Western University, Department of Communication & Public Affairs
Westminster Hall, Suite 360, London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 3K7
Tel: 519-661-2045 • Fax: 519-661-3921
No Joke: Failure Can Lead to Success
How does a computer science graduate working in his father’s chickpea business end up on a top 10 list with comedy giants Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert?
Standup comedian and comedy writer Deepak Sethi, BSc’02, landed a computer science dream job after graduation: doing encryption for wireless Internet networks. He was building ciphers and travelling extensively from his workplace in San Antonio, Texas. “In one year, I earned 250,000 Air Miles. I took about seven business trips a month when I was 23 and 24. Around the USA and to Europe.”
Eventually the company Sethi was working for went bankrupt. His job – and he honestly claims this is no joke – was outsourced to his cousin in India.
“We talked later and he said ‘your job is SO easy,’ ” said Sethi. Plan B was joining the chickpea business in Toronto, to his father’s great approval, in 2005. He also enrolled at Schulich School of Business at York University to complete his MBA. To fill the creative gap in his busy schedule, he started creating funny posts on his Facebook page.
The first one was about his self-confessed “creepy goatee.” Word of mouth amongst friends spiked interest in his public musings. Sethi started getting 50 to 60 comments per post from people he didn’t know.
“Those were good days. It made me happy.” On a friend’s advice, he started his own blog and wrote anonymously. After one month of posts, he was eager to check his online statistics.
Total: six viewers.
Not discouraged, he continued his intense regimen of waking up at 4 a.m. each day to write his blog before going to the bean factory. He was also fitting in university classes for his MBA. “It was sad, depressing, hard,” admits Sethi.
Then his luck changed.
He wrote an article on “why I hate Tropicana juice.” It got 3,000 views. His next one got 15,000 to 20,000 views. Then he started Tweeting small, funny thoughts.
It culminated in 2009, when out of the blue, Sethi’s blog was named No. 8 of 10 top funniest sites or online people by MSNBC. Also on the list, Comedy Central’s flagship stars Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report.
“I got 5,000 (Twitter) followers overnight.”
He needed a persona, so he created “a fat guy with boobs who lived in his parents’ basement.”
Soon Sethi was attracting the attention of Hollywood. Actress Alyssa Milano sent him a private tweet. And comedian Denis Leary’s wife, Ann Lembeck Leary, was a regular reader. She asked the Computer Science grad turned blog writer when he’d be in New York next. “Oh, next week,” scrambled Sethi, not knowing what would happen.
He bought a ticket to the Big Apple and met Leary for lunch. After a friendly chat and realizing Sethi really wasn’t “a fat guy with boobs who lived in his parents’ basement,” she told him “you should do stand up.” He got his first agent through Leary in 2009.
His next brush with fame was a pivotal conversation with Ricky Blitt, one of the original writers on Family Guy. In 2010, he created the TV show Romantically Challenged starring Alyssa Milano. Blitt took Sethi under his wing and asked him to send him some sample scripts to read. Sethi agreed. He had none.
So he bought every script-writing book he could his hands on, then wrote three sample scripts and sent them off. He called back Blitt later for his reaction.
“Did you sent this to anyone yet?”
“Well, don’t. It’s terrible.”
Blitt patiently helped Sethi along with his script development. His agent sent Sethi some scripts of The Office. He then wrote some spec scripts and sent them to Blitt until one hit the mark. Patience paid off.
Blitt then shared it with Seth MacFarlane, creator of the animated adult comedy series Family Guy.
Escalation up the TV ladder resulted in Sethi being invited to L.A. to meet with executives in the Family Guy offices.
There was no way around this. He had to tell his father something.
“I told my Dad I was doing research for beans.”
His meeting went well and Sethi was offered a one-year contract to work on the Family Guy.
This time, he had to break it to his Dad for real.
“It was tough. He had all these succession plans for the business. My sister wasn’t interested.”
Without someone to take over the family business, his Dad sold the business.
But Sethi has since given his father plenty of reasons to be proud. Near the end of his year with Family Guy, he got his first writing credit on an episode.
“I was asked to co-author the season finale. It was an amazing turn of events,” he said.
Following his contract, he entered the cutthroat world of freelance comedy writing where his agent warned him “there are 5,000 writers with the same credentials as you looking for work.” Sethi continued to write on advice from Blitt. And he was rejected again and again - including from The Rosie O’Donnell Show.
“You could get 100 rejections in a year. Some people would just focus on that. But you only need one ‘yes’. ” Sethi’s advice: “Don’t worry about rejection. It got me to where I am.”
His persistence paid off. He made it into the Just for Laughs comedy festival with a short film he produced. A CBC executive saw the film and called him. He pitched a show idea and they bought it.
While the national broadcaster hasn’t committed to a production, it is a positive.
Since then he signed with Comedy Central and has a contract with Daniel Tosh to write on his animated series Brickleberry. In addition to his script writing gigs, Sethi loves the thrill of a live audience in the world of standup comedy. In November, he had a stint at the L.A. Comedy Factory on top of Planet Hollywood on the Las Vegas strip and played YukYuk’s in Toronto.
The computer science grad doesn’t have many regrets on his path to Hollywood – but if he could change just one thing, it would be his Soph name at Western, which translated to “Indian Lover Boy.”
Check out EXCLUSIVE web feature - Q & A with Deepak Sethi.
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