In an interview with Northern Virginia Magazine, comedian Aparna Nancherla discusses her time at Thomas Jefferson High School, comedic origins, and her new book on imposter syndrome.
I see that you went to Thomas Jefferson High School, which is our top-ranked high school in this issue. What was your experience like there?
I was, honestly, not a very science and tech–inclined student, so I think it was probably like my last foray into science and math. And then I kind of went down a more creative, humanities path after that, but it definitely felt like a very challenging high school experience. Like I would say, college almost felt a little bit easier after TJ.
How did you get into comedy?
One summer when I was home from college, my friend from high school who had kind of turned me on to a lot of stand-ups that I hadn’t heard of before … discovered this free comedy open mic that was, I think, at a Best Western just off the highway near Tysons Corner mall. … So we both kind of made this unofficial pact that we’d both go up once before the summer ended. I remember the first time I went up was on my birthday, which I think was my attempt to get more sympathy from the audience. And it went well enough that I had enough confidence to be like, ‘Maybe this is something I could keep doing,’ because I feel that first time always has pretty high stakes.
Tell me about your new book, Unreliable Narrator: Me, Myself, and Imposter Syndrome.
It’s a book of personal essays, and the theme is impostor syndrome or self-doubt. But yeah, it’s just something I’ve struggled with in pretty much like every area of my life, whether that’s career or relationships, or even, like, you know, a daily interaction I might have with a stranger. I think it was something I wanted to be able to explore more and, you know, with stand-up, you only have so much time to get to the punchline. And I think I just wanted a format where I could sit with things more and maybe not come to a clean resolution the way sometimes a joke always has a neat, like, finish to it.
When you get back to NoVA, what are your favorite things to do?
Sometimes my parents and I will just go walk across the Key Bridge and just walk around Georgetown. I feel there’s a lot of good trails, too, that I liked because I ran a lot when I lived there, and I liked to explore all the little trails like [the ones on] Roosevelt Island.
Feature image of Aparna Nancherla by Robyn Von Swank, book cover courtesy Viking