Future Women's History Month: Aparna Nancherla Finds Laughs in the Darkness
Fuse is celebrating Women's History Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future Women's History before our eyes. Today we're paying tribute to Aparna Nancherla, the comedian who in 2016 gave us her debut album Just Putting It Out There, the first release on fellow stand-up Tig Notaro’s Bentzen Ball Records.
Nancherla was born to parents from Hyderabad, South India and grew up near Washington, D.C. Her comedy is as apt to target quotidian, absurdist observations as it is to skewer misogyny and racism. Nancherla lives with depression and anxiety and speaks on these topics eloquently and prolifically both onstage and off, telling Splitsider last year that "introversion and social anxiety are two things that very much are tenterhooks on which my personality is suspended."
In that same interview, Nancherla noted that she finds it "dangerous to glamorize mental health issues as some kind of romantic alter ego." She broke down the honest intersection of her work and her health a little later with GQ:
"A lot of comedy comes from a shared suffering or pain that people can relate to. It's not like, 'Let's do jokes about how great this thing is.' Jokes tend to be about how things are weird or don't make sense. Depression is kind of the same, constant questioning. They line up in terms of analyzing everything to their logical end or illogical end."
Aparna Nancherla has worked in the writers rooms at Late Night with Seth Meyers and Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and acted on Love, Inside Amy Schumer and The Jim Gaffigan Show. She co-hosts the webseries Womanhood with Jo Firestone; episodes include "How to Get Waxed Like Miss America," "Trying on the Perfect Prom Dress with Mom," "Learning to Play Bridge, The Most Complicated Game Alive" and "Ruining Your Body at a Young Age."
"Often in comedy," Nancherla told Feministing, "the male viewpoint or sense of humor is considered the default and anything outside of that is niche or specific. I want to show that the other half of the population’s viewpoint is legitimate!"
Nancherla has said that her comedy—and working in a male-dominated field—has gotten her more involved in women's issues. She spoke with Weird Sister in 2015:
"I don’t think being a feminist comic as an exclusionary label. I think of it as an ‘Of course I am!’ Even though it’s not necessarily in bold on my website. Feminism does frame everything when I’m writing because I think: These are values I care about, and if I can bring them to light in a comedic bit, I will. There are comedians where social justice issues are at the forefront of their agenda, and I don’t feel like I’m as explicit about it a lot of times, but there are guidelines I always keep in mind as I’m writing and I try to honor them as much as I can."
Nancherla has authored several compelling pieces since Donald Trump's election. "The best comedy imagines new, better worlds by laughing at the old, current one," she considered in The Village Voice. "But how do we laugh at this world when it's run by a man who not only can't take a joke but would be giddy at the prospect of taking away our right to make them at all?"
Like most of us, Aparna's likely still figuring out how to answer that question. In the meantime, she's not afraid to shoot straight, jokes aside. "For every American saying 'Go home,'" she wrote on Vice's Broadly, "there are more saying 'You are home.' You are not alone. You are not responsible. You matter."
Watch a longer conversation Aparna had with White Guy Talk Show: