When he was growing up in Cleveland, few people would have expected soft-spoken Indian kid Sumukh Torgalkar to become an award-winning comic.
"I certainly wasn't a class clown," said Torgalkar, 26. "To this day, even at work, when people find out I'm a comedian, they're surprised."
Torgalkar is reserved and polite. He trades in subtlety and quick wit. He's not going to get in your face.
That hasn't kept him from getting his own face in front of audiences across the Midwest or from making a good impression while he's at it. Since launching his stand-up career in Columbus in September 2006, Torgalkar has won stand-up contests across Ohio and established himself as one of the leading funnymen in the bustling Columbus scene.
Before stepping on stage, Torgalkar had been quietly honing his chops with a humor column in Miami University's student paper and a public access sketch show in Cleveland during summer breaks.
He started out as a one-liner specialist in the vein of Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg. As he grew more comfortable on stage, Torgalkar made his mark with thoughtful stories about life as an Indian in the Midwest, always grounded in relatable realms like sports and pop culture.
In his routines, Torgalkar has compared his mother's traditional dance competition to the coastal rap rivalries of the 1990s, bemoaned getting nicknamed after cartoon monkeys and fended off comparisons to Aziz Ansari.
"Some dude actually thought I was him recently," Torgalkar said, "which is insane."
All comics get judged by audiences before they say a word. Torgalkar tries to disarm and educate his crowds from the start, fending off the stereotypes by making light of them.
"Once you get up on stage, that's the first thing they notice," Torgalkar said. "I want to make it obvious I'm comfortable with who I am and they should be, too."
His heritage runs deep. Torgalkar's jokes are relatively clean, which he attributes to a strict upbringing from his devout Hindu parents.
They also pushed him toward career stability, which has him patiently waiting to dive into comedy full time: "I just really want to be sure of things before I make that leap."