“Comedy is a formula–setup and punch,” says Dhaya Lakshminarayanan. But it’s also personal: “Nobody else can make a joke about being an Indian girl growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, and going to MIT.” In standup settings from New York’s Gotham Comedy Club to an informal crowd at Ashdown, where she lived as a grad student, Lakshminarayanan plays on her life experiences. For example: “MIT wasn’t a big football school. We had a team. We weren’t Division 1. Or even Division 2. We lobbied to be in our own division … 3.14159.”
Lakshminarayanan’s combination of comic talent and MIT credentials helped her land the job as host of High School Quiz Show, a public-television program created at Boston’s WGBH last spring. Based in San Francisco, she began working as a professional standup comedian in 2006, performing in comedy clubs and large theaters and touring with Five Funny Females. That’s in sharp contrast to the consulting career she began after MIT, where she earned degrees in urban studies and planning, focusing her graduate work on energy economics and infrastructure finance in Puerto Rico. She’s worked as a management consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton and in asset management for Parnassus Investments, a multibillion-dollar socially responsible mutual fund, where she specialized in health services. She was also an investor in both venture capital and nonprofit projects for a $400 million fund headed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Her last job was as director of strategy and prizes at the Freedom Prize Foundation, which aims to decrease U.S. dependence on oil. These days, she balances her comedy career with strategic and communications consulting for clients ranging from Wells Fargo to political candidates.
She’s always been a bit of a prankster, she says, with a history of mud wrestling at Steer Roast. Her witty IAP Charm School courses–on how to tell a joke and interpret body language–were highlighted in news coverage by CNN and NPR. She has found humor useful in business, too. “Making someone laugh was a way to equalize the gender imbalance in the business and the corporate world,” she says.
Besides consulting and comedy, Lakshmina-rayanan works with environmental, political, and philanthropic groups in her San Francisco community. For the future, she wants to build on her High School Quiz Show experience. “I love television,” she says. “Eventually I want to have my own show on the Discovery Channel that explains science, engineering, and technology in a humorous way that entertains and educates.”