Aparna Nancherla knows comedy is an artistic journey. It’s one the writer-performer navigates via dry absurdism and self-deprecating observation. There’s plenty of trial and error, whimsy and revelation. Top-notch tweeting, too.
A familiar face at festivals across North America, Nancherla is currently a staff writer at NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers. Additional credits include Conan, numerous Comedy Central appearances, Last Comic Standing, NPR, MTV, VH1, Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist Podcast and WTF with Marc Maron.
Raised outside Washington, D.C. by immigrant doctors, Nancherla eschewed West Point Military Academy for liberal Amherst College. Home for the summer, contemplating her life’s purpose and settling for free fun in the meantime, she caught an open mic and promised to try stand-up herself before fall semester. Her 20th birthday marked her first time onstage.
Nancherla dabbled in the Amherst coffee-house scene and after graduation returned to D.C., where she began approaching comedy as a job. For five years she frequented open mics, small theaters and bar shows, then committed herself to the proving grounds of Los Angeles.
In 2012, Nancherla joined the writing staff of FX’s progressive talk show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. She became a recurring correspondent the following year. “I was learning on the job,” she recalls. “Totally Biased with a unique show that hadn’t been done on TV before, with faces that hadn’t been seen on late-night shows. So everyone was learning.”
Nancherla welcomed the opportunity to write in the comedic voice of someone else even as she refined her own personal viewpoint. 2014 saw more high-profile live shows than ever, including The Kennedy Center, the inaugural Maui Comedy Festival and Australia’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival. She was also named one of Time’s “140 Top Tweeters.”
Her internet fanbase might be inclined to peg Nancherla as a socially-awkward depressive stuck living in her head. “There’s truth to that, but it’s a hyper-exaggerated version,” she admits.
Nancherla never considered recording an album before Tig Notaro encouraged her to take the plunge. The two first met at 2009’s Notaro-curated inaugural Bentzen Ball in D.C.; six years later Nancherla opened for Notaro’s historic New York Comedy Festival performance. The latter bared her mastectomy scars onstage at The Town Hall Theater, an experience Nancherla describes as “amazingly powerful.” When Notaro decided to launch her own Bentzen Ball Records, Nancherla was the first comedian invited to join the new label.
Nancherla puts bold, incisive twists on food, travel, technology and more on debut Just Putting This Out There. As her trademark one-liner “Don’t you think any pizza can be a personal one if you cry while you eat it?” illustrates, Nancherla subverts live comedy’s traditional setup-punchline structure to comment on the very art form she pursues. She not only embraces substance over style, she mines unexpected substance from style itself.
Just Putting This Out There retains a warm, broad appeal as it progresses, inviting listeners into Nancherla’s own personal headspace. Her frank discussion of mental illness is both self-effacing and revealing. “Marc Maron and Maria Bamford created an open playing field to talk about that stuff,” Nancherla praises. “It’s raw and confessional, but they also make it brilliantly funny and relatable.”
Nancherla envisions collaborating with friends to one day create a show bringing to light specific things they find funny about the world…in whatever form that takes. In the meantime she’s content taking her comedic journey one step at a time. “I haven’t even ventured into the really darkest places yet,” Nancherla continues. “But I’m pushing myself to get there.”