Get To Know Comedian Aparna Nancherla

APARNA NANCHERLA tells us about her comedy persona, gender equality in comedy and her one piece of advice …

Aparna, how would you describe your comedy persona?

Describing your own act is never easy, but maybe if I switch to the third person, it will help. She’s pretty dry and thoughtful, innocent yet world-weary, mired in measured neuroses, but with a streak of absurdist goofball. She’s happy to share a few ideas, but she’s definitely not going to force you to listen if you’re not in the mood.

In the collaboration with & Other Stories you and Jen Kirkman did a Holiday Special. What will you be doing this holiday season?

I love the holidays in New York, enjoying the 5th Avenue displays and hot cocoa and potlucks with delicious dishes from all over the world, like Middle Eastern kanafeh or Jewish latkes with my parents, sister, her partner, their one-year-old (I want to be the cool aunt), my boyfriend and close friends. The smells will be pine and holiday cookies and mulled wine and tinsel. Oh wait, I don’t think tinsel has a smell. But I will be wearing cable-knit sweaters and covered in tinsel. And also pants! I won’t be covered in pants, but I will be wearing them.

Aparna Nancherla and Jen Kirkman

In her show, Nanette, Hannah Gadsby has said that as a woman she is no longer comfortable doing self-deprecating jokes. How do you feel about that?

I loved Nanette so much. It really deconstructed the power structures inherent in joke-telling in a complex and beautiful way. I have often relied heavily on self-deprecating jokes in my own comedy, whether talking about body issues or mental health, but I understand that there isn’t necessarily resolution in self-deprecation. Oftentimes, it’s used as a defence mechanism, and I know that because my Psych 101 class diagnosed me as someone who uses humour as a defence mechanism.

What does gender equality look like to you, as a comedian?

Historically, I think female comedians have been unfairly judged for talking a lot about their appearance, body issues, or their personal life, even though these pressures are often placed on women by society. So of course we want to talk about them on stage! It’s almost as if women are expected to default to ‘heterosexual male’ interests to be considered real comedians, which is a bias coming from the audience and other comedians, rather than the performer themselves.

I think true equality comes when anyone can talk about their actual experiences onstage, without being considered niche or gimmicky. That will mean both comedy audiences and the comedy community opening their minds, taking in more diverse experiences and unique points of view.

Why do you think comedians are particularly well-placed to tackle politics right now? 

Comedy has taken on a singular place in speaking truth to power. I think we can engage young people in issues they might not yet care about or be interested in, by making them laugh. I did an event with the UN recently where a CEO from Mythos Labs, Priyank Mathur, talked about making videos with female comedians in India and Indonesia to help engage and empower counter-terrorism initiatives. Fighting apathy is one of the best things comedy can do, by introducing people to new ideas in a more accessible, less threatening way.

If you had to pass on one single piece of advice either to an aspiring comic what would that be?

Trust your gut on what you think is funny. Don’t try and write like anyone but yourself. Sometimes comedians might start off sounding like another person they admire, but hopefully, eventually, you’ll get a brand of funny that is more authentically you.

The Holiday Collection will be available at & Other Stories, 26-27 Grafton Street and online www.stories.com from this Thursday December 6.

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