It wasn’t comedy that led Aparna Nancherla into the business of being funny. She didn’t study other comedians’ styles; she hadn’t even watched or listened to very much comedy besides a Mitch Hedberg CD a friend gave her in college. Maybe she got her droll, deadpan nature from her mother? But no, her mom’s sense of humor stemmed from a sillier side. Perhaps Nancherla learned from goofy, family-friendly movies she watched with her dad, sister and mother when she was a kid. (“Home Alone” was a favorite.) Or maybe she’s simply one of those rare artists who musters her craft solely from within, with few outside influences. She can’t identify exactly where the spark comes from, it just appears.
“I just try to do what I think is my version of stand-up,” she says over the phone. “When I first began doing comedy, I was like, ‘This is what I’m gonna do onstage.’ As I continued working, maybe I was more influenced by comics around me, but it came after the fact, after I started.”
The comedian and writer, who grew up in Washington, D.C. to Indian parents who emigrated to the U.S. in the early Seventies, has appeared in guest roles on “Master of None,” “The Jim Gaffigan Show” and, most recently, landed her first recurring spot as h.r. rep Grace on Comedy Central’s “Corporate.” She recently scheduled dates for a U.S. tour, but canceled them all because of an unspecified “big career opportunity.”
So Nancherla, it appears, has a lot on her plate. But being busy and working hard is nothing new for her; Netflix released her special on season two of “The Standups” in March of this year, and prior to that, she appeared on “The Amy Schumer Show,” plus, wrote and acted in a web series called “Womanhood” with comedian Jo Firestone. “Womanhood” has an off-color, absurdist feeling to its episodes — which cover lifestyle topics ranging from how to play bridge at a retirement home to getting your upper lip waxed.
“When [Jo and I] were talking with the director and the producer about making this series, we all wanted it to be more low-fi in quality and kept it like a weird instructional video book from outer space,” she says.
Nancherla is well-known for her stand-up subject matter: dry, honest stories of her depression and anxiety. These kinds of mental health issues plague the comedy community, but aren’t usually spoken about in such stark terms as Nancherla’s. It’s a running theme in her work; she talks openly about going on antidepressants in college and how the jolt of energy the medicine is known for planted an idea in her head — that she could write comedy. Most comedians have certain talking points they revert to: Dave Chappelle often touches on racial issues, Schumer discusses being a woman in many of her jokes. Will Nancherla be like these other comics? Will depression and anxiety be the thread through her repertoire for the rest of her career?
She says she doesn’t know yet.
“They’re two things I’ve dealt with on and off over the course of my life, so in some sense I don’t think they are going anywhere,” she adds. “But in another sense, I don’t want to define myself by them.”
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