Second Career: From IT Engineer to Stand Up Comic
Dan Nainan was an IT engineer at Intel who could design technical demonstrations in his sleep. But when he was asked to present these demonstrations live in front of thousands or on television in front of millions alongside Intel Chairman Andy Grove, he was terrified.
Nainan joined a Toastmasters club at Intel to help him overcome his fear of public speaking, but says, "speaking in front of 15 other computer nerds over lunch just wasn't challenging enough." He had always had a secret desire to do comedy and so he took a comedy class, thinking that if he could do comedy, the onstage presentations for Intel would become easier. His assumption turned out to be correct. After hearing about Nainan's comedy routine, an Intel convention organizer asked him to perform live in front of hundreds at an upcoming conference.
He was such a success that he was invited to appear at the annual Intel sales conference, this time in front of thousands. Nainan walked onstage as the demo engineer who was experiencing "technical difficulty" and quickly launched into his comedy routine. Those who didn't know him couldn't believe he actually was the "techie" and assumed he was hired as the entertainment for the event. It was then that he realized he could do this for a living.
But not everyone was laughing when they heard about Nainan's ambition to become a professional comedian. "When one decides to take on a show-business career, one is confronted by detractors left and right," Nainan observes. "It's always the same negative stuff, such as 'so many people are trying to make it in the business' or 'don't quit your day job.' I believe that many people have a hidden desire to leave their boring, mundane 9-to-5 jobs and try something out-of-the box, and I think that discouraging other people from pursuing their dreams psychologically validates their decision to stay put. One thing I must say is that my parents were always very supportive of me, even in the beginning when I wasn't making any income from comedy."
For the first few years, he wasn't able to land many gigs at comedy clubs where the competition was fierce. He managed to go beyond comedy clubs and performed at corporate functions, colleges, cruise ships, political events, and charity galas -- and even landed a spot on an Apple commercial.
Even though Nainan now earns a living doing comedy, he isn't doing it for the money. He loves what he does and has the opportunity to travel around the world and perform in front of many famous people.
His advice to others considering a career change to a creative field? "It's critically important to hold down a steady job and pursue your creative/artistic pursuits in the evenings and on weekends, because it is extremely difficult to make money in these fields in the beginning," Nainan says. "People say that there isn't enough time for that, but that is absolutely not true. The average American spends 28 hours a week in front of the television -- and that time could be spent developing a talent in something artistic or creative. If you have a passion and you really want to pursue it, you will make the time for it."