by Ryan Meehan
Aparna Nancherla has an intimidating name, but don’t be scared! She’s a joke entrepreneur who pedals in both writing and performance (AKA scribble-scrabble and jibber-jabber). In fact, she recently wrote for and sometimes appeared on the late, great Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, on FX-then-FXX. Her artistic journey took off in Washington D.C. (it’s all about the Washingtons), but she now resides in the biggest apple in the gosh darn world. Aparna’s comedic goggles are dry and observational, and her act is sprinkled with absurdist wit and a whimsical point-of-view. Other credits include @midnight, Conan, LA Weekly‘s “12 Comedy Acts to Watch”, Serial Optimist’s “10 Comics You Must Know”, Splitsider’s “10 Up-and-Coming Comedians on Each Coast”, 2013 New Face at the Just for Laughs Montreal Comedy Festival, the WTF Podcast with Marc Maron, the Nerdist Podcast with Chris Hardwick, Last Comic Standing, SXSW, SF Sketchfest, the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, Gilda’s Laughfest, the Great American Comedy Festival, NPR, Laughspin, Funny or Die, Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post Magazine, TimeOut NY, and Slate V. She was kind enough to take time out from her busy schedule to be our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: First off, where did you come up with the idea to use @aparnapkin as a Twitter handle? Did you do it so as to avoid any confusion that you might have with the pronunciation of your last name, or are you just a big fan of napkins?
AN: I joined Twitter before I realized that it was a marketing tool, so I wasn’t really thinking about it too seriously. And yes, my last name (Nancherla, pronounced NAN-chair-LA) causes panic attacks in some, and panic attacks in others as well. It’s not actually that difficult, but napkin is easier. It cleans up its own messes.
RM: What was the biggest challenge that you had to face cutting your teeth as a comic when you were first starting out? How did you find a way to turn that challenge into an opportunity?
AN: My biggest challenge starting out as a comic was just getting more comfortable onstage and translating my voice into jokes other people would understand. I live very much in my head and often feel uncomfortable in my own skin, so I had to find a way to make that work for me.
I often find that stuff makes me laugh that draws blank stares or rapid shrugs in others. So I had to develop an Aparna-to-English dictionary for my act. I’m still figuring it out, but I do find that having an offbeat sensibility is good in that people remember you, even if they remember you as the quiet weirdo.
RM: You were a contestant on @Midnight back in February, which is a show that has become extremely successful in a busy Comedy Central weeknight lineup. Speaking from someone who has been on the set of that show, why do you think that it has become so popular? And what was that whole experience like for you?
AN: I think @midnight does a great job of making the at-home audience a part of the show with both the Internet and interactive components. The experience was really one of the most fun opportunities of which I’ve been a part. I was on a lineup along with Ron Funches and Matt Braunger, two of the nicest and funniest guys in comedy, and so it just felt like hanging out with your pals, trying to make each other laugh. Everyone at the show is criminally nice, encouraging, and happy to have you there.
RM: As we sit here in the year 2014, how hacky do you consider the tech support/customer service jokes are when referring to individuals of Indian descent? Does it surprise you that comedians are still trying to use that bit in this day and age?
AN: We do sit here in 2014, don’t we? I have to say even the hackiest joke comes from some far off truth, and the truth is there are a number of people of South Asian descent working in tech support or at call centers. But I think the danger is that it’s such an overly used, easy joke to make that is no longer surprising in any way, not to mention people’s Indian accents are often disturbingly inaccurate. That’s not to say that someone couldn’t come along and turn this one on its head. I bet it could be done. It doesn’t surprise me that people are still using this bit because people are still using jokes that are thousands of years old. Hacky jokes are like stereotypes. They don’t come out of thin air, but they are just often so general and broad and uninteresting.
RM: When you were on Conan back in October, a lot of people that saw you on that show had probably not heard of you before. Before you went on did you feel like you had to approach that whole situation as if you were trying to win the crowd over; or did you have to sort of pretend like it was your standard, run of the mill gig even though it clearly wasn’t?
AN: As Conan was my first late night spot on TV, I felt truly nervous about how it would go. But at the same time, I usually get so much anxiety anyway on a daily basis that my brain imploded and refused to even acknowledge the event until after it was over (see “flight” in fight-or-flight reaction). I basically went into “out-of-body” mode. My main concern was that all my words came out in the right order, so I ended up practicing my set many, many times. Everyone at the show is an absolute peach though, and I think that really helps you feel at home and in your element.
RM: What type of music do you listen to on the road when you are on your way to a show? If I were to see the ten most played tracks on your iTunes account right now, what would I find?
AN: This is a great question that I would like the answer to from all my peers, including GrumpyCat. I try to listen to upbeat stuff, but sometimes I go supremely melancholy for some reason. The playlist is always changing depending on new songs I discover. I think in my top ten right now would be “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” by the Stars, “Magic” by B.O.B. feat. Rivers Cuomo, “Brave” by Sara Bareilles, “Breezeblocks” by Alt-J, “Patron Saint” by Regina Spektor, “Waterfall” by the Fresh & Onlys, “Bad Girls” by M.I.A., “45” by the Gaslight Anthem, “Venus in Furs” by the Velvet Underground, and mystery flavor!
RM: The other day on Facebook you posted “Does anyone have a waterfall & 5000 ghost babies I can borrow for a short sketch? Non-union only plz”. Would you care to explain such a bizarre request to the comedy fans of America; or it will spoil the surprise?
AN: I’m working on a PSA about screensavers. That’s all I can say right now! I might be lying!
RM: What’s up next for you in 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
AN: I am very thrilled to be participating in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in Australia in April as part of their Headliners program. I fly out in a few weeks. The only place I’ve performed comedy outside the States is Canada, and I’ve never been to Australia before, so I’m excited on all fronts. And of course, I will probably adopt a koala bear as my son, and bring it home with me. Yes, I know they have fussy temperaments. I’ve done the research (cough, Wikipedia).
Official Website: http://www.aparnacomedy.com/
Aparna on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aparna.nancherla
Aparna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/aparnapkin
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