My journey from Intel Demo Engineer to world-traveling comedian

Dan Nainan was a techie at heart. His time spent demoing technology at events and conferences for Intel led to the discovery of this true passion: a career in comedy. Featuring Star Trek jokes and bumps along the road to success, this is Dan’s story.
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Dan Nainan tells his story of how he went from demoing tech for Intel to being a famous world-traveling comedian

My first job at Intel was a very interesting one; I was on the road for two years, living out of suitcases and in 10 cities for two months each. Intel was sponsoring a tour put together by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. By virtue of sponsoring the event, Intel was allotted a 3,000 square foot booth that traveled with the exhibition. It was my job to set up and babysit all of the computers in the booth, and to hire people to man the booth in each city.

In one of the cities, Houston, I met a comedian, and what he told me about the profession piqued my interest. I asked him how I could get started doing comedy, and he told me: make sure that you write down anything that you think is funny, anything that you hear that’s funny and anything funny that comes up in conversation. So, I did precisely that for over a year. During the tour, I used my laptop for daily tasks and for taking notes about all these funny occurrences around me. It seemed to work; I had no issues whatsoever typing.

We had a two-month break on the tour, and I was told that I could use that time to work at Intel headquarters, alongside the Corporate Demo Group for a couple of months if I so desired. Or, I could have the time off to do as I please. Of course I chose to work with the demo group – it meant the possibility of leading to a job offer after the tour ended, after all.

Unfortunately, a few weeks after I started working with the Demo Group at Intel, I developed severe wrist pain when I was typing, and it only got worse. I couldn’t believe it, and I didn’t know what to do. There was clearly something wrong with the desk in my cubicle, right? Thankfully, Dragon NaturallySpeaking was available, and it also happened to be a product that we were demonstrating at events all over the world. After that, demoing Dragon quickly became my specialty. It was not only something I demoed onstage, but also something I had to use in the course of my work, because of the wrist pain I was experiencing.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking was truly a godsend for me. I don’t know what I would have done without having it to help me. I became intimately familiar with what I needed to do to optimize my experience with Dragon, including using the right microphones, the right basic hardware, etc.

That guy demoing tech.

After a while, my job with the tour ended and fortunately, because of my two-month stint at Intel headquarters, I was offered a job in the Corporate Demo Group. I was ecstatic, of course! I did have a slight problem, however; although I really enjoyed building computer systems and installing demos, I was absolutely terrified of presenting onstage. Intel gave us speaker training, but that wasn’t enough, in my opinion, because nothing can really simulate being on stage in front of thousands of people. I even joined the Toastmasters group on campus, but that also wasn’t too helpful, because we were just 12 computer geeks in a meeting room, talking to each other.

Around the same time, I heard that a comedy class was being offered in the Bay area with Judy Carter, a famous teacher and author of “The Comedy Bible.” I agonized for weeks over whether or not I should sign up for the course, and of course a lot of my hesitation was because of fear. Fortunately, I pushed my fears aside and finally signed up for the course. In the first class, we all introduced ourselves, played some improv games, and learned a little bit about standup comedy. In the second class, we were asked to perform about our jobs. As mentioned previously, I had been writing jokes for a couple of years, so I had a bunch of jokes on index cards, ready to go. When it was my turn, the teacher was extremely impressed, and I couldn’t believe everybody’s reaction. They laughed at every single one of my jokes. Talk about beginners’ luck!

I was an absolute heaven (for a moment, at least).

Unfortunately, I came down back down to earth in the next class the following week. Nobody laughed at any of my jokes, and I was absolutely devastated. I don’t know why I took it so personally, but I seriously considered quitting the class – obviously I was not cut out for standup comedy. But, there was something that made me not want to quit. I had quit so many things before in my life, so I decided to stick it out. Boy, am I glad I did!

