LAWRENCE — A former University of Kansas aerospace engineering student has become one of his nation’s leading innovators in an unexpected field: comedy.
Ider-Od Bat-Erdene attended KU between 2006 and 2011. He returned to his home country of Mongolia to work on Boeing jets for an airline there before shifting his career into entrepreneurship — and, eventually, into telling jokes before audiences.
“Mongolia's first comedy club was called UB Comedy Club. UB stands for an abbreviation for our city's name, Ulaanbaatar. It was just one person in that tiny comedy club in the basement,” Bat-Erdene said on a return visit to KU in September 2019.
“I would finish work and go down there and do comedy for 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and then there would be like five to 10 people regularly,” he said. “I would do it three times a week, and then the audience got into larger numbers — like 20 to 30 people — and then we got four other comedians along the way. And then it became like this full-scale comedy band kind of group.”
Standup comedy is still a relatively new art form in Mongolia, Bat-Erdene said.
“It's just standard American format,” he said. “It's basically like direct import of culture to Mongolia. But it works.”
He stumbled onto comedy during his time at KU: Friends encouraged him to participate in a talent show at an international student retreat held in the Colorado mountains.
“I was the only guy from my country, and all the other countries had prepared dance, singing, like all other forms of talent. And I did not have any of them,” Bat-Erdene said. “And then my friend from Kazakhstan, she gave me this idea: ‘You have some pretty cool anecdotes. Just say something funny.’”
“People really liked it, and they laughed hard,” he said. “And these two American students came up to me after my performance and asked me if I knew anything about standup comedy. ‘You should surf the internet and then watch some videos.’ That's how I kind of discovered this.”
But he didn’t jump directly into comedy. First he had to finish his aerospace engineering degree — a challenging task.
"Everything we learned — from day one to the fifth year — it made perfect sense in the end,” he said. “Until then, I was kind of in like complete uncertainty.”
He did well enough to get the job as a maintenance engineer on Boeing airliners following graduation. After that, he moved into entrepreneurship, helping co-found CallPro LLC, a Mongolia-based company that focuses on telecom technology and digital advertising.
It is in comedy, though, that he has started to make a name. He recently appeared on a television show, “The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan,” and his Instagram account has more than 278,000 followers. Videos online show him performing — in his native language — to laughing, appreciative crowds.
Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, professor of aerospace engineering, isn’t surprised that Bat-Erdene has journeyed from engineering to comedy.
“I think most of the general public would agree that comedians are very smart people,” Barrett-Gonzalez said. “I think it’s natural a smart person could be a natural at aerospace engineering, then turn around and be a good comic. Ider-Od’s communications skills are excellent, so he connects not just with engineers but with the public.”
He added: “We are immensely proud of him.”
Bat-Erdene says he still uses his KU degree — albeit more for his ongoing entrepreneurial efforts in the telecom industry than in comedy.
“That's the question I get asked a lot. I believe that I still use it,” he said. “You know, most people think that aerospace engineering is about this wing structure or landing gear. But the beauty of aerospace engineering is that all types of technologies, when they are the most expensive, penetrate into aerospace industry first and then they slide into other industries.
“Now I work in software development and telecom sector, which involves a lot of server engineering and cloud computing. All this stuff was used in aerospace engineering and then I studied about it at school.”
Bat-Erdene hopes to bring his brand of comedy back to America someday.
“I'm gonna do more in English now,” he said of his routine. “That's my dream. If there's a possibility out there, I would like to perform in America. But it will take time.”