This Saturday, comedian Aparna Nancherla will be headlining the NC Comedy Arts Festival at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro. Assistant Swerve Editor Jenni Ciesielski talked with Nancherla, who’s worked on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and with Amy Schumer along with having her own standup special on Comedy Central about getting into comedy, the worst advice she’s ever been given and Donald Trump.
The Daily Tar Heel: When did you realize being funny was something you could do for a living?
Aparna Nancherla: It definitely wasn’t when I started. When I started I was sort of seeing what it was about. You’re just trying to figure out if you’re funny the first few years.
I think the first sign I had that I would be able to support myself doing it wasn’t until maybe six years in.
I got a writing job for a show that used to be on FX called “Totally Biased,” which was a late night news show. I think that was the first job I had where I didn’t have to do anything else to support myself, and could just focus on that.
After that, it was more settled in my mind that it was possible to make a living off of it.
DTH: You’ve done a lot of variety when it comes to comedy. What are you the most comfortable with?
AN: I think I’ve been doing standup the longest, so that’s definitely my comfort area. I think maybe writing would be second, I definitely come to think from a writerly perspective in my head, and then I guess acting would be last. But the thing about comedy is that I love that you can do so many things with it, so I think it’s nice to get to have that kind of variety.
DTH: You wrote a column a few months ago called “Comedians in the Age of Trump: Forget Your Stupid Toupee Jokes” that basically said surface-level jokes about Trump are no longer the best way to go about things. Can you talk about that?
AN: I think a lot of comedians as they were following the election cycle were pretty politically opinionated about where they stood and what was happening, and I think it’s gotten sort of increasingly surreal since the election and now that the presidency is official, the stuff that’s happening with our government — it feels pretty unprecedented for my generation and probably for younger people, too.
So I think it’s definitely new ground for artists in terms of what they want to talk about and how they want to capture it, and also just like what freedom of speech even is right now how much longer it’ll be around. It just feels like a more dark time than it has been at least in my lifetime.
DTH: Is there anything people should expect coming into the festival?
AN: My comedy is pretty non-confrontational — it’s pretty laid back and easygoing — so hopefully it’ll be a nice break from everything else that’s going on. And it might be a little political, but some of it won’t be. It’ll be a mix of things.
DTH: What is some of the worst advice you’ve ever been given when it comes to comedy?
AN: I think the worst advice I got was pretty early on. I grew up South Asian, my parents are Indian immigrants, and I think early on, I would have people tell me to talk more about my background and culture clash stuff. I think it wasn’t what necessarily came to mind first for me when I write jokes and where my humor comes from, so I shied away from it and stepped in more of what I wanted to do.
And I think that’s always a better course in general — not to write from a perspective of what you think people want to hear but more like what you want to hear or what you’re interested in because I think it comes across as forced if you’re trying to be something you’re not.
DTH: What’s an odd piece of advice you would give to people who are trying to get into comedy that they probably haven’t heard before?
AN: Sometimes when people start, they’re more focused on their brand than they are on being funny. People will start already having a T-shirt or a website, and I would say when you’re starting, just focus on doing the thing you’re doing before trying to monetize it.
I understand that you want to make a career out of it, you want to be business savvy, but I would say the most important thing is to focus on the actual thing you’re doing and the T-shirts will come later.