Aparna Nancherla’s Compulsive Reading Habit is Getting in the Way of Bedtime

The comedian says goodbye to 2021 in Prime Video’s Yearly Departed special, and looks forward to the future.

We all thought 2021 was going to be better, right? Well, at least it’s almost over. And thankfully, some very funny women have decided to come together to give 2020 part deux a eulogy to remember in Prime Video’s Yearly Departed. Comedian Aparna Nancherla is one of the aforementioned eulogists, bringing her characteristically dry humor to the roast of the year. Below, she gets into what it was like to film a special with Jane Fonda, the rising comedians she’s rooting for right now, and her compulsive reading habits.

This is the second year of Yearly Departed, in which comedians pay their respects to something they wish to leave in the past. How did you get involved?

I knew the head writer Bess Kalb from Twitter. We have mutual friends and I’d been a fan of hers. I think the idea of doing such a women-dominated project, from top to bottom, is unfortunately still kind of a unique opportunity in the industry. That made it really appealing, but also, the other women involved are people I look up to. I felt lucky to be part of a group like that.

What’s the biggest difference between this year and last year’s special?

We followed Covid protocols, but having a live audience and their immediate reactions makes a huge difference. I think there was just a spirit of wanting everyone to succeed. We had Jane Fonda, Yvonne Orji, Chelsea Peretti, people who are very established and you’ve seen around, and there wasn’t any ego involved. Everyone was just making each other laugh and trying to make each other’s jokes better.

Who is a rising comedian that you’re really excited about right now?

There are so many, I feel like I’m learning about new people all the time. But this year we had Megan Stalter on the special; I knew her from the internet and she’s worked with friends of mine, but I had never seen her in person. She was just cracking up everyone, on and off stage. There are also people like Patti Harrison, who was on the special last year. And Karen Chee, she was one of the writers on the show and is in the audience this year. She’s a delightful person and comedian. She’s so friendly, and bubbly, and nice. I think it's also just refreshing to meet someone who's an artist who doesn't feel like there's an undercurrent of darkness running through them, which is something that I feel like I tend toward.

Let’s get into the Culture Diet questions. What’s the first thing you read in the morning?

I actually don’t read as much in the morning. I listen to a news podcast. If I am reading anything, I am probably checking my email, which is actually a bad habit. I don't think it puts you in the best state of mind. I also think I compulsively check email to be like, am I important?

How do you get your news?

I listen to The Daily from The New York Times. I also listen to Up First, which is a shorter NPR news podcast. They just do the three big stories of the day. I've tried reading the paper in terms of like checking The New York Times homepage or NPR, and I just get so overwhelmed by all the different stories and go down rabbit holes of information that's interesting, but not necessarily important.

What books are on your nightstand?

I just read Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You?. I’d watched Normal People, but had not read either of her other books. So I didn't really go in with an expectation of what I was going to get, but it did make me realize why she's a voice people are really into right now. She's good at capturing what it is like to be a person alive today, in terms of how technology seamlessly sort of integrates into our lives. That reminds me of another book I read called Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler. It's also really good at capturing just extreme online-ness, in a dark way.

What are your favorite social media accounts to follow?

Over the pandemic, I had to take a break from the scrolling because it was getting overwhelming. I've become an old person who only gets my content through what other people send me. Now it’s random TikToks and tweets from either my boyfriend or my friends. A friend recommended an Instagram account called @spoonful_of_ragdolls and it’s an account from these people who own a bunch of this cat breed called ragdoll cats. It sounds innocuous enough that I'm like, this will never trigger me. [Laughs.]

What’s the last thing you Googled?

Electric socks. I’m trying to find socks that keep your feet warm using a battery. My feet are so cold, I’ve tried every kind of sock but none of them do the job. I guess it’s safe?

What shows have you binge-watched lately?

I’m on the Great British Baking Show train. I still haven't started Squid Game. I don't know if I've missed the boat because I missed the boat on Tiger King and it’s possible the window's closing on Squid Game as well. I started Only Murders in the Building. I was trending towards darker stuff for a while. I watched this Danish true crime Netflix show called The Chestnut Man, and then I watched Behind Her Eyes.

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

I saw The French Dispatch. There were so many references. Visually, it’s amazing.

Is there a song you’ve had on repeat lately?

On my true crime kick, I watched the third season of You. Hard to put down, really. But the last episode, they play this song by Taylor Swift featuring Bon Iver called “Exile,” from her Folklore album. It’s a sad song but I keep playing it! I don’t know if it’s a winter mood. It’s hitting all the notes for me.

What’s the last concert you attended?

I don't even know if this counts, but my boyfriend works in book publishing and he worked on Will Smith’s new memoir. So we went to one of his big book release events that was in a big theater, and he did rap. Songs that are throwbacks, he did The Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme. Karyn Parsons, who played Hilary Banks, was in the audience, and also the original Aunt Viv, Janet Hubert. People lost their minds! People were more excited about that than Spike Lee, who was also in the audience.

What’s the last piece of art you bought or ogled?

My boyfriend and I went to the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx for our anniversary. There’s an exhibit there right now by Yayoi Kusama, and her stuff is just so whimsical. It was cool to see in a natural setting because it feels like you’re in Alice in Wonderland.

Are you into astrology at all?

I think I'm into it, but I don't seek it out. If someone's reading horoscopes, I'll be like, sure, read mine, but I don't have an app. Because I think it's fun to follow, but if I followed it too closely, I think it would control my life. I’m a Leo, but a Leo/Virgo cusp.

What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?

I'm a reader, but it's compulsive. I will be falling asleep and I'll still be trying to read more, and I don't know what that's about. It feels a little bit unhealthy.

What are you most looking forward to in 2022?

I haven't fully returned to standup. I co-host a weekly show in Brooklyn with two other women, Maeve Higgins and Jo Firestone, which has been really fun, but I haven't returned to solo performing in that sense yet. Like everything else, I’m taking my time with it. I've been working on a book. So while that's cooking, I've been taking a little break from live performance. I'm excited to just start it back up again.