Long story short, I did really, really well at the ‘graduation class,’ a show at a real comedy club that was put on for our friends and relatives. The place was packed, and I had an incredible set, mostly because I was extremely prepared and knew my jokes backwards and forwards. I showed the videotape to my coworkers at Intel, and they suggested I perform at an upcoming team dinner at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas for 200 Intel employees. I’ll never forget it – it was in a room on top of the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. I did some impressions of the CEO and some “inside Intel” jokes, and they were absolutely dying.

Immediately after my performance, a member of the marketing team came up to me and asked if I could perform this same act at the annual Intel sales conference a few months later. Of course I said I would, meanwhile wondering how – and what – I was going to tell my boss. As it turned out, I never did ask my boss, because I knew that he would have nixed the idea right away. I guess it’s like the old saying goes; always ask for forgiveness instead of permission. I looked forward to the convention with a combination of fear and eagerness.

That guy who made you laugh.

One of my most memorable experiences with Dragon was at a very large convention with Intel vice president Sean Maloney. We were using Dragon in conjunction with an SQL database so that we could do verbal queries of sales data instead of typing in arcane commands. We could ask questions like “Show me sales by quarter” or “Give me a graph of sales by region” and so forth. After each question, we would say “Execute” to initiate the query.

During rehearsal, Sean asked me if we could perhaps come up with a more user-friendly command than “Execute.” I suggested “Make it so” from Star Trek. He asked me if enough people in the audience would know what that meant. I told him come on, these were computer people – if you had a Venn diagram of two circles, one with Star Trek fans and one with computer people, the circles would literally be right on top of each other. So I modified the demo to accept “Make it so” in addition to “Execute.”

During the speech, we did the demo and I ran through the questions, saying “Execute” at the end of each one. As we had rehearsed, Sean said that “Execute” sounded a bit militaristic, and could we ask it another way, and so for the final question I said “Give me a graph of sales by region – make it so.” It worked perfectly, and the crowd roared with laughter and applause.

Anyway, at the sales convention, there were 2,500 Intel employees representing countries from all over the world: salespeople from India, France, Argentina, and so on. By the time the convention rolled around, all of the executives had heard that I was going to do this comedy act, and they were really excited about it. It was only 8 o’clock in the morning – hardly the best environment for comedy. To tee up my act, we decided to pretend that something had gone wrong with one of my demos, and so I strode to the podium and said that while we fixed the problem, I would tell them some jokes. I launched into my act, mercilessly tearing apart the CEO and doing a perfect impression of his thick Hungarian accent. People couldn’t believe what they were hearing, and they were laughing so hard that they were pounding on tables. I had people come up to me whom I’d never met, insisting that I must be a professional comedian who was only pretending to be an Intel demo guy. This totally shocked me, and it was then when I got the first inkling that perhaps I could really do comedy for a living.

There was no looking back from that. My time with Intel was great, and I wouldn’t change it for anything – after all, it’s where I found my calling in comedy. Today, I get to travel the world and perform with everyone from Bob Saget and Jerry Seinfeld to Jim Gaffigan and Russell Peters. I have performed for President Obama, Donald Trump and my ultimate hero, Steve Wozniak. To realize your dreams, sometimes you just have to not ask for permission, take a chance, and always, always, know your Star Trek references.

This post was dictated using the Dragon Recorder app for iPhone and Dragon NaturallySpeaking for the PC.

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  • John

    I was fortunate to have seen, Dan a number of times and can say he is VERY funny and had me in tears laughing so hard.

Dan Nainan

About Dan Nainan

Beginning his career as a senior engineer with Intel Corporation, Dan Nainan designed and presented highly technical demonstrations on stage with Intel Chairman Andy Grove at high-profile events all over the world. He took a comedy class to help get over the fear of public speaking at these events, and it was from there that his career in comedy was launched. Today, Dan is a world-famous comedian, having performed for President Barack Obama and Steve Wozniak, and appearing on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.” A world traveler and adventurer, Dan enjoys learning languages and extreme sports such as bungee jumping, scuba diving, skiing rollerblading and skydiving in his spare time. He is also a published author and, as a former touring musician, continues to share his passion for music.