Background/Composition: Aparna Nancherla is a staple of "comedians to watch" lists, and with stints at the prematurely-cancelled Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and now on the writing staff of Late Night with Seth Meyers people are actually watching. But that has as much to do with her stand-up, which is gaining buzz of its own.
Her Dark Material: B
You wouldn't know it considering how many comedians try to tackle it in their set, but it's not easy to make jokes about depression funny. While Chris Gethard faced it full-force in his masterful one-man show, it was mostly simmering under the surface in Aparna's set. She told jokes about demoralizing New York apartment visits, spending whole weeks wondering "Was I a person? Did I count?" and the annoying hyper-positivity of summer ("it's like a person who says 'I could start a podcast about anything") with a sort of non-judgemental blankness. But then she went and dropped the best one-liner about depression I'd heard the whole festival (and, again, I heard a surprising number): "Sometimes I feel sad for some reason... then I remember some of the reasons."
In his opening set, Nick Flanagan (who, full disclosure, is an occasional Chart Attack host) sarcastically joked that "doing stand-up is the bravest thing a straight white male can do, to be one of the 50,000 comics with the exact same perspective." You can definitely feel that at a large-scale comedy festival like JFL42, and Aparna's perspective was refreshingly feminist and anti-racist (but, again, more simmering under the surface than fully overt). And still as a straight white male myself, I found her to be the most relatable comic of the festival. I often felt like she could be telling jokes about my own life: trying to stay motivated as a freelancer, the desperate irresistibility of clickbait, Netflix's judginess, the strange conversations you have with your parents when they learn how to text. These were all slice-of-life jokes, but they were absurd almost by default - a perfect counterpoint to the endless, eye-roll-y thinkpieces about millennials.
Catcalling is a hot-button issue, especially in New York, but Aparna's bit about it didn't feel like "issues" comedy. Instead, it became a winding, surreal story about being called "skinnybones." She also touched on the underlying racism in OkCupid messages she received, but the biggest laugh came in one message that, she said, summed up the state of online dating: "HI THERE :("