Published Jul 27, 2016Aparna Nancherla is half-bemused and half-outraged at life's injustices and humiliations. Her Just for Laughs show began with her stumbling from one awkward encounter to the next, from picking up spilled meds in public to checking her reflection in a car window without realizing there's someone in the car. She lets out a high-pitched "noooooooo!" then half-heartedly tries to justify herself. "You're the one sitting in a car parked on the street... I'm the grownup..." she mumbles, like she barely believes it herself.
This seems to be Nancherla's strength — she sets herself up as a sad-sack bundle of bad decisions, but neatly skirts seeming pitiful by always being the first to, if not laugh, then at least shrug at her predicaments. She's a naturally sympathetic storyteller, using an offbeat mishmash of internet slang and weird corporate jargon to explain why waking up from a nap is like being in a murder mystery, or how anxiety's like living with an edgy improv troupe in your brain. She talks about anxiety and depression with the same unassuming candour as she describes internet dating or napping. Her patronus is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, and if she's a bit of a nihilist, at least she's a humble one.
Her best material draws on the day-to-day endurance test of being female, and she really hit her stride about halfway through the set, with an extended story about catcalling and street harassment that had the audience laughing and cringing in sympathy and maybe just a little schadenfreude. In another long bit, she describes a terrible date with a man who physically forced her to smile — like, with his fingers — at his weak joke. "He smile-violated me," she says with a resigned head shake. "I was smiolated."
She ended with a "mixed media" bit — a slideshow called You Had Me at Yolo, a sort of instructional PowerPoint presentation that seemed like an anthropological study of the internet and its enthusiasts. It's true that texts from parents and the clumsy come-ons of awkward men on dating sites are pretty low-hanging fruit as far as jokes go, but they're also never not funny, and some of the night's biggest laughs came from this last segment.
Unfortunately she had to rush through a lot of it because of time constraints. But when you're left wishing for another five minutes of slideshow, you know you've seen something pretty special.