A comedian in the Gulf: Dan Nainan's fascinating journey

Dan Nainan took a somewhat unconventional route to stand-up comedy.

As a senior engineer at Intel, he was already a jet-setter, visiting locations all over the world to talk about the company's technology. He said he found public speaking “terrifying” at first, but after taking a stand-up comedy class to become more confident, Nainan got a lot more comfortable with being in front of crowds. So much so that he does comedy for a living. But that’s not all. He’s also been doing television commercials and voiceover work, performing at weddings and corporate events and flying all over the world for comedy shows.

In the course of his travels, Nainan often ends up in places like Dubai and other areas of the Persian Gulf.

“In June 2010, I was sitting here, minding my business, when I got an inquiry about performing at a corporate event in Dubai.” Nainan told the Gulf News Journal, describing his entry into the world of Middle Eastern comedy venues. “I was scheduled to perform at a comedy club in Cleveland, but the pay was much better, in fact, stunningly better, and I'd never been to Dubai.”

At first, he said, it was a little intimidating.

“I have to admit, like most Americans, I was a little bit afraid of going to the Middle East.” Nainan said.  “Boy, was I wrong! Dubai is a total party, and I've done six or seven shows there. Imagine a place like Las Vegas, with similar heat, with no gambling, but with a phenomenal beach.”

Although he uses an agent for things like commercials and voiceovers, Nainan takes a hands-on approach to his comedy.

“When it comes to comedy,” Nainan said, “I'm proud of the fact that my comedy is something that I've grown myself organically.”

Nainan said a YouTube video that he posted himself got more than 1 million hits and led to more bookings. He’s also an aggressive self-promoter.

“After my shows, I sell my CDs and DVDs at the back of the room at a table … and I hand my business card to every single person on their way out.

Nainan works clean, with no profanity, which he says is a must for performing in some Gulf Coast countries.

As for subject matter, Nainan says it's important to retool an act for use in Middle Eastern countries.

“One definitely doesn't want to do anything that insults the government or the religion.” Nainan said.

It's also important, he said, not to do inside material that's just not relatable to international audiences.

“Jokes about the NFL won't work in other countries, but of course jokes about soccer and cricket work great," Nainan said. "Fortunately, people all over the world are quite familiar with American culture and American politicians, so it's easy to put together a set that works all over the world.”

On a web page titled “A Year in The Life/The Life in a Year: 111 Shows, 28 Countries, 110 Flights, 183,433 Miles,” readers can get a glimpse of what Nainan does in just one year. 

It’s all part of the scene for a stand-up guy who’s gotten good at navigating cultural barriers and building an international audience, by getting people all over the world to crack a smile.