend, George, and his daughter, Mia. When we got there, it wasn't during the summer. I put the mesh cover to protect the food from flies. Of course, to remind everyone to put mosquito repellent on.


Mia, a college student, like your age, asked me, “What is the difference between mosquitoes and flies?” I was amazed with the question. I said, "What kind of question, and how can I answer that?" I thought it, I said, "Mia, sweetheart. Mosquitoes bite you. Flies kiss you."


That's a good answer.


In a very subtle way, I collected the information and put it into my chair hunt box. I don't necessarily laugh at my punchline but when you deliver your punchline, the same thing, you don't laugh at your punchline, and you want the audience to laugh for you. To answer your question, I don't remember laughing very hard to the tears, maybe when I watched a movie. Not a perfect answer.


Those are all fine. Humor is so subjective, and sometimes things hit us one way because we are in a certain mood. I don't know. Maybe I would have thought Hasan was much funnier than I thought in many ways than Trevor was, but I laughed so hard at Trevor that I was exhausted from laughing. I don't know, maybe I was in a more serious mood or whatever but I think humor is so subjective.


For me, to get to the point where I'm crying from laughing, everyone has to be in that same energy. I think last night, that's why it was so funny because I wasn't the only one that was crying and laughing. My friends were all crying and laughing. Even though the story itself isn't that funny, even thinking about it, the reason I started laughing was because I was there and I'm reimagining what happened last night. It was funny to me, but I can't think of a specific joke that's made me cry and laugh. There's nothing that's like that one thing one person said and I lost it. It's always the situation. It's the company. It’s a make-or-break for me.


It's the energy and the environment. That's what I mean.


As a speaker, if you have the ability to make your audience laugh, cry, and think, you have done your job.

Not Quite Strangers | Humor In Being Human
Humor In Being Human: You have done your job if you can make your audience laugh, cry, and think.


I think that that's the type of speaker and comedian I want to be. I want my audience to laugh but I want them to also seriously think about what I said.


You want to make a point.


I believe in using humor to make a point and to get your ideas out there. I think that one of my strong suits is that I can use humor to do that.


In that way, be free. Do not define yourself as a comedian or speaker, and just watch how you grow. That will surprise you. On my business card, I didn't use comedian because I talked with my mentor. I have a speaker, an author, and a humorist.


Actually, for a long time, if people ask me, I would talk about comedy. People are like, "You're a comedian?" I'm like, "I like doing comedy. I like doing stand-up." Nice, with humor.


I'll make sure to put your website.


You can do anything you want.


Very recently, I would tell people like, "I do stand up. I'm a stand-up comedian." That was a huge step for me. Do I feel like I'm a stand-up comedian? No. I feel like if I start saying that, it manifests in my life a little bit if I say it has to happen type of thing. I've started telling people I'm a stand-up comedian. It's always followed by. "Tell me a joke." I'm like, "That is not how it works." I'm like, "Shut up. Don't tell me to tell you a joke."


A joke is different from a comedy. That's what I learned after I left Toastmasters.


That’s not how it works. Have either of you done any improv?


Yes. I was a cool kid in high school. I was on the improv team. I have so many friends.


Have you done anything recently?


I'm trying to take an improv class at my university.


Some comedy clubs are doing that. I haven't done anything since I left Toastmasters. We were doing improv, doing the table topics that are similar to improv but without the purpose of being funny.


As you guys are talking about what's funny and what makes one laugh, what I'm finding is the loser, and the less time we have to think and prepare something, the easier the access is to humor. Sometimes, when we're analyzing, and we want to say things in the right way, or we have a plan of how we want to go about whatever, we sometimes miss the openings. I remember this particular exercise.


My brother, sister-in-law, and I went to an improv class recently, and we had to set up scenes. There were probably like 25 of us in the room and the instructor would want us to set up a scene of some sort. You'd have two people in the middle and they'd do something. A third person would have to walk in and based on their body language or posture, would change the significance or the meaning of the scene.


There was a point where people would come in at random. Whoever had an idea would go and do something in the middle, but you'd see the same people over and over again after a few turns. The instructor stopped us and said, "You notice that when you have the opportunity to do it randomly, we have the same people come up because you have an idea, and then you want to go try out your idea." Those that were thinking about how do I do it? They were thinking and they weren't jumping in. He said, "Now, we're going to make everybody go in order."


In the circle we were in, he would go one by one. “These two go in first, and then the third person does the scene.” When you had to do it first, you couldn't anticipate what the two people before you were going to set up. You had to be in the moment and do whatever to be present. It was a beautiful exercise in understanding that just having to jump into something gave us so much more freedom. Whereas when we had to think and plan, and we had time to calculate, sometimes we'd hold ourselves back, or we missed the window and missed the opportunity.


