New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Beyond NYU: Shifting from finance to funnyman

Stern alum Nimesh Patel studied finance at NYU. After graduating, he pivoted to a career in stand-up comedy, and is now on a national comedy tour.
Stern alum Nimesh Patel, the first Indian-American writer on Saturday Night Live. (Courtesy of Preet Mandavia)

Stumbling into the Comedy Cellar, an iconic Manhattan comedy club, as a first-year student, Stern alum Nimesh Patel could never have envisioned that comedy would become his career. Patel’s NYU journey began with a focus on chemistry within the pre-med track at the College of Arts & Science. However, he eventually shifted to studying finance at the Stern School of Business, which he graduated from in 2008. 

He then went through various post-graduate jobs while pursuing comedy on the side. It wasn’t long before he realized that comedy was what he was truly passionate about, leading him to make it a full-time pursuit. In 2017, Patel made history as the first Indian American writer on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, and his talent also graced the stage of Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show

In an interview with WSN, Patel delved into his experience as an undergraduate student at NYU, discussed the process of breaking into the comedy scene and shared his thoughts on working with some of the world’s most beloved comedians, including as a writer for Saturday Night Live.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSN: When were you first introduced to stand-up comedy? 

Patel: I had never seen stand-up live until when I was a freshman at NYU. One day, I was walking on MacDougal Street to get pizza and passed the Comedy Cellar on the street, where someone was trying to get people to come inside. I had my backpack on and a full beard because it was finals, and I hadn’t taken care of myself. Some guy was like, ‘Chappelle is on stage’ and at first I was like, ‘No, he’s not’ but then I was like, ‘Okay, sure’ and I gave him $20. I walked in, and Dave Chappelle was on stage. I could only stay for 20 minutes because I had to go study, but that was when the idea of stand-up comedy was planted in my head subconsciously.

Patel came to the city from New Jersey for his undergraduate studies in 2004, and transferred to Stern during his sophomore year. Patel said he has fond memories of the friends he made while living at Rubin Hall during his first year, some of whom he said became groomsmen at his wedding. After graduating, Patel moved between roles in finance before realizing that the career was not right for him.

WSN: Could you speak on your transition from the business realm to stand-up comedy?

Patel: It was not like I had always dreamt of doing comedy. I had been working at Bloomberg in Jersey within the operations office and was very unsatisfied with life because all my peers were finance guys at these fancy investment banks and hedge funds, and I was making 20 bucks an hour typing data into a computer. I just graduated from Stern, and I had this huge idea of wearing suits to work, slaving away and building models all day. What a stupid dream, but that was what I was taught to believe Sternies did, and I wasn’t doing that. I was definitely unfulfilled in that area, looking for some kind of outlet. Then, a few weeks later, I don’t know what made me think I should do stand-up, but I just kind of hopped on stage in 2009 in New Jersey, I invited all my cousins, and that’s when I caught the bug, and that was it.

His career took off after catching the attention of comedian Chris Rock in 2015 while performing in Brooklyn. Just three months later, Patel landed a writing job with Rock, who he describes as one of his biggest comedy inspirations. When trying to find inspiration for his comedy, Patel said he draws from his experiences growing up and observations from daily life. 

WSN: What was the experience of being discovered by Chris Rock like for you?

Patel: I had been doing stand-up for five to six years at that point. The finance company I was working for was shutting down, and I had also been rejected from this big comedy festival for the third time — I was feeling kind of shitty overall. Chris Rock came to the show to watch another comedian, and I was like, ‘Chris Rock is here? I’m going up, that’s my idol. I’m going to perform in front of him.’ It went well, obviously. Chris Rock told me I was funny, and that was like the highlight of my career — it remains in the top five moments for sure, if not number one. It was nuts, and I wish I could relay the feeling somehow.

Patel was hired to write for the Oscars in 2016, and by 2017, he began writing for NBC’s Saturday Night Live, which he described as the “Harvard of comedy programs.” His contributions to the show earned him an Emmy Award nomination for outstanding writing just a year later. Patel has also collaborated with comedians such as Samantha Bee and YouTuber Lilly Singh. He even wrote content for Hasan Minhaj’s performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2017.

In 2018, Patel encountered significant backlash for a joke he delivered during a club event at Columbia University, leading to students cutting off his microphone. The joke centered around Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, with Patel speaking about encounters with gay Black men in the area expressing disapproval of his clothing. Patel later reflected on this incident in The New York Times, saying that silencing different or potentially offensive viewpoints prevents the potential for meaningful conversations.

WSN: Could you share what it was like to be kicked off stage at Columbia University? 

Patel: I’ve been to those kinds of events before, and so I went in expecting, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m gonna do great.’ For the most part, I think I was doing all right. To be kicked offstage was a shocking, angering, embarrassing and confusing moment, but it happened. I don’t think I would change anything. The only thing I would change is when they were interrogating me on stage; I regret not being funnier because I was trying to maintain my composure and not say anything really angry or stupid. Set-wise, sure, I could add more energy, whatever, all that kind of stuff, but I don’t think it warranted being kicked off.

Patel is currently on his nationwide “Fast and Loose” tour, and is planning to perform at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 30. Earlier this year, Patel was also on his “The Lucky Lefty” nationwide tour and one of his comedy sets was recently featured on the Netflix series, “Verified Stand Up.”

WSN: What should people expect from your tour? 

Patel: It’s “Fast and Loose” because in the past, I was really sticking to a script, whereas with this, I’m changing it almost every show — reordering, rejiggering and keeping it fresh. It’s a lot of fun, and there’s something for everybody. You might be offended —  I hope you are by some of it — but overall, you’re going to walk away thinking, ‘Man, that was a good time.’

Contact Bruna Horvath at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Bruna Horvath
Bruna Horvath, News Editor
Bruna Horvath is a sophomore studying journalism and English at CAS. When she’s not a News Editor, she’s a "Gone Girl" enthusiast, a Goodreads lover, and a Barnes & Noble frequenter. You can usually find her ordering an iced mocha, telling people her name is “Bruna” not “Bruno,” or on Instagram @brunaahorvath.

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