Aparna Nancherla is an up-and-coming comedian with a strikingly original style. While initially unassuming, her stand-up—described as dry, observational, and occasionally absurdist—quickly draws you in. Her Twitter showcases her humor with tweets like…
A walks into a bar & the bartender’s like “why the long space”— Aparna Nancherla (@aparnapkin) August 15, 2014
I like how sometimes the equivalent of female character development is giving her bangs— Aparna Nancherla (@aparnapkin) January 9, 2015
She started out in Washington D.C., and since then has written for FX’s Totally Biased W. Kamau Bell, and opened for comedians such as John Oliver, Tig Notaro, Paul F. Tompkins, Maria Bamford, and Rob Delaney. Before she left for the SF Sketchfest, Nancherla was kind enough to chat with us about stand-up, Twitter, Totally Biased, and our Lucky 7 questions.
How did you start getting involved in comedy?
I started comedy pretty much on a whim. I wasn’t someone who grew up watching SNL or anything, it was more like I was a shy kid and kept a lot of journals. I was actually shy enough that my mom made me take a public speaking class so I could be braver and talk in front of people. I think that was when I first figured out that I didn’t mind talking in front of a crowd if I knew what I was going to say, and it actually felt safer to me than walking up to a random group at a party, cause you’re more in control. But I didn’t try it until I was home from college for the summer, and a friend and I went to an open mic, and then the bug bit me that way.
What is the weirdest show you’ve ever done?
This is kind of testament to the fact that sometimes people think comedy is appropriate for the strangest events. But one of the weirder shows I’ve done was a Halloween themed event and it was a battle of the bands, but it was all pre-teen bands and a local event at a bar. They were like, “While people are transitioning sets, we’ll just have a comedian come up here and tell jokes.” And it was not a good idea, and no one was into it.
You’ve been on the show Totally Biased with Kamau Bell, and also do a lot of stand-up. Is there a performing format you prefer?
I think stand-up is the most immediately satisfying in that you get crowd feedback, but TV is really nice in that you do it, and they can clean it up and make it look better than it was. But stand-up to me can definitely feel the most gratifying in terms of trying out something new on stage or just being in that moment with the audience.
What are some comedians you’ve been into lately?
I go through different phases of loving different styles, but two comedians I love are Kate Berlant and John Early. They do a lot of really great videos together, and they’re up-and-comers. Another comedian I see a lot is Jacqueline Novak, so those are three that I really like and get to see regularly. And then in terms of more established people, I love Maria Bamford and Hannibal Buress.
Could you see yourself doing anything else besides being a comedian?
I think comedy, or maybe just entertainment in general, is a very weird field with a lot of highs and lows, so as much as I love it, I’m constantly like, “What if I just quit?” It’s weird. You have a very love-hate relationship with it. I do love it and can’t imagine doing anything else right now in my life, but at the same time there are definitely weeks when I’m just like, “I hate this so much.” It can feel really alienating sometimes, but creating is the most gratifying part of it.
How do you feel about using Twitter as a writing tool? Do you use it to write new material, or can it feel like a burden?
To me, it feels really valuable. I think I underestimated how much it would help me in my career, because when I first got on it, my friend was like, “Oh, there’s this new social media thing that I think you would find entertaining,“ so when I started I didn’t even think of it in that way. Then I noticed people using it as a way to make jokes, so I started using it in that way, too. I totally got into a habit of posting a few jokes a day, and that definitely led to people reaching out to me about jobs, or doing a spot on a show. It helped me network far better than I could promote myself on my own.
i bet at some point, a girl has turned to her friend & been like "DO NOT FAX HIM BACK, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH”— Aparna Nancherla (@aparnapkin) February 18, 2015
In terms of commenting on current events, do you also enjoy using Twitter as a platform to voice your opinions?
Yeah, I feel like I have gotten more political with Twitter.
Do you ever feel weird about that since people are following you for your jokes?
I think it can feel dangerous because you have these people who will agree with what you say, but even when I use it to be political, I try to just do it about things I really care about. Like I’ll use it to post about feminism or diversity in the film industry, or stuff I am actually facing. I’m not just like, “Here’s my random opinion on the Gaza conflict,” but I will post jokes about current events and those can be tricky. I’ve gotten responses where I’m like, “Oh god, delete tweet, delete tweet,” but it’s never to the point where someone is writing a Jezebel article.
What was your first exposure to Playboy?
I feel like it was a reference in a movie, maybe Home Alone? Didn’t Kevin’s older brother have some Playboys in his room when he was going through his stuff? He’s going through the box he’s never supposed to look through, Buzz’s box, and he finds a picture of his girlfriend and also a stack of Playboys.
What movie scared you the most as a kid?
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Something about him just made me unsettled.
If you were on death row, what would your last meal be?
I’d have to go with pizza.
What’s the first song you knew the words to?
“Ice Ice Baby,” by Vanilla Ice.
What was your first car?
What is your pop culture blind spot?
Oh, I have a lot of those. Probably reality TV. I just can’t keep track. I don’t know all the names of the people and I’ll never know it all.
What’s the biggest lie you ever told?
In high school, I did a science fair project with these two girls, and it was with these cell specimens called paramecium, and we were testing how they reacted to some chemical in their environment. But when we got a shipment of them in the mail, one of the girls in the group left them outside during tennis practice and they all died. So we just made up all of our results, went to the science fair, got third place and went to the next round, and it was all a complete lie.