Bali Bhan

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His Sikh fans call him Sardar Seinfeld.

I suppose there are a few similarities – both men come from immigrant families, both made their starts in New York City, and both love to make people laugh. But, while Jerry Seinfeld started his career as a stand-up comedian fresh out of college at age twenty-two, sixty-eight-year-old Sardar Iqbal Singh Bhan – “Bali” Bhan is his stage name! – is beginning his as a newly retired engineer.

“I can get the best out of other people”, Bali says. “Whenever I talk, people laugh and they enjoy”.

It’s of little consequence that Bali has spent the bulk of his life in the world of math and science, as an expert in “Implementing Lean Principles”. Comedy, Bali says, has always been an important part of who he is.

Granted, we all know that one jolly uncle who’s always cracking jokes at our parents’ dinner parties. But they rarely take their humor outside of that venue. Bali is different. His daughter started telling Bali to go on the Johnny Carson Show way back in 1978. But it wasn’t until 2007 that Bali made his big break on stages in Detroit, Dallas, and New York City.

On a warm Saturday night this July, the audience at the Laugh Factory, a popular New York comedy club, was in for a surprise. Bali had convinced the show’s producer to give him a chance on stage.

The guy’s initial response, Bali remembers, was “I can’t put you on!” But, that night, Bali captivated the crowd for a full eight minutes. The most magical part of it for him was how his audience engaged with his performance. Some even came up afterwards to ask where he’d be performing next!

So, what makes Bali different?

He thinks it’s his clean humor and his unusual appearance. People don’t expect someone with a turban and a beard to be funny. Bali plays on that in his act. In Dallas, he told the audience he was Bali Bhan from Wisconsin! That got a real laugh out of them, he remembers! To them, it was hilarious to think that this unusual character could claim to be “all American”.

That, though, is exactly what Bali tries to do in his shows – meld his Sikh identity, his Indian background and his American lifestyle.

Bali’s most memorable performance wasn’t in a comedy club or a dinner party. No, his favorite show was the one he put on at a training conference for Rockwell International, his engineering firm.

Bali’s big boss, the CEO of the company, and a number of other high-ups, had come in from Pittsburgh just for this training session. But by 10 a.m., when it was Bali’s turn to speak, everyone had had enough of hearing about technical principles.

Anxiously, Bali took the stage and said, “Well, looks like this room is full of chiefs … and only one Indian!” It broke the ice. Everybody started laughing and the mood of the room took a turn.

“I made the CEO laugh”, Bali remembers with satisfaction: he’d managed to inject some humor, even in a room full of somber engineers!

But his act, Bali says, is also about good, clean fun. He doesn’t use profanity, and simply does what comes naturally, without hurting anyone’s feelings.

His aim, Bali says, is to make Sikhs known as entertainers … and to introduce his audiences to a full-blooded Sikh-American.

“We Sikhs are engineers, doctors and everything else, but I don’t think we have a guy in entertainment who links Sikh and American ways of life”.

As a Sikh, a stand-up comic, an engineer, and an American, Bali is in a class all his own.

Original Article

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