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Sid Singh: American Bot

By | Published on Thursday 2 August 2018

Sid Singh grew up in Silicon Valley and this year he is using his Fringe show to take to task big tech and the people who run these multi-billion dollar companies. With so many controversies around this industry in the last year – from fake news to dodgy data to accusations of misogyny and abuse – there’s definitely a lot to talk about. We can’t wait to hear Singh’s personal insights and to find out quite where he manages to find the humour in it all!

Coming on the back of the success of his stand-up album ‘Amazing Probably’, it feels like Singh’s comedy career is really gaining momentum at the moment, even while he concurrently pursues a second career in law back in California. Which means now seems like the perfect time to get the lowdown on him, his comedy and the world and issues he will explore in ‘American Bot’.

CC: Good to meet you. Let’s start at the start, tell us about how you got started in this comedy lark.
SS: Nine years ago, when I was still in college, my parents really wanted me to become a doctor. I even worked briefly as a cancer scientist and as an intern at a hospital, but I absolutely hated it. Meanwhile the friends I used to drink with in college thought I was funny enough to do stand-up. So, looking for an escape from an endless future working in a hospital that I’d hate, I tried my first open mic. Nine years later, here I still am!

CC: How would you describe your comedy? 
SS: I try to do observational comedy about the world around me. As a brown man who gets to travel a lot, that leads to a decent amount of social commentary, but my focus has always been to make the joke funny first and then hopefully the point good second.

CC: What can we expect from ‘American Bot’?
SS: As this is my first one man show – as opposed to 60 minutes of pure stand-up – you can expect a lot more facts and a much more singular focus on my theme: the craziness of Silicon Valley.

CC: What motivated you to focus on big tech and Silicon Valley in this year’s show?
SS: I grew up in Silicon Valley and then left for eight years to go and do college and comedy. I subsequently came back to go to law school and found a completely different place that was even more catered to the tech companies at the expense of all the other citizens. Then, as the head of an organisation at UC Hastings that provides legal services for homeless people in San Francisco, I got to see first hand what happened to people devastated by this gentrification and a government whose embrace of liberal values was little more than lip service.

CC: As you say, you grew up in Silicon Valley. So did you have to do much research for the show or is it mainly based on your personal experiences of the companies and people based there?
SS: It’s a little bit of both. The genesis of this show came from getting kicked out of a bar because of the colour of my skin. I couldn’t believe it when that happened. But then, after working for start-ups, and heading up the legal service for homeless people, and frequently volunteering at another free legal clinic, I came to research and understand the systemic racism that was behind my own personal experiences.

CC: Creative people are increasingly dependent on the likes of Google and Apple to reach an audience. Does this make it harder to take these companies to task, either about how they treat creative people or their impact on the wider world?
SS: The fear of taking these companies on is why we’re in this mess in the first place. Google and Apple, for what it’s worth, do a lot of good in this world. That’s why it matters more to take them to task when they do something awful – because they might just listen and recalibrate.

Honestly, it doesn’t even have to be all that complicated. The Electronic Frontier Foundation started ranking companies based on their adherence to basic data privacy and most of them immediately started complying, just to look good on an otherwise meaningless website. As the consumer base they want to impress, we have power and shouldn’t be afraid to use it.

CC: The toxic and somewhat hypocritical corporate culture of this world has been very much in the spotlight of late. Are things changing for the better?
SS: Companies are lazy. They want to get away with whatever they can until you call them out on it. The #metoo movement has done a good job of getting rid of some of the worst offenders. But progress is slow and I know I certainly have a number of friends who are still unhappy with the lack of respect they are given simply for being women. We have to keep the pressure on, because if they do, these companies will eventually bow down to the will of the people.

CC: The entertainment industry often isn’t much better, in that it frequently preaches liberal and progressive ideals, but then isn’t necessarily practicing them. Do you think things are changing for the better there?
SS: Ha, no! The entertainment industry is similarly getting rid of the biggest offenders, but the industry has much bigger problems than just that. It’s not enough to just protect people of colour and women from people trying to physically assault them or verbally abuse them. Hollywood respects cash over everything. If you truly respect the underprivileged, pay them the same as all the other stars.

CC: Beyond the headlines around the toxic culture at some tech firms, the other big story that some of these companies have got caught up in is the proliferation of ‘fake news’ and the impact that is having on politics and society. Do you think we can do anything about this fake news phenomenon? Other than make great comedy about it, obviously!
SS: Yes, I think there are things we can do. For starters, we shouldn’t just deride the fake news, we also need to value real news and real news organisations. That shouldn’t make them immune from criticism of course, but it should make them immune from caving in to business-related pressures.

CC: Tell us about the comedy album you made?
SS: Well, I felt I wasn’t getting enough stage time at the main clubs in San Francisco. Hell, one San Francisco festival even said they wouldn’t book me because “they already had a Singh”. So I decided to make my own stage time and give myself as much of it as possible.

The album was the culmination of that and my first seven years of comedy. I’m honestly quite proud of it, though I was really surprised and humbled when it went to number three on iTunes and landed on the Billboard charts for comedy. I really just made it because I wanted to give myself a goal of something to strive for when I started performing at these indie theatres.

CC: What attracts you to the Edinburgh Fringe?
SS: The chance to perform an hour of stand-up every single day to a brand new and sizable audience is a luxury not available to most American comics. I’ll come here every year I can and do as many shows as possible!

CC: How have you been preparing for the Edinburgh run?
SS: By trying to interview as many people who work for these tech companies as possible. From assistants to powerful CEOs, from the heads of mergers and acquisitions at $10 billion companies to the people interning in tech, I’ve tried to gather as many opinions as possible to use in order to craft my own perspectives and jokes based on it.

CC: Other than performing the show, what else are you hoping to do while you are in Edinburgh?
SS: Watch as many of my friend’s shows as possible! There are so many amazing performers here. What a treat!

CC: And finally, what have you planned post the Festival?
SS: Haha! I have no idea until I find out if I passed the California Bar! But maybe dodge attempts from Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk to kill me?

Sid Singh performed ‘American Bot’ at Just The Tonic at The Mash House at Edinburgh Festival 2018.

LINKS: sidsingh.org