Second Acts: Recession Success Stories

Laughter is the Best Revenge

The Go-Getter: Dan Nainan, 48, marketing engineer turned comedian

Got Started in: New York City

The Goal: To make laughter his business

The Gain: Doubled his salary, learned to trust his instincts

When I was laid off from Intel Corporation in New York almost two years ago, I felt tremendous rejection. I’d been with the company since 1996 and had poured a lot into my technical work. I thought, I guess I’m not good enough now. But I also felt free, maybe even elated. I hadn’t really liked my job very much.

Second Acts: Recession Success StoriesPhotographed by Rudy Archuleta/ReduxDan Nainan practiced his jokes relentlessly, promoted himself on the Internet, and performed when he had the chance.

Years earlier, I had taken a comedy class to conquer my fear of public speaking. I had a knack for stand-up. A lot of my material was biographical, as in, “When I applied for the job at Intel, they told me, ‘You’re half Indian, half Japanese? You don’t even have to interview!'” Like many other performers, I seemed shy in person, but after a show, people would say, “Hey, you’re amazing onstage.”

I thought, Okay, I’ll pursue comedy. It’ll pay starvation wages, but I’m not a big spender. I can eat Top Ramen noodles forever. I also had a fairly decent nest egg from all those years in the corporate world.

I composed jokes while riding the subway, walking around, and talking on the phone with buddies. I’d whip out my Treo and jot them down. I practiced relentlessly, promoted myself on the Internet, and performed when I had the chance. My new career took off. To date, I have done stand-up at corporate functions, charity galas, and birthday parties. This year, I’ll have flown 125,000 miles on Delta. I’m a frequent flier, and I get upgraded to first class on every flight.

Recently, I made the surreal sum of $12,500 in one night. I’m making more than double what I made at Intel. I’ll probably pull in about $275,000 this year, not counting the commercial I just shot for a computer company. I also have a role in a movie due out next summer, The Last Airbender, directed by M. Night Shyamalan and featuring one of the stars of Slumdog Millionaire, Dev Patel. In the Indian community, I’ve become pretty well known.

In this business, there is no greater thrill than thinking of a joke in the shower that makes you laugh out loud, practicing it for a small audience, and then performing it in a theater of 2,000 people—and bringing the house down. Getting laid off was the best thing that has ever happened to me.

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