Joke’s on You
Dan Nainan, The Media’s Favorite ‘Millennial,’ Is 55 Years Old
Dan Nainan is known as a 35-year-old former Intel engineer who now makes millions as a comedian. The fact that he’s 20 years older is the least weird part of his story.
Last week, it happened again. This time it was Forbes, smack dab in the headline.
“Millennial Dan Nainan Left Intel To Make His Millions Entertaining Others With Comedy.”
Millennial Dan Nainan has been the go-to millennial in a whole lot of news stories in the past year. He was 35 in an AP story that appeared in the Chicago Tribune about undecided voters on Nov. 6, two days before the election. A few weeks later, he was 35 in a Vocativ story about Obama voters who wound up voting for Donald Trump.
“I think people who felt like an underdog might have identified with Trump more, because he was being picked on so much,” Nainan said. “I felt it was very liberating to vote for him and thumb my nose at everybody.”
There he was again in Cosmopolitan in July. This time he was a millennial who swore off porn.
“Of course I liked looking at it, but after awhile, something about it struck me as wrong,” he said.
He claimed once in an interview that the website Help a Reporter Out had gotten him “100 media placements, large and small” by 2013, from Fox News to CNN to NPR. For reporters, Nainan’s a unicorn: a punctual, on-topic, quasi-funny man with a hell of a life story.
Just ask Forbes. Nainan left his career as a senior engineer at Intel to travel the world and tell jokes. Twenty-eight countries and a Tesla, all by the age of 35.
And on Sept. 11, 2001, while at Intel, Nainan “was able to watch both towers fall from his corner in Manhattan, NYC,” according to Business Insider in 2011.
“After watching so many people die right in front of him, he realized that he needed a change. He left his job to pursue comedy full time,” Business Insider’s Personal Branding Blog wrote.
Wait a minute.
“A few years prior to September 11th, 2001, Dan Nainan was a senior engineer with Intel Corp.,” the story reads. It’s written by Millennial Branding LLC media branding expert Bill Connolly. “His job was to travel the world with Chairman Andy Grove, doing technical demonstrations on stage at events.”
After years of giving technical demonstrations with the chairman of Intel, millennial Dan Nainan, then 20 years old, watched the towers fall from his corner office as a senior engineer, and decided he needed a career change?
“His story is incredible, though as we are learning, not unique,” Connolly writes.
Sounds pretty unique.
Nainan was 36 in 2012 in The Wall Street Journal, but 31 in The New York Times in the same year. In 2006, he remembered when he got the bug to do comedy: In 1998, while he was working as a senior engineer at Intel. As a 17-year-old.
Then, there it is on paper: a Maryland traffic court case from last year. “Failure to display registration card upon demand by police officer.” Daniel Nainan of New York City. Date of birth: May 1961.
And then, for good measure, there’s a Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department incident report for the time a sprightly 32-year-old Nainan punched then-Daily Beast reporter Josh Rogin after he made fun of his set at a D.C. comedy club in 2013. (Rogin and I have never met, for what it’s worth.)
Under “exact age or range” it says this: 52. Nainan pleaded guilty and served probation.
A Virginia speeding ticket in the database Lexis-Nexis says Nainan was pulled over for speeding in 1987. The ticket is so old that it’s not retrievable anywhere but on archived public-records searches. Fairfax County General District Court only retains records for resolved traffic cases for 10 years, according to both a FCGDC spokesperson and Virginia law.
Millennial Dan Nainan would’ve had to have been a 6-year-old with a speeding ticket.
“He’s been called that several times,” said Rob Maher, who has been sparring with Nainan for years now, of Nainan being described as a millennial. “He’s obsessed with being 20 years younger than he really is.”
Millennial millionaire Dan Nainan is 55 years old. He doesn’t really even look 35. If you Google Dan Nainan, it will say his age: 55 years old. There’s even a website called ComedianDanNainanIsOver50YearsOldAndHisFollowersAreFake.com. Last week, one of the world’s most successful international comedians, Russell Peters, called him a “sociopath that is a 55yr old man child” on Twitter. Nainan used to open for him.
It is not a well-kept secret.
So why is he telling every journalist he can find that he’s something else? And why hasn’t anybody told them?
The first of the few hundred angry emails Joe Robinson got from Dan Nainan came a little while after they did a show together at a Hyatt in Bethesda, Maryland. Joe was the headliner and Dan was the emcee.
“It went all right. After the show, he sold a book, a DVD, and a CD. He did eight minutes of comedy. So I decided to say something about it, about how he shouldn’t be selling a book about how to make it in comedy if he’s emceeing at a Hyatt,” Robinson said.
He then brought up the exchange on his podcast with Maher, a fellow D.C.- and Baltimore-based comedian.
“He’s had a long reputation of having battles with comics. I didn’t know that,” said Robinson. “To be frank with you, I never would’ve said anything if I had known that back then.”
Ever since, Robinson has been on an infamous email chain featuring every comic who has ever slighted Dan Nainan.
“I’ve gotten, without exaggeration, 300 emails,” he said.
