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Aparna Nancherla finds the comedic silver lining to anxiety and depression

(L-R) Matt Ingebretson, Aparna Nancherla and Jake Weisman in the Comedy Central series,
(L-R) Matt Ingebretson, Aparna Nancherla and Jake Weisman in the Comedy Central series, "Corporate."
Comedy Central
(L-R) Matt Ingebretson, Aparna Nancherla and Jake Weisman in the Comedy Central series,
(L-R) Aparna Nancherla, Jake Weisman and Matt Ingebretson in Comedy Central's "Corporate."
Comedy Central

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Stand-up comedy is probably not high on the list of dream jobs for introverts. But self-described "shut-in," Aparna Nancherla, is an exception.

She not only regularly gets up in front of crowds to try to make them laugh, but she also gets pretty personal about her own depression and anxiety.

Nancherla has been doing stand-up for more than a decade, but says she really only started sharing stories about her mental health in the past couple of years:

It actually came out of being in a depressive rut and not being able to really talk and write about anything else. So I sort of wrote it down and then did it onstage because I hadn't written anything else lately, and I think it resonated with people in a way that I wasn't expecting. I also thought that the mental health market had been already broken open by a lot of comedians, so I was like, I don't know if I have anything to add. But then it spoke to people in a way that was surprising so I kept digging in that direction.

That direction was a pretty natural lead-in to her latest acting gig — playing a dispirited Human Resources representative named Grace on the darkly funny Comedy Central series, "Corporate."


The Frame host John Horn recently spoke with Aparna Nancherla about her comedy and about "Corporate."

Interview highlights:

On beginning her career in comedy:

I was one of those kids who didn't know what I wanted to do, but I ended up majoring in psychology, which I felt like I only gravitated towards because I could make everything about me. Everything in psychology you learn you can apply it to yourself. I think it was like, Figure out how your brain works and then maybe that'll give you some more insight into what you really want to do. I think my comedy now sort of focuses around human behavior and interaction and I live a lot inside my head, so I think in that sense it has been helpful.

I didn't really regularly start pursuing [a career in comedy] until after college. And I think even then, maybe two or three years in, I was like, Okay, now maybe you can call yourself a comedian. But it felt like before it became a career, it was hard to be like, Yeah, this is what I do full-time.

On the way that Twitter has changed things for comedians with more introverted dispositions:

I think the Internet has been probably pretty revolutionary for introverts and shut-ins to pursue things they wouldn't otherwise and an audience they wouldn't otherwise. I started stand-up before I really found Twitter and Twitter really became a big thing, but I think on there I definitely felt less inhibited by the gatekeepers that traditionally exist in the stand-up world.

On the transition from stand-up to acting:

A lot of it is you just gain comfort through the experience of doing it. But there definitely was a learning curve for me. [Working] in front of a crew versus a live audience, I had to get used to the idea that there wouldn't be immediate laughter. You might have to do the same line seven ways, so then it might not be as funny the seventh time. So I think you just learn to take some of the immediate sting out of reaction, or [wonder], Is this entertaining to everyone? at all times.

On the ways that anxiety can help and hinder you in comedy:

The positive is that it makes you hyper-aware of the world and hyper-observant of everything that's happening, which is good for comedy. [But] it can inhibit you when it makes you too self-conscious and maybe too overly aware of everyone. maybe focusing on you to your own detriment. But I think there's a seed in there that makes it actually helpful to write comedy.

On "Corporate" and the tone of the show:

The show feels like it just doubles down on the idea that a lot of people are going through the motions of their lives and maybe checking off the boxes of what they think they should be doing, versus what they actually want to do. And it’s kind of the inner voice of everyone's unfulfilled creative spirits — or whatever you wanna call it — where you're like, What if we were allowed to say all the dark thoughts we have during the day? What would that reality look like?  So I think it’s just letting that become its own playground versus the kind of glossing over that we're used to doing as adults, of putting a happy face on everything.

Aparna Nancherla can be seen on season two of the Netflix series of live comedy specials, "The Standups." 

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