That was a huge lesson and I highly recommend anyone interested in freeing up themselves even more, an improvisational class is the difference. Now, I want to pivot our conversation as we begin to wrap things up for this show because I want to zoom out. We've been talking about humor and how that's played a role in your life but I'm not curious about this experience. This experience of being on a show with somebody you barely know is improvisational. I'm curious about what was your experience like. What would you say about this experience now after this hour that we've been talking?


I'm going to be honest. This is a good thing. I expected it to be a lot more funny. I expected it to be us making jokes the entire time but I'm actually very pleased with the conversation we had and seeing the similarities between me and Lia and also seeing the differences between us as people but still having that core, that bridge between us that's humor and comedy and all. I had a great time.




I'm pretty impressed with how professional you are running this show. The way you have us signed up and have us ready and arrange the date and the time from a month ago. To me, it's pretty formal. I feel like I'm doing an interview with NBC.


I'm curious about your experience, Lia. I get that there's a sense of formality because we are having a structured interaction but I'm curious about your experience in the conversation about humor, meeting Shruthi, and having this conversation with her for the first time. What was that like?


As I said, when I look at her, I say, "What a beautiful young lady." I'm thinking about meeting with the older version of my daughter. You are funny. You are beautiful. Keep being funny. It doesn't matter what you do in the future. If you have the ability to make people laugh, do it. If one day you become famous, perform at the American Center, go for it. The sky is the limit.

Not Quite Strangers | Humor In Being Human
Humor In Being Human: If you can make people laugh, do it.


Thank you. I appreciate that.


Two last questions. What are you taking away from this conversation? Either an idea or maybe a reinforcement of something that you already thought. What are you taking away?


I've been thinking about this in the back of my head since Lia said it but she was saying how she doesn't aim to be like any other comedian. She just wants to be her own one. I have, in my mind, been like, "I want to be similar to Hasan Minhaj and I want to be like John Mulaney, and I want to be like Bo Burnham." Now I'm like, "I could just be me. I could just do me." I don't have to follow a certain track.


You are the best of who you are.


I appreciate you saying that. That's been at the back of my mind.


The best version of yourself is you.


The best comedians if you dig into them, they are not trying to be themselves. Even if they talk about the dark side of their lives, only a competent person can become a comedian because they're not afraid to make fun of themselves.


Lia, what about you?


What was the question again? I'm bad.


What are you taking away from this experience and from this conversation? Either something new that you've learned, or you've been opened up to, or perhaps something that's reinforced for yourself.


I'm so glad about the topic of this conversation because, like you, Valerie, I have a mission to reach out to people who are different from me. Today, I reached out to a different, beautiful young lady, and we have something in common. Even though we are at a different stage of our lives, I believe that no matter what we do, our sense of humor can add value to the people around us. That's my takeaway. I'm glad I found someone who has a similar mission at a different stage of our life.


The very final question is, what would you like to say to the audience who might be listening either about where to find you or what you're up to or some words of wisdom, final words for the audience?


That's pretty big.


If you send it to me, I'll make sure that I include it in the show notes. I’m happy to send your TikTok handle or website or anything you guys like. Anything you'd like to say to the audience or final word, or to each other?


It was great meeting you. To anybody watching, I promise that the story about last night with the spinach artichoke dip was actually funny. You had to be there. I promise. That's it.


I'm so glad to be here. I'm Lia Bai, a Texas cowgirl made in China.


I'm Shruthi Garimalla, manufactured in America.


The two of you guys have been lovely. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, sharing your lessons learned, both hard and easy but also being so open to exchanging ideas with each other and with me. It's evident that all three of us have completely different perspectives on things. It proves the point that it's made a very interesting conversation to have heard different takes, different experiences, different learnings, and different resources. I'm looking forward to seeing what you guys do out there in the world because we could all use more humor. We could all use a place to lighten up in life. We need a shepherd. We need a guide to get us there. The two of you are doing that in your own special way. Thank you.


We could all use more humor. We could all use a place to lighten up in life, and we need a shepherd to get us there.

Thank you so much.


You have earned your pie today. Everyone that's been tuning in, thank you all so much for tuning in to this episode of Not Quite Strangers. You'll be hearing where you can connect with us by going to and subscribing to any future episodes, so you get them straight into your inbox. I'm looking forward to the two ladies doing some amazing things. Keep an eye out for any billboards out there with their names on it. Everybody, have a wonderful rest of the day.


Important Links

Strangers: Meet Lia Bai & Shruthi Garimalla

From: China/Texas, USA & Illinois/Texas, USA

Talk About: What’s so funny? The humor in being human.


Connect With:

Lia Bai


Shruthi Garimalla:




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