Sometimes the emails were only addressed to him. Sometimes they were to every comic, dozens of them, all lumped in together. At their peak, they’d come a few times per day.
The gist of the emails? Nainan would go down his rival comics’ tour dates and alert them to the much bigger room he would be performing at halfway across the world on the same day.
“He loves to say comedians are drunks and drug addicts, and he likes to champion that he’s a clean-living person,” said Maher.
That’s just the start of it.
“He can play 19 instruments. He speaks x number of languages fluently, flies first class, drives a Tesla. I’ve never met anybody that cared more about what other people thought,” said Robinson. “Did he tell you about how he’s able to slam dunk a basketball?”
There were times, Robinson said, where it got out of hand. Robinson claims Nainan called his bosses at his day job at one point to try to get him fired.
“I saw him. I made fun of him. I just made fun of the practice of what he was doing once. He went through a criminal history. He talked to my employers,” said Robinson.
“Then there was that email he offered to fight me to the death on the Isle of Man.”
That’s not a joke.
“Yeah, he gave places you’re allowed to legally fight to the death,” said Maher. “No, we’re not going to fight you to the death. By the way, my buddy has kids. He’s gonna fight to the death? Just be 55. It’s OK.”
All of this because Joe made fun of him for selling a book at a Hyatt?
“If you think this is bad, you should talk to J-L Cauvin,” said Robinson.
“I became his enemy No. 1,” said J-L Cauvin.
Cauvin is a part-time comic who’s also a lawyer in New York. He doesn’t have many dates booked nowadays, he said, but he is a regular on The Adam Carolla Show. He spends a lot of time wondering what it’s going to take to break through, if he’s on the precipice of something big, or if he said the wrong thing to the wrong booker along the way.
One time, he wrote a blog post about “how feature acts are being squeezed out of comedy, like the middle class in America.” He mentioned corporate comedians, ones who play birthday parties and company meetings for cash. He mentioned Dan Nainan.
“He wrote about 40 comments under his real name under the post,” said Cauvin. “He’s never subtle about this stuff.”
After his blog post, Cauvin made the email list. Probably the top of the list.
“I became the go-to,” said Cauvin. “In the mass emails, I’m the one he’s calling out a lot of the time. I’m the specific target. They were insane and mean-spirited emails. It took a turn for the aggressive."
Then, by some miracle, the emails stopped. And that miracle was Patrick Melton.
Melton was on the list. He has a comedy podcast called Nobody Likes Onions. He knows Joe and Rob and J-L and a lot of the other people on the chain.
“I kept badgering [Nainan] to do the podcast. I said, ‘I’ll let you talk as much as you want.’ I knew if I didn’t have him come on, I’d regret it,” Melton said.
“I don’t get it because he’s successful. He goes to do these corporate gigs. I’d imagine he makes a half-million a year doing comedy. It seems to drive him nuts he doesn’t have respect. I don’t get why he needs approval of these ‘nobodies,’ as he calls them.”
Plus, Melton was not particularly worried about a visit to the Isle of Man.
“I’m a big dude, anyway,” he said.
Nainan shows up on the podcast in April 2015. He lies about his age. He says, jokingly, over and over that he’s 74. Otherwise, the show goes smoothly. Joe Robinson and a few other comics call in and Melton plays mediator.
“After the show, I say, ‘We should get all the comics you hated on, the ones you emailed, and let’s put on a charity show.’ He agreed to do all that. He took a photo with me. He seemed happy,” said Melton. “Then he left.”
Within 20 minutes of leaving, Nainan blocked Melton and his podcast on Twitter and never answered an email from him again, Melton said.
“Whatever that interview did broke him. He stopped the emails to everybody. He stopped harassing me entirely,” he said.
So that might be why Nainan, a 55-year-old man, winds up giving millennial sex tips in Cosmo in July and nobody corrects it until months later. Cauvin said he feels bad for him a little bit, but he also doesn’t want the emails to restart.
“I feel bad, but it also feels like there’s some sort of danger to it. Other than speaking to you, I, for the most part, have abstained from talking about it. It’s 85 percent because I don’t want to bother him,” said Cauvin.
“It’s like Catch Me if You Can. That’s what I’m worried about, is that one day he’ll get a movie out of his bad behavior.”
After all, if this is a bit, it’s the best bit Dan Nainan has ever dreamed up. He’s duped the media countless times just by going onto a help-a-reporter website. Even if it isn’t a bit, why wouldn’t he just pretend it was? It’s so transparent. He doesn’t look 35. Every official record says he was born in May 1961.
Why won’t he just admit to it?
“If your article ends up being a big thing, the real joke is that he’ll end up optioning his story,” said Cauvin. “Then he really will be rich.”
Forbes had just pulled its story on Dan, along with the accompanying video calling him a “Millennial Funnyman,” when I emailed him last Thursday. People had been tweeting about his age.
Eleven minutes later, I got a response.
“You’re doing a story about a story? Now that’s a first!” Nainan wrote. He followed it with a smiley face.
I know. Pretty weird, I told him.
“But, yeah, it appears to be scrubbed from the internet because of discrepancies about your age, which is the second time it happened in the last few months,” I said.
“So are you 35 or 55? It appears from a couple of official documents you’re 55.”
This time Nainan replied in 18 minutes. He ignored the question.
“You might enjoy this—my goal for next year is to get a sitcom made which closely parallels my life. I’m pitching it as Seinfeld meets Silicon Valley,” he wrote. He then attached the screenplay.
“Logline: After suffering a traumatic brain injury, an introverted Intel engineer terrifies his parents by deciding to pursue his dream of becoming the only half-Indian, half-Japanese comedian in the world, and opens the country’s first all-clean comedy club.”
Then, a few minutes later, he sent over his hospital admission paperwork for the brain injury. It says he checked into Bellevue Hospital on December 16, 2015. No birthday.
I asked him again: Wouldn’t this be a good place to start telling people your real age?
The next day, I called Dan. His cellphone number was on his website.
I told him: Cosmo just ran a correction. They know you’re 55.
“I just don’t think there’s any benefit to me commenting. It is what it is,” he said. “Just to see what’s going on with Twitter and all this stuff, it’s amazing that people would be so concerned about someone that isn’t on the radar. I’m not well-known in any shape or form. It’s really amusing to me to have all this going on. It’s quite amusing.”
That’s understandable. So why not just give your real age?
“The thing of it is, there’s no benefit. Whatever I say, it’s not going to matter,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get clubs and agents and Comedy Central to notice me. Nobody paid me even a second of time. I’ve performed for the president, president-elect, Hillary. I’ve been to 28 countries. I’ve tried and tried and tried to get on TV. I can’t even perform at the local clubs.”
That’s when I asked him about Joe Robinson.
“That guy went on and posted a whole bunch of lies,” he said. “I contacted an attorney. I was seriously thinking of suing him for everything he had. He didn’t have any money. The ones who criticize me the most are the ones who are the least successful.”
I said I understood.
“The only way I’ve gotten attention is with this, of all things. I friggin’ hate this industry so much and the people in it. I’m flying first class around the world. Despite what these people say, I’m a happy guy. I’ve done all of this with nobody’s help. I did it all myself,” he said. “The only time that anyone has paid attention to me is when something like this happens.”
I get it, I told him. It’s time to tell the whole story, I said. Being in your forties and leaving Intel to become a millionaire comedian is even more impressive than some guy in his twenties making it in comedy like everybody else, right?
We talked for a half-hour. After a long discussion about internet hate mobs, he asked, “Are you threatening me?” with the internet hate mob. I told him I’m not. I just want to hear your real story, I said. At points, he asked if I was being pressured by an editor to publish the story, if he could ask for it not to be published, if he could make all the stuff he previously said off the record. I told him no, no, and that he couldn’t.
At one point he asked, “Can it get any worse?”
Finally, I laid it all out. I have official state documents with his real age on them. They’re public records. His timeline with Intel doesn’t make any sense. He gives different ages at different times depending on which publication he’s talking to. It’s all over. It’s OK. The jig is up.
So tell me, are you 35 or 55?
Then a pause.
“I’m 35,” he said. “The mistake is in my birth record.”
A few minutes later, he said he wanted to talk to his lawyer before he said anything else.
The next day, in an email, I asked him to show me any document proving a mistake in his birth record, or that his real age is 35. I called him back repeatedly to ask for comment on this and other specific allegations Joe and Rob and Patrick and J-L have made.
Nainan never responded. At press time, his website was no longer online.
Rob Maher said Dan asked him if he wanted to be on a reality-TV show a few years ago.
“It was something about ‘people think that you’re lying but you’re not and you want to prove it to them.’ He wanted me and Joe to go on his show,” said Maher.
So, Maher said, to prove that he was “talking to the producer,” Nainan showed him a screenshot of a call log on his phone.
“It’s an 800 number. He was calling the switchboard of the network,” he said. “In the same screenshot, he has Barack Obama calling him. Like, it says ‘Barack Obama.’ He’s trying to get us to believe he’s talking to the president about who knows what.”
Maybe it’s a bit?
“He’s not funny enough to do that as a joke,” said Maher. “It would be funny if it was performance art. But it’s not. He does this constantly.”
Cauvin has a brother who works at The New York Times, in which Nainan has appeared at least six times. He believes what Maher just said—that Nainan’s antics are not funny enough to be a joke, and not unbelievable enough to be worth making up—is what got him this far.
“It reminds me of Sean Connery in The Untouchables. He says, ‘Who would claim to be that who is not?’ Why would I claim to be 35? Exactly! Nobody ever cares enough to check. He’s built an empire out of lies and manipulation,” said Cauvin.
“Other than that, he’s a really good guy and a good comedian.”
He’s joking, if you can’t tell. After all this, it’s hard to know anymore.
“Comedy is a tough business,” said Cauvin. “You can either deal with it and grit through it, or you can create an alternate universe.”