AFTER being a stay at home mum for 16 years, Zarna Garg decided that she wanted something more in life and sur – prised everyone by pursuing a career in stand-up comedy.
Five years on, the happily married mother of three has be – come one of the hottest comedy talents in America. She has won multiple awards, sold out huge venues and had hit stand-up special One In A Billion on Amazon Prime Video.
With more exciting projects on the way, including a TV show and another tour, she recently launched a popular podcast with her family, which has generated a lot of interest globally.
Eastern Eye caught up with the unstoppable American for a free-flowing conversation to discuss comedy, her taboobusting podcast, heroes, inspirations, most Indian quality and more.
When you decided to no longer be a stay at home mum, what made you choose comedy as a career?
It was a journey. It’s not like I woke up and decided to do comedy. We Indians don’t do that. We don’t really go out looking for fun. So that’s not how it happened. Comedy was something my kids suggested. Their friends always had fun hanging out with us and always laughed whenever they were at our house. So maybe there was some – thing in the comedy space for me.
But did you expect to make such a big impact so quickly?
Not really, because I didn’t think anybody would be interested in an Indian mom’s life stories. But what we have realised is every – body is interested in trashing an Indian mother-in-law.
Was there a moment you decided that ‘I’m going to really go for it’?
I think when the first few shows started going beyond my own friends and family. It was when I used to look around and think who are these people? And how do they know what I’m doing? Then that number just kept growing. You know, it was five people, 10, then 50, then 500 and now 5,000 people. That number grew and I realised, okay, I’m defi – nitely onto something.
How do your kids feel about the fact that you’re cooler than them?
I don’t think that has ever happened. Mom is always going to be the not cool one. Come on, I’m still the mom who comes home and yells at them about everything. They’ve been yelled at their whole life. So, I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
How did you feel when your first standup comedy special One In A Billion, on Amazon Prime Video drew in huge audiences globally earlier this year?
I have had a very public digital life on TikTok and Instagram. So, I thought what’s the difference going to be? Somebody will see me on Amazon, just like they see me on TikTok.
But it’s different. When a big powerful corporate company is backing your work and promoting it, it’s a very different experience. So, it was crazy to wake up and get emails, texts and notifications from remote corners of the world about how they saw the special and related to it. It was mind blowing on a whole different level.
A lot of your material is drawn from personal experiences. Did you imagine that your life had so much comedy gold in it?
I honestly didn’t. I feel like my life was so sad. (Laughs) But people choose to laugh at that sadness.
Do you sometimes feel when you’re onstage that you’re revealing too much?
There’s not much to hide in my life. I have a very basic, ‘every Indian mom’ life. I wish there were some big mega secrets in the closet. There’s no mistress or boyfriend lurking in the dark. All my kids are pretty mainstream boring Indian kids. They’re going to school and doing their homework. What could I possibly be revealing? There aren’t any big revelations, so I don’t worry about it too much.
One of the most beautiful aspects about your remarkable story is the amazing support you have from your family. How much has that helped you?
Oh, it’s everything. Without their support, I couldn’t do anything. And now we’re doing a family podcast together. We’re actually building projects together. I mean, how much am I gonna mock my own life? I need more new material. I’m gonna put all of them to use. Every single one of them knows I was home for years, taking care of them. So now they owe me.
Tell us about your unique podcast?
So, we have launched a Zarna Garg family podcast, where all five of us come together to talk about topics that traditionally brown families don’t talk about publicly. We’re trying to break those taboos.
So, our first episode is called The Sex Talk. Because in our experience, brown families actually don’t have the sex talk – we just pretend like it doesn’t happen and the kids figure it out themselves, or never figure it out.
What inspired the family orientated idea for the podcast?
So, we’re trying to make it so families are inspired to come together to watch what we’re doing and do their own version. It has launched very successfully. We have a tonne of views on YouTube, Spotify and Apple. And we’re getting positive messages from all over the world, with families telling us that they watched our episode. And how they decided to make a family viewing around the episode, so they could talk about the issues on it. So, the podcast is basically a service to our community. To encourage them to not feel shame or taboo and talking about things there should not be shame around.
What else do you have on the way?
So, we do have a TV show, but right now it’s on hold because of the strike in LA. I’m really focusing on the podcast taping, which goes all over the world. We’re also travelling live with that podcast, so audiences can buy tickets and join the fun. We’re trying to make it a really fun, interactive experience. A place where families can come together and talk about stuff in real life, beyond the digital.
You’ve become a hero for a lot of people, but who is your comedy hero?
Oh, there’s so many. I love all the work Indian comics are doing. I mean, I have many comedic heroes in the west, like Joan Rivers. But Indian comics like Vir Das and Aditi Mittal are doing great work in the political climate that India is in. The fact they are keeping that momentum going and doing it against all odds is something I have a lot of respect for. I am really learning to be brave from them.
Would you say that you are fearless as a comedian?
I’m trying to be fearless. There are times when I naturally pull back. Then I have to think it through in my brain on why I’m pulling back and continue going. So, it’s not coming naturally to me just yet, but I’m working on it.
What inspires you?
Every stupid thing my kids do and they do a lot of them. Yeah, they do stupid things all the time. So, I feel like I’m never gonna run out of material.
How do you feel about the fact that you’re reaching so many audiences globally?
I feel like destiny has chosen me for this job for a reason. I feel like there’s no logical reason for me to be here. But if my presence here is helping millions worldwide, find joy, pride, comfort and relief in their life with their families, I’m honoured to be playing my role in that.
What would you say is your most Indian quality?
Oh, being an unapologetically overbearing mom, that I don’t see anything wrong with it? Do you know what I mean? I feel like western moms apologise for intruding on their kids’ privacy and all that. I don’t feel any such thing. I feel like I’m gonna look wherever I want. I’m gonna ask whatever I want. And the kids owe me the answers. There’s no question about it.
You seem very confident. But do you ever get nervous before going in front of a live audience?
I do have a moment of like, what if it doesn’t go well? But I kind of treat every show big or small, as if it’s an extension of a dinner party in my house. And that helps me relax. Like people are just people, right? Everybody is trying to connect, whether it is the president of the United States or the biggest star in the world. Once you connect, you understand that it’s the humanity of it all. I feel less intimidated.
What feeling do you have when you’re on stage in front of a live audience doing a great show?
I feel like I wish my mother-in-law was there in the audience now. This woman always tends to watch things when they’re not doing well. You know what I mean? She has her eyes peeled on all my missteps. I wish she was in the room when things go amazingly.
Why do you love comedy?
Because it makes people feel less alone. That is why comedy is so popular. We are living very lonely existences. We do everything alone. TV and movie viewing used to be a group activity, but now you’re watching alone on your device. I think comedy is one of those art forms that makes you feel like you are part of something. And for that reason, I think comedy is not only glorious and great, but it’s the need of the hour.