Nelu Handa, Comedian

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Nelu Handa Headshot

(Photo credit: Sarah May Taylor)

Nelu Handa; Toronto; @neluhanda


Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?

I do comedy stuff. Mostly acting, writing, improv and I produce/host a show called Yas Kween. It’s a monthly show in Toronto featuring WOC doing comedy. Come!

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I went to Wilfrid Laurier University for business. I turned most presentations into sketches.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

I was a marketing coordinator for a training and development firm. I turned most presentations into sketches.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

Well, in 2010, I got fired from my ‘dream’ job, and went through a big depressive episode. I needed to get back to what made me feel best, which has always been comedy. I had wanted to try improv for a long time so I went to The Second City, signed up for Level A and found that part of me that I’d forgotten about. In retrospect, it was the first deliberate step that opened my eyes to this being a possible career path for me.

Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?

I’ve been fortunate enough to perform and write for the groundbreaking tour de force that is Baroness Von Sketch Show. It’s mind-blowing to be part of a critically acclaimed, award-winning and legit laugh- your-ass-off Canadian comedy. It was just picked it up by IFC in the US, so it’s awesome that it’s about to explode down there. When I’ve been in that writer’s room and on set with the Baronesses, they’re a shining example of how powerful and fun it is when women support each other. Their guidance has helped shape my career, having people like that in my corner is incredible.

What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

It’s an ongoing acceptance of the ups and downs of this career. The slow periods have been hard for me to handle, specifically during winter. I’ve been working to create longer-term creative projects and really doing that self-care thing that’s all the rage these days.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

What’s for you won’t pass by you.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

The example of staying silent when you know what’s going on isn’t right. I followed that for a long while, but I’m done now.

Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?

I’m a Canadian-born and -raised Indian woman doing comedy, which is relatively new for audiences and our mainstream media. I’ve come to realize my presence is political. When I perform, I feel like I challenge perceptions, which is ultimately a good thing. I love Yas Kween for that—there’s multiple perspectives from WOC, and I hope it serves to break down stereotypes. I work with a couple of the city’s big comedy theatres as a diversity consultant, and it’s important to me to support the upcoming talent any way I can. We’re all working to normalize what’s seen as ‘other’ in our society. Comedy is powerful like that. I have also battled with a personal barrier of allowing myself to take space. Confidence is a vital asset for any performer and/or self-employed human, so finding your strength to be a boss is a big shift in behaviour for a lot of women who’ve been silenced or ignored in the past. So much of this career is just believing in yourself. I remind myself often that the permission is never coming, so I just have to give it to myself.

Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?

Acting, writing and teaching pay most of the bills. I pick up little gigs all the time. Being a hand model comes to mind. I also do some freelance marketing work on the side. Old habits die hard.

What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?

Laziness. Who can be lazy in this day and age? I just see hustlers a-hustlin’.

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