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Comedian Aparna Nancherla Makes Light Of The Heavy Stuff

Aparna Nancherla says that making jokes about depression and anxiety injects "a little dose of hope."
Shaughn & John
Aparna Nancherla says that making jokes about depression and anxiety injects "a little dose of hope."

Up-and-coming comedian Aparna Nancherla is having a great year, riding high on a TV comedy special, tour and a new album, Just Putting It Out There — all this while wrestling with some pretty tough personal issues, like depression, on stage.

Nancherla's very dry sense of humor comes alive through her very expressive face, her dancing eyebrows and wide smile. She tells NPR's Audie Cornish that early in her career, someone told her she did standup like someone who'd never seen standup before. "But they meant it as a compliment in that I sort of do it in my own way of what I think standup is for myself."

Interview Highlights

On playing with people's expectations

Very much the audience's initial impression of you is in the first few seconds that you take the stage — either what you look like, like what you sound like, there's an immediate judgement. And so I feel like for me, a lot of times I had to address that, sort of people being like, "Oh, this isn't what we expected," and sort of being like, "I know. I don't look like what you're used to seeing, but let's acknowledge that and move on."

On dealing with the spotlight

It's interesting, because I have a lot of anxiety and I still get, like, stage fright and stuff. So I think I'm ... too aware of my body, so it feels like my words and my body sometimes separate and they don't mesh together.

On anxiety and depression

I think I first started talking about anxiety and depression in my work as sort of a way to write myself out of my own head. Like, it was at a time when I was sort of in a rut and struggling with them in a real way, so I was feeling creatively blocked, and I was like, "Well, if this is all that's going on with you right now, maybe just try writing about that."

Sadness and laughter to me feel linked in a weird way, in that it almost feels like once you get to the end of one, you sort of start entering the other one. And I think for me it's like, with depression I'm constantly questioning things, but without sort of that element of hope. And I feel like comedy is sort of questioning things, with adding a little dose of hope in that you're taking the air out of it a little bit, and you're not just being like, "Well, I guess that's just how things are."

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