No one is doing Indian mother-in-law jokes? That can’t be right?!
When an opportunity this big presents itself, I believe you’ve got to go for it! Hi, I’m Zarna, an Indian immigrant wife, mom, lawyer, screenwriter, producer, stand-up comedian and all around nosey, overbearing Indian aunty.
I was raised in Bombay, have lived in multiple countries, have had to go through the entire immigration process in the US, and am now raising my family in NYC. This long road has taught me what all Indian aunties do best – how to become a storyteller. I’ve garba-d my way into the world of entertainment, determined to put a happy, brown, immigration voice out in the universe. We like to have fun and I want the world to see this side of us.
We all have problems and challenges every day, but when you learn to laugh — it’s therapy.
I’m asked all the time, ‘how did you get started in comedy?’ Well, my parents had a dream.. (hahaha, Indian parents don’t dream, we scheme!) I was looking for a job with normal working hours (eye roll, try 7pm to 2am). The money drew me in. (Hahaha…wiping away tears, bwaaah)
Let’s back track. I lost my mother suddenly when I was 14 years old. Shortly after, my father wanted me to have an arranged marriage. It was get married or leave this home. Feeling like the walls were caving on me, I decided to leave home and find my own way. As a young teen, I quickly learned the value of ‘being the fun one’. Friends, relatives and strangers opened up their homes to me because I made them laugh and kept it light. I got invited to Diwali and Holi dinners because they knew I’ll make it fun.
It was an adventure until I could figure out a way to immigrate to America and be with my sister and her family who graciously agreed to have me move in (for years!) with them while I figured my life out. The process of immigrating, building a life in suburban America, going to college and then law school, all of it was fun and enlightening. Everyday I found new things to be amused about.
Fast forward to my amazing win at the Austin Film Festival for Best Comedy Screenplay. An honor to have won amongst past Oscar winners and 11,000 entries! Guess my life story makes for a good movie!
Comedy is rooted in discomfort, but teaches you to keep perspective and turn the pain into therapy. Everyday problems become everyday observations and end up as everyday musings. It’s often in the attitude.
Now, here I am, putting myself out there, doing shows at charity events, private events, and at the nation’s leading comedy clubs. Come follow me on this crazy adventure. Don’t worry, we won’t namaste in bed or drink chai tea. I’ll keep it authentic and real and in your face, because that’s how aunties roll.
I was told my whole life I was funny, but didn’t know what to do with it.
When I finished writing my screenplay, I was trying to find ways to get people to read it (good luck) – turns out this was not easy and in an effort to get my comedic voice out there, I started wondering what else I could do. After three minutes of wondering, I googled jobs for funny people and stand up comedy showed up. Huh.. People get paid to stand up on a stage and make fun of others and make people laugh?. No one told me, I’ve been robbed of a million dollars already! I’ve been giving it away forever? What? I’ve been giving away the comedy milk for free!
In all honesty though, I read Kevin Hart’s book, ‘Life lessons’ and realized that I shared so much in common with his story, except his experiences were rooted in poverty in America and mine in affluence in India. I too had spent years of my life ‘being funny’ so that I would be liked, be invited for a warm meal and have an place to visit. Though, unlike him, I didn’t have a smart mother to guide me. I bumbled along my own path for decades (this may explain the late start?). As I read the words, things started falling in place in my head and heart and I decided that I would try my luck somewhere, could it be that I have what it takes? Also, why hadn’t I seen more Indian female comedians? I couldn’t recall having watched any female Indian comedians with jokes that reflected everyday Indian and American life.
One small step after another, I started putting myself out there. First to my friends and family, then to their friends and family and then to anybody who was willing to listen and show up and watch me try. At the risk of sounding immodest, I’ll say, from the first day I did the first show, I never looked back. I was at home, on the mic – I could naturally look around and say funny things and sometimes say totally normal things like ‘my husband wants me to get up on stage and be famous and get on tv, so he can finally press the mute button on me.’