Teen breaks barriers to crack up audiences

Hinsdale teen Ronin Joshi's stand-up comedy chops are no joke.

The 14-year-old has been earning laughs at open mic nights since he was 12. Last month he tested his routine against other amateur comics in a competition at a Chicago club.

"We went there for an open mic," Joshi said of visiting My Buddy's on the city's north side in July with his dad. "But they were like, 'Sorry, open mic is not on today because there's a competition.' "

Intrigued, Joshi decided to enter the club's August contest, joining about two dozen other hopefuls at a tryout.

"We do it and get a letter telling us we're moving on to the finals," he related, later learning that there had been two more tryout sessions and nearly 70 entrants vying for 12 final spots.

His riff on the world of Chuck E. Cheese killed it with the judges.

"I took second place in my first stand-up competition. It was a great achievement," he said.

Indeed it was, considering he was by far the youngest in the field. He's never shied away from the spotlight.

"I've always loved speaking in front of people," said Joshi, who found an outlet in youth theater prior to comedy.

His drama teacher made sure to cast him in comedic roles to leverage his penchant for levity.

And while many of his peers did musical or dance acts for elementary talent show, Joshi launched his stand-up career.

At his dad's encouragement, Joshi began going to open mic nights at local bars, invariably the least experienced in the joint.

"I wasn't so much intimidated as I was shocked that I was the only kid there," he said. "I did relatively well, and I said, 'This is fun, let's do it again.' So we went again, and again, and we've just been going ever since. It was very interesting to get that experience and differentiate myself from other people."

Preparation is everything, Joshi has learned, taking three months to carefully craft and commit to memory his five-minute set.

"The writing and the fine-tuning is a little tedious," he said. "I practice with my dad, and we'll just do memorization through that."

Joshi can make fruitful use his school commute, which requires both train and bus rides to get to his classes on Chicago's Near West Side,

"I'm about a morning person as anyone can be," he said of his early weekday alarm.

He's a member of the Model UN team at St. Ignatius, which has one of the country's top programs.

"I enjoy the strategy," Joshi said.

Jim Gaffigan, Tom Segura and Kumail Nanjiani rank high among his favorite comedians. He dreams of getting his own Netflix special one day.

Joshi's reward for his runner-up finish? A bottle of Malort. In a nice gesture, the winner offered Joshi his prize - a five-minute set at Zanies or The Laugh Factory, two of Chicago's most venerable comedy venues. He also has a free pass into the next finals at My Buddy's in October.

Joshi relishes the originality that comedy requires.

"I can say that it's mine," he said. "You are responsible for what you say and the laughs you get from saying it."

- story by Ken Knutson, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean