How I Turned My Job Into an Opportunity to Travel to Every Continent

Rajiv Satyal, first comic to go to all 7 continents
Photo: Rajiv Satyal

So, when I heard a comic say recently that he’d played “all six continents that have people,” I had to wonder: Had anyone done seven? Nope. I’d already had the good fortune of touring 11 states in India. I’d done a show in Bangkok. I proposed to my wife that we fly around the world to tackle three more continents. Comedians—a bunch of loving, laugh-inducing loners—graciously helped me get connected to the Sit-Down Comedy Club in Brisbane, Comedy Store in Sydney, Cape Town Comedy Club in South Africa, and New York Comedy Night in Paris.

But how to do the last two, South America and Antarctica? After canvassing 87 of my closest friends, one recommended hitching a ride with a group of Indian doctors setting sail from Argentina with a tour company called Oceanwide Expeditions. I flew to Buenos Aires and after only a few hours realized I really screwed up by not being born Latino. The delicious food, the beautiful people, the laid-back vibe—incredible. I headlined a bar gig in Buenos Aires. I contacted some locals through; we went clubbing till five in the morning. On a weeknight.

After wrenching myself away from my newly adopted Argentinian hermanos, I set out for continent number seven. I flew to Ushuaia, the southernmost city on Earth, to board the ship. With 60 Indian doctors and my Caucasian college roommate, I crossed the 600-mile Drake Passage, home to the world’s roughest seas, where ships can pitch 40 feet. I put on a scopolamine patch, “to be applied to a non-hairy spot on the body,” the package read. Hey, I’m Indian. So, behind the ear it went. Thanks to this drug, I learned to love the Drake Passage more than, “I better find your loving. I better find your heart.” (That’s a passage by Drake.)

Rajiv Satyal, first comic to go to all 7 continents
Rajiv Satyal

Anyway, as we approached, I started to fret. Turns out that, legally, no company can promise a landing on the continent. Would this count? Metallica once did “Enter Snowman” on an island within the Antarctic Circle. If you play Manhattan, you’re in North America but not on North America. It quickly became a crisis of positions and prepositions. Fortunately, our amazing crew did get us onto the Antarctic Peninsula, where I did stand-up for my cruise mates—and some penguins. It was a cold room, but this brown guy did alright in front of a black-and-white crowd.

You’re allowed to get within 15 feet of the penguins, but they have to approach you. It’s like Bumble. The penguins are cute but aloof. Then again, anytime anyone desperately traveled thousands of miles to see me, I kinda blew them off, too. The highlight of the trip was seeing 12 whales breach, including one mama with two calves. Somebody asked whether the families stay together. Guess it depends who they vote for.

I made it back to the States in time to ring in the new decade with my wife. I missed Christmas, but I messaged her from Buenos Aires, “I’m in South America. Let me know if you want anything from Amazon.”

If you wanna go, now’s the time. Antarctica recently hit nearly 70 degrees. With climate change, you may not have to go to Antarctica; the continent may soon be coming to you. I’m not sure what it says about me that I got my standup on Antarctica before I got it on late-night TV. Maybe that’s next.

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