RIOT's Aparna Nancherla Talks Growing Up & Stand-Up Comedy

Photo: Courtesy of Robyn von Swank.
On RIOT's show, Womanhood, comedian Aparna Nancherla sits down with Jo Firestone to talk about the most pressing questions of growing up. From wearing a pad outside of your clothes to real fears of your dirty 30s ("jeans, skirts, and jean skirts"), the pair demystify the major questions of what it means to live as a lady.

We talked to Nancherla about filming the show and her own experiences with stand-up comedy and growing into adulthood.

Did you watch these kind of public-access videos when you were growing up?
"Probably, yes. But I'm really more familiar with the satires of them in the YouTube age, like 'Between Two Ferns' and that sort of thing."

What do you enjoy about doing Womanhood?
"I think one of the main things that makes the show fun is that Jo Firestone is someone I’ve been a fan of for such a long time. When she offered the chance to work on something together, I wanted to do it. Going in, I knew Jo has an amazing brain. We met through stand-up, but I think the show has brought us closer together just by virtue of shooting and doing full shows. It’s been fun to hang out. The crew can attest that [on] pretty much all the shoot days, we’ve broken into laughing fits."

What is the production process like?
"It’s pretty loose. For each episode, we kind of sketch out main points or some fun things that fall under the general subject area. We pretty much riff off each other and see where it goes. The editors are the ones with the fun task of picking out the stuff that works best together."

What’s been your favorite episode?
"I guess the most recent one on how to get through your mid-life crisis. One of the reasons I think we love this one so much was because Jo’s styling for it — the gold tunic — is the funniest thing. We cannot imagine who that was made for. At the end of the video, we switched outfits just because it was so funny."

A lot of the show is about growing up. Do you think your humor — either the jokes you tell or what you find funny — has changed as you’ve gotten older?
"I think so. Especially with stand-up. A lot of times, you’re talking about day-to-day life and it’s very much informed by where you are relative to relationships, your work, or your body. Just generally, your life stage informs your point of view, and I think that's true of humor, too."

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"I think I cycled through a lot of considerations. I’ve always kept journals and I was always interested in writing. I wanted to do something where I could write and create regularly. I first started pursuing comedy seriously after college. The more consistently I stuck with it, it gained momentum on its own. I would say I've been doing comedy for 10 years, but only full-time since the end of 2012."

One of the funniest episodes is about puberty. What was that time like for you in real life?
"I feel like I fall on the late-bloomer end of the spectrum. I didn’t drink until I was 21 and I delayed a lot of things that other kids do earlier. When I was actually 12 and 13, I was pretty tame and pretty introverted. I was more of the type to have my head stuck in a book."

Have you gotten any feedback on the show or read any funny comments?

"I don't really ready comments, just because I can be sensitive to that. But a friend of mine told Jo and I that someone on YouTube commented on the puberty episode — where we're giving all of this jokey advice — and was like, 'This information is not actually helpful to teenage girls.'"


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