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Tarun Shetty ‘97 | From Holderness to Hollywood

Greg Kwasnik
When Tarun Shetty ’97 was in Norm Walker’s English class at Holderness, he told his teacher that he wanted to become a writer. Mr. Walker, the legendary teacher and football coach, must have seen something special in his young student. “He said, ‘You should be funny, too – figure out how to do that,’” Tarun recalls more than two decades later. It would end up being important advice. “Nobody had ever said that to me,” Tarun says. “I took that to heart and said ‘Maybe I can do this.’ I just started trying to honor that human spirit, just to see where it took me.”
Honoring that human spirit took Tarun places far beyond his native New Hampshire. After graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Tarun embarked on an odyssey to realize his potential as a writer, actor, and performer. He got his start as a doorman at the legendary Boston Comedy Club in New York City, where comedians such as Sarah Silverman, Adam Sandler, and Jim Gaffigan launched their careers. He spent years developing his material and hustling to get stage time; he even walked the streets, handing out flyers for the comedy clubs where he was performing. It all required an immense amount of dedication, but Tarun wasn’t a stranger to hard work. He credits his work ethic, in part, to the lessons he learned working in the Job Program at Holderness. “I realized that if you just work hard enough and just hammer through that wall you can break through any way,” Tarun says. “That was my attitude as a standup, and it took me on some pretty crazy journeys.”
 
Those journeys eventually took Tarun to Los Angeles, where he flourished as a writer and actor. Among his many credits, Tarun was a series lead in the Disney's pilot "Code 9"; guest-starred on NBC's "Grimm" and the thriller "DOE"; co-starred in the sitcom pilot "No Money Down" that he also co-produced, and was a cast member on season one of Fox’s reality show “Flirty Dancing.” He also wrote and produced the comedy segment “Generation Desi” on the global program “Showbiz India” and wrote and produced on staff for G4TV. It was when he was working for “Showbiz India,” a Bollywood entertainment show, that Tarun co-wrote, produced, and acted in the viral web series “Desi OC.” It was a show that focused on the problems of young South Asian adults: dating, parents, career, love, religion, and other vital topics. It spoke to a generation of young South Asians tired of seeing themselves typecast as one-dimensional characters on mainstream film and television, and became an overnight success with millions of views. “There wasn’t really a voice for South Asians at that time,” Tarun says. “So we just connected with a lot of Indians, and grew a lot from that.”
 
That kind of creative growth has been a feature of Tarun’s career, with each phase – from standup comedian to actor to producer of a hit web series – serving as stepping stones along his creative journey. He took a new step along that path in 2019 with the publication of his first novella, “Laughing in Hell.” The book is based on his experiences in the cutthroat world of standup comedy, and is by turns wickedly funny, gritty, and very compelling. During the pandemic, he also produced a new comedy web series, “Writers Group,” a hilarious sendup of a Zoom-based writing workshop. That new show is set to premiere at the LA Comedy Festival. In a very real way, these new projects are just the latest fulfilment of Mr. Walker’s advice in his English class so many years ago. Tarun became a writer – and he found a way to be funny doing it.
 
“You have to figure out what makes you unique and different, and that’s really your best shot - and that hopefully will speak intrinsically to who you are as an artist, whether you’re a writer, an actor, a director,” Tarun says. “And then you follow that thread. It might change, it might evolve, but the important thing is identifying that, and then having fidelity to your human spirit and seeing where that takes you.”
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