On Stage: Akaash Singh thrives on having a live audience

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

Akaash Singh

There seem to be two main types of standup comedians.

Some give performances that are a series of bits – jokes and routines they have honed to elicit laughs from audiences. Others spend much of their time onstage interacting with audiences in a conversational way – talking about audience members’ dates, their clothing or their ethnic mannerisms.

Akaash Singh is in the conversational camp – shining most when he is engaging in banter with audience members.

The shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for all standups – difficult to go out on tour…difficult to even find a venue where they can perform in front of a live audience.

“I like to work off the audience a lot,” said Singh, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon during a visit to Miami, Florida.

Fortunately for Singh, some opportunities for live shows have been popping up – including a date in Philadelphia.

Singh will be headlining the Helium Comedy Club (2031 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, philadelphia.heliumcomedy.com) from March 4-6. He also has a series of shows scheduled for later this month in St. Louis, Missouri and in mid-April in Portland, Oregon.

“I’ve done a few shows in the last year,” said Singh. “It was harder before the election and with the virus. It just wasn’t as much fun. Now, things seem more loose.”

An Indian American born and raised in Texas, Singh is a nationally touring standup comedian who is quickly working his way up to becoming a household name. His parents are from different states in India – Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

Singh’s comedy is driven by cultural differences, an intense pride in his upbringing, and a desire to challenge the audience.

This past year he was in “The Leftovers” on HBO and “Wild N’ Out,” “Joking Off”,” and “Guy Code” on MTV2.  Singh is known for his relentless, thought-provoking brand of humor.

Singh is one of the most popular names in Punjab and, along with Kaur, one of the most common names for followers of the Sikh religion.

“I have a Sikh name, but I am a Hindu,” said Singh. “My caste — Kshatriya — was a warrior caste.”

Originally, the Sanskrit word for lion, Singh was used as a title by Kshatriya warriors in northern parts of India.

“My fiancé is a Sikh,” said Singh. “We were supposed to get married in October 2020 in northern New Jersey, but we had to postpone the wedding because of COVID-19. So now we’re going to get married in Punjab.”

Singh does not speak Urdu, a language from Uttar Pradesh, or Punjabi, the language of the Punjab region. He does speak English, the language of Texas, and Hindi, the national language of India.

“I speak Hindi – with an American accent,” said Singh, who shares his name with a pair of top-flight Indian cricketers.

“I’ve been to India four times – when I was 15, 25 and 35…every 10 years. I went once in 2019 and decided to go two times. I definitely want to keep going back more frequently.

“I grew up in Plano, Texas – a suburb of Dallas – and then moved to Frisco (Texas) when I was a junior in high school. We got to Frisco too early. We were one of the few Indian families there back then. Now, Frisco has a very large Indian population.”

Singh’s middle school principal thought he was Mexican for all three years. Such was life growing up in suburban north Dallas.

“My first experience of doing comedy came in high school — because a friend made me do it,” said Singh. “It was at an open mic at a bar in Denton called the Brick House Café. I was onstage for about five minutes. I didn’t do it again for another four or five years.”

Singh wanted to be a doctor like his uncle and graduated pre-med from Austin College.

“After I graduated from college, I had about a year to decide what I wanted to do,” said Singh. “My best friend was a cinematographer in L.A. and he got me to come out in September 2006. I did standup a few times and bombed – but I stayed with it. I was doing open mics more regularly by February 2007. My goal was to do a minimum of five open mics a week – 10 ideally.

“Then, I moved to New York and did occasional comedy club gigs. I spent time barking at the Village Lantern.”

A comedy barker is someone who stands outside comedy clubs and shouts at people to get their attention and interest them in the show inside.

“When you’re done barking, you get a special spot at the end of the show,” said Singh. “It’s so hard to get time. This was a good way to do it.”

Over the years, Singh has developed his own style and built a loyal following.

“Usually, I do crowd work early on,” said Singh. “I just go up there and have fun with it.

“I’ve played the Helium Club in Philly two times before. This will be the first time I’m headlining and playing a couple nights.”

Video link for Akaash Singh — https://youtu.be/SUdXobTVvhM.

The shows at the Helium Comedy Club are scheduled for March 4 at 8 p.m. and March 5 and 6 at 7:15 and 9:30 p.m.

Tickets, which are not sold individually because of capacity restrictions and social distancing, are $44 for a two-person table or $88 for a four-person table.

Other upcoming shows at Helium are Arnez J from March 12-14, Shane Gillis on March 16, Michael Blackson from March 19-21, Mike Cannon on March 24, Kelsey Cook from March 25-27, and Big Jay Oakerson on March 28.

The Candlelight Dinner Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) is hosting two performances this weekend that will feature live audiences.

Reel Rhythm

On March 5 and 6, the theater will present “Reel Rhythm — An Exciting Evening of Tap & Irish Dance!”

Tyler Schwartz, a world champion Irish Dancer, and Maddie Rae Russo, a professional tap dancer, combine their talent and love for rhythm in an evening of tap and Irish Dance.

While keeping the traditions of Irish Dance, and the swing of tap dance, Reel Rhythm adds their own unique signature to these beloved styles. The artistic differences within the two styles sparked the conversation about how to merge the art forms into one cohesive show.

Not only does the show highlight the relationship between dance forms but also the relationship between the artists themselves. Reel Rhythm invites the audience to have an inside look into their creative process and into their lives as professional dancers.

Reel Rhythm will perform live onstage at The Candlelight Theatre on March 5 and 6 at 7:30 p.m. each night. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $25. Table snacks are provided, and a cash bar is available. Parking is free.

Max Swan

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) has a variety of shows scheduled for this month — Max Swan on March 6, Martin Sexton on March 7, Lucas Mitsch on March 9, Brandon “Taz’ Niederauer on March 12, Gold Rush – The Ultimate Neil Young Celebration on March 13, Bill Monaghan & Celtic Pride, March 16, Barleyjuice on March 17, Matt Nokoa on March 19, Danielia Cotton on March 20, Phil D’Agostino on March 23, Tim Farrell on March 26, Jawn Of The Dead on March 27, and Ben O’Neill on March 30.

The Kennett Brewing Company (109 S. Broad Street. Kennett Square, https://kennettbrewingcompany.com) will host Joe Hillman on March 5, Paul, Josh, Brad, & Phil on March 6 and The Flying Komorowski Brothers on March 7.

More live music can be heard at the Bridgeport Ribhouse (1049 Ford Street, Bridgeport, www.ribhouse.net) which is presenting John McNutt on March 5, Jim Tauscher on March 6, Brian Quinn & Danny Beissel on March 10 and 17, Eleven on March 13, Matt Spitko on March 13, and AM RADIO on March 14.

Tuned Up Brewing Co. (135 North Main Street, Spring City, www.tunedupbrew.com) will host Rick Lawrence on March 5, Mike Kropp on March 6, Bill Ferreri on March 12, Allan Combs II on March 19 and Mr. Mody on March 26.

Creekside Sports Bar & Grille (765 N Lewis Road, Royersford, http://www.creeksidesportsbar.com/) will present Shot of Southern on March 6 and 17, Singles Going Steady on March 7, 14, 21 and 28, Philly Heart & Soul on March 12, Buzz Nutz on March 13, Lima Bean Riot on March 19, Triple Rail Turn on March 20, IV Stone on March 26, and Modern Luxe on March 27.

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