Depression, anxiety, catcalling, and smile violations: the stuff of nightmares. But for Aparna Nancherla, they’re the stuff of surreal and delightful…nightmares. Last Friday, the comic appeared on Comedy Central’s The Half Hour, bringing a new dimension of hilarity to the kinds of things that can often ruin a day. Or week. Or life.
Nancherla, who co-hosts her own webseries Womanhood with Jo Firestone, has written for Totally Biased for W. Kamau Bell, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and has appeared on several other comedy staples. She's been a longtime advocate for mental illness, using comedy to share her experience with and possibly make sense of her depression. In a recent interview with GQ, she said, “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.”
While Maria Bamford may have paved the way for mental health talk in comedy, Nancherla brings a refreshing openness to her jokes about depression and anxiety as both a comedic genius and woman of color. She's open enough about it to kick off her Half Hour set with a bit about mental health.
In one bit, she details the exact intense discomfort of what it feels like to live with anxiety: "If you don’t have anxiety, the way I would describe it is like there’s an edgy improv group in your brain, and it just needs like a one-word suggestion to spin countless scenarios that no one’s comfortable with."
She also discusses an incredibly awkward experience with a persistent catcaller, the "perils of online dating," and a terrible first date with a mansplainer who approached her on Facebook. Another gem: “Dating is like health insurance. You wait until you’re accepted in as a member before you start revealing all your preexisting conditions.”
For the 118,000 or so people who follow Nancherla on Twitter, her televised special has been a long time coming. Known for her sharp wordplay and absurd and sophisticated style, Nancherla has been in the comedy business for 10 years. But 2016, in which she put out a comedy album Just Putting It Out There on Tig Notaro’s label and went on tour over the summer, has clearly been a banner year for her. Can’t wait to see what she gets up to next.