The rise and rise of Aparna Nancherla

With oddball, pithy jokes like, “Any pizza can be a personal one if you cry while eating it,” Aparna Nancherla has become one of New York’s favorite stand-ups. Her masterful dry, and often self-deprecating, wit has sent her career on a skyward path that just keeps soaring.

If you don’t know her name, you’re about to. Her writing prowess has earned her a job writing for “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” and a Comedy Central ‘Half Hour” special. Tig Notaro chose to record her intricate, observational material for her new label, Bentzen Ball Records’ flagship album, “Just Putting It Out There.” To celebrate her first record, Nancherla is touring the country, bringing her honest, introvert musings to Atlanta’s Relapse Theatre. CL talked to Nancherla about her new album, web projects, and being a part of a diverse Comedy Central “Half Hour” class.

You just put out your debut album. Not only is it your first album, but it’s the first album out under Tig Notaro’s new comedy label, Bentzen Ball Records. How does it feel to be leading the charge?
It definitely feels like a huge honor, especially to do it for Tig’s new label. I'm such a huge fan of hers. [When] she approached me about doing an album, I think I was like, "Oh, man!" It exceeded my expectations because I have just put off recording an album for no really good reason, but then I was like, “Oh, I guess this is a really good reason to record one finally.”

You’ve lived and performed stand-up in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and New York. Why did you chose New York to record your album?
I think, for me, I wanted to do it in New York just because I feel like I sort of hit my stride there in the past few years. The crowds feel like they're very solid and on board with you, so I felt like I knew I wanted to do it in New York. But then the venue I picked, which is Union Hall, is just this really great Brooklyn venue that does a lot of independently-produced shows. They do comedy, and music, and other outside-the-box shows. It's just the perfect size. I think it's no more than 85, 90 people even when it's fully packed,. So it's not huge, but it's just the right size to feel really small but cozy at the same time.

You just did “Conan” for the second time last week. Between this and your first set, you’ve worked on late-night show, Late Night with Seth Meyers.” Besides having done Conan before, did having experience behind the scenes of a similar show put you more at ease this time around?
Yeah. I think for sure, and it's funny because the first time I did it, I had just started working at “Totally Biased,” which was my first writing job, but I felt lucky in that I had done an on-air segment before I did that first set on “Conan.” I knew the setup of doing a comedy set for a T. audience, so I feel lucky that I had that going into that first set. Then, for the second time, you're right in that working at “Seth Meyers,” and I worked for monologues so we would sit in on the rehearsal every day, and just to see the behind the scenes of how it all comes together, it takes out some of that intimidation factor and you're like “Oh, no. I know what this looks like and I've seen this sort of setup before.” It definitely helped having that in your back pocket.

I love your new webseries with Jo Firestone, “Womanhood.” How did this project come about? Were there any specific influences that helped shape it?
Well, honestly the process behind how it came together was, Refinery 29, which is like a lifestyle website targeted towards women, was launching a comedy channel called RIOT and one of the producers for their new channel, Julie Miller. Jo and I had both worked with her on other things, and she approached Jo about doing a webseries that was female-focused. I think Jo had the initial idea of maybe doing advice on different life stages of being a woman, and then she came to me and was like, "Do you want to do this thing with me?" And I am such a fan of Jo's and was immediately like, "Yeah, I just want to work with you, whatever it is."

It came about pretty loosely in that sense, and then how it ended up looking, that was just a back and forth process between me and Jo, and the production team, and our director Anu Valia, who's been great. I feel like the whole feel of it — sort of [an] old VHS, public-access feel of it was definitely something we were going for, but I think how it came out exceeded our expectations.

You both match so perfectly together on that show.
Yeah, it's nice when you can collaborate with someone where you're just equal fans of each other's sensibilities, and can sort of appreciate what's great about the other one. I think that always translates well to camera, when you're actually having fun and hopefully it shows.

This has been a pretty big year for you. You've also recently shot a Comedy Central “Half Hour.” Looking at the list of recipients this year, I was pleasantly surprised that there were a lot of women. Five really shouldn't be considered "a lot," but when you look at the past years, that's actually a noticeable increase.
I know. No, it felt definitely like a premeditated decision, which is great. I know they've gotten a little backlash in past years for having so few women. It felt really encouraging that they made such a strong shift this year.

Yeah, and so many great, strong comics in this year’s “class.”
I know, yeah. Also, just the whole group is such a diverse range of styles and voices that it was exciting to be a part of that group this year.

You just kicked off this tour. Do you have anything coming up after that you're particularly excited about?
I feel like it's been exciting because I left writing for “Seth Meyers” in February, but it feels like I haven't really had a moment to slow down after that because things have been very busy, which is always great as a performer to have so many opportunities, but yeah. I've been doing a little bit more acting stuff. I did some stuff on [“Inside Amy Schumer”], and have been filming some stuff for Pete Holmes' upcoming show, “Crashing.” So that's been fun. Then working on season two of “Womanhood” with Jo, and then also working on a second season of this podcast I have with Jacqueline Novak called “Blue Woman Group” that's sort of a depression-focused podcast. A lot of side projects, and then I think Jo and I are also interested in developing something longer form together, so hopefully we can write that this summer while she's on hiatus from [“The Chris Gethard Show”].

$10. 8 p.m. Tues., July 12. Relapse Theatre, 380 14th St. N.W. therelapsetheater.com.


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