Diving Into Late Night Head-First with Saurin Choksi
As a kid growing up in Texas, Saurin Choksi always loved comedy. After graduating college and moving to Detroit to take a job working for Ford, Choksi decided to do something about that love: he started taking classes at Second City. He worked his way up the improv school’s chain before making a shift to standup. “Standup felt like a better fit for me.” Choksi later moved to Chicago and spent six years carving out a spot as a successful player in the Windy City’s comedy scene. Over the last few years, he has performed at numerous festivals including SF Sketchfest, The Onion’s 26th Annual Comedy Fest, Funny or Die’s Oddball Festival Side Stage and The 2014 Boston Comedy Festival, where he tied for 1st Place.
Now based in New York, Choksi can be seen co-hosting the White Guy Talk Show on Fuse with fellow comedian Grace Parra. Just from the title alone, it’s easy to decipher that WGTS isn’t concerned with following the traditional mold used by the majority of late-night talk shows. The result is a loose, high energy show aimed at millennials who require a healthy dose of diversity in their entertainment choices.
I talked to Choksi about WGTS, starting over in a new city and the constant mental battle to stay positive.
What was your motivation for leaving Chicago and moving to New York?
In my mind, Chicago is the best scene to work at getting good at comedy. That being said, there can come a point where you’re doing well and don’t want to leave. You know, you’re getting lots of stage time and have a great group of fellow comic friends. I guess when people started asking me for advice, I thought, “I’ve got to get out of here, because I don’t know anything.” I felt like I was getting to the point where I had done what I wanted to do in Chicago. A lot of my friends had already left. So, I just picked a date and said, “I’m going to leave in October.” New York can be scary. I had made trips there and had friends in the city who helped me out, but visiting is much different than moving there. You go from knowing everyone in your scene to just being another dude.
How do you handle the mental aspect of having to start over in a new city and grind your way up the chain?
The mental part of this stuff is pretty big, especially on the negative side. You never think you’ll be jealous of your friends. But it can actually be kind of shitty. I love my friends. I’m supportive of them and they’re supportive of me. But there was a time when I had to turn off certain feeds on Facebook because I would be like, “I wish I would have gotten that,” or, “I wish I was doing that.” It’s crazy. There are times when a pal is doing a show and I’m booked that same night, but still thinking, “I wish I was doing that other show.” It’s illogical. You just have to manage that stuff, focus on doing the work and be patient. The advice that everybody gives is all true; it’s just hard to practice sometimes. I wish in school they would give more instruction on mental health and managing your brain. Brain management is such a big part of staying sane in this crazy path we’ve chosen.
I think another big thing is acceptance. The idea of, “If you work hard enough, you can make your dream come true,” isn’t necessarily based in reality. Your hard work might land you somewhere else and you just have to accept that. Otherwise, you can drive yourself crazy.
I totally agree. That’s another one of those things that I’m trying to get better at: accepting who I am, what my limitations are, where I am in life and what my skills are. It makes for a lot more peace of mind. I’m trying to make my experience in New York a little bit different than in Chicago. Not that I didn’t enjoy Chicago, but I was really grinding hard and didn’t make a lot of time for dating, or even just enjoying life. I’m probably working harder now than ever — with the show and everything — but I’m at least trying to make room in my life for some of those other things. I don’t think anyone would want to accomplish all of their goals but still feel miserable because all they did was worry and be anxious. If we get all the things we want, but were miserable the whole time, was it worth it? I don’t think so.
I agree. However, I think there is another school of thought that says that the struggle makes you a better artist. In standup, some people thrive off of rejection, drama and the non-stop cycle of eating, breathing and sleeping comedy, even if it effects their relationships, work, health, etc. But I’ve noticed an increasing trend in people who are like, “I’ve got to have other things in my life besides comedy.” Hopefully, the result will be more well-rounded comics.
Yeah, I feel like we are seeing different energies when it comes to that mindset. I want to give it my best to enjoy life. I don’t know if we need to try to be miserable or self destructive. I’m sad, nervous and anxious all of the time, but I definitely try to find ways and tools to stay positive and enjoy life.
So, you get to New York about six months ago, win the Boston Comedy Festival and now you’re the co-host of White Guy Talk Show. That seems remarkably fast. How did the co-host gig come about?
I’m fortunate. It’s a lucky break. I had a friend who was a writer on SNL. The writers for this show reached out and said, “Do you know of anyone who might be a good fit?” The producers saw one of my clips and gave me an audition. I auditioned with my co-host, Grace. Her and I have a kind of natural chemistry. When I’m around her, I feel funnier. It was a good first audition, but I never thought I would be hosting a late night comedy talk show. I just thought it would be good to audition for future auditions.
The name White Guy Talk Show is very tongue-in-cheek and definitely makes a statement. Why do you think that we still have a lack of diversity in late night talk shows?
I feel like right now there is a real interest and desire — almost an awakening — for more stories, voices and points of view. Maybe previous to this it wasn’t commercially viable, or it didn’t matter to the powers that be. But the time we’re in right now, people are hungry for different points of view. I think it’s exciting. The stories that we are doing are hopefully ones that you don’t get to see all of the time.
Another thing I like about the show is the way that you and Grace are true co-hosts. Unlike the traditional late-night model of Host plus Sidekick, you both have equal stature on the show. I think that also speaks to the increased push for diversity.
The fun thing about this show — and the Fuse network — is that they’re not sticking to any hard and fast formulas. We’re playing around. Luckily, we have the opportunity to try things out and see what works.
The show has been on the air for about a month so far. What’s been the response?
It’s been pretty positive. I had someone tell me that they showed it to their class and to activist groups. To me that’s pretty interesting and exciting.
This is a brand new experience for you. Any lessons you’ve learned in your first few weeks of shooting?
All I’m doing is learning new shit every day. This, for me, has been one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. Much like standup, it’s a process. I don’t know a lot of people who come out and just smash it. It’s a process and you have to keep getting better and better. That’s what I’ve been trying to take to this. Our showrunner is a dude named Brian McCann, who worked at Conan for 17 years. I’m trying to suck every bit of comedy genius out of his brain. He’s funnier than I’ll ever be. One thing I learned from him is that stuff should look insane. If you’re going to cut to a picture, make sure it looks crazy. It should hit you. TV is new for me. I’m trying to learn how to use all of these different tools that are available to delight and titillate our viewers. (Laughs) I’m learning patience. I’m learning not to sweat small things and focus on the big picture. Work hard, try my best and don’t be a dick.
White Guy Talk Show airs Monday-Thursday at 11:30 pm ET/PT on Fuse.