Zarna Garg / Images - Supplied
If you have a taste for bold, unapologetic, and raucous comedy, one that leaves you in splits and is strikingly relatable—the kind that would make you jump from your chair and say, “Hey, that’s exactly me!” or “That happens in my house all the time!”, then you will truly relish comedian Zarna Garg’s perfect in-your-face acts. The comedy powerhouse doesn’t believe in mincing words. Her performances pack a punch and promise to leave you with much more than you expected. Watching her own the stage with effortless grace is not just entertaining but also downright captivating.
Like every comedian, Zarna has some go-to subjects, but her actual signature is the everyday gripes of an Indian-American mother. And, in combination with undaunted cultural comparisons between her Indian heritage and American life, her jokes appeal to a diverse audience. While she delivers them with absolute ease, what’s interesting to note is that she doesn’t try too hard to be relatable.
The 48-year-old explains, “Firstly, moms are the same everywhere. They obsess about the same things. And secondly, I think people are eager to learn about our culture. Everyone (in America) has an Indian friend, a neighbor, or a doctor. So, when I share my stories, they often echo with something familiar to my audience, something that they’ve recognized from their Indian acquaintances. It's pretty straightforward. I don’t try to appeal to anybody in particular or write my script keeping audience perception in mind.”
One of the unfortunate realities of the comedy circuit is that stand-up specials are so underrated. They are often seen as standalone performances rather than interconnected segments of a broader narrative. But, for Zarna, standup comedy became a significant career milestone, notably after she sold out the entire show at one of the most prestigious headlining clubs in the world, Carolines, in Feb 2020.
However, right after earning a breakthrough, her rising comedy career was abruptly halted by COVID-19, and everything got shut down. “I was distraught,” she recalls. “I had already started comedy later in life. How many second, third, and fourth chances would I get? I was like, it's over for me.” But there was an entirely new world opening up for Zarna. Thanks to her millennial son, who pushed her to transition to TikTok and, upon initial reluctance, uploaded her video on the social networking site. Within a few days, the video racked up nearly a million views.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes. My son said, look, I told you, people will love what you’re doing. And then, after a point, it wasn’t even the views. It was comment after comment. The entire episode kind of woke me up to the possibility of staying connected to my audience. So, I started going very heavy and hard on TikTok and other social media platforms in general,” notes the social media sensation. During the pandemic, Zarna started performing everywhere. She not only took over social media but also the bustling streets of Manhattan, crowded subways, and bus stops – all for free. “I thought we were all going to die. What am I saving these jokes for? So, I was out there every day telling jokes and making the craft happen,” she continues.
Soon after COVID subsided, Zarna returned to performing on stage and began touring nationwide. The reception was overwhelming. However, she gathered that somewhere, her audience longed for more. Open conversations with families, similar to the ones she used to post on social media, appealed to them. This inspired her to launch ‘The Zarna Garg Show.’ The hilariously insightful episodes delved into subjects often considered taboo in the Indian community, like sex, periods, mother-in-law(s), inter-caste marriages, or the ancient Indian home remedies.
Another reason why the seasoned comedian felt it was time to experiment is because, after a point, standup comedy can become pretty one-dimensional, which we all may agree to because it does feel like a relay of monologues. So, after brainstorming, Zarna decided to do a podcast with all my family members. “I thought I’d do two episodes a month and try to talk about things that Indian people don’t talk about, but the project took off like a rocket ship,” she confesses.
And, why not? It isn’t easy to make people laugh, but this mom of three does a fantastic job, especially when she’s specific, unapologetic, and direct. The funniest bits of her podcasts are the ones that are followed by daunting silence, as if someone’s been shot! (Imagine ‘being Indian’ and asking your kids, What’s the state of sex in teens and young adulthood?)
One may wonder whether Zarna’s comic acts are a deliberate challenge to traditional gender norms and expectations in Indian society or if it’s a natural element of her comedic style. She clarifies, "I don’t plan it to be that way. What Indians may consider bold is just everyday humor here in the States. Everywhere, people make fun of their families, politicians—it's quite normal. And living here since I was 16, it has also become a part of how I express my humor," says the comedian.
For the unversed, Zarna is also an accomplished screenwriter. She has recently finished shooting for a film, penned a screenplay for an upcoming project, is in the process of writing a television series, and is all set to begin production on her second special.