In this day and age, it’s difficult to have an impactful sense of humor that brings an audience together while transcending cultural stigmas. If you’re a fan of quirky humor that isn’t afraid to explore sensitive topics then Zarna Garg is the comedian for you. Born in Mumbai, Garg was raised in a Gujarati family. In this traditional family setting, arranged marriages were considered normal and Garg and her sisters weren’t encouraged to pursue education. Garg decided she wanted more from life, so she broke out of that cycle and moved to New York to become a certified lawyer and later on — a writer and comedian.
Garg, now a mother of three, left her full-time lawyer career after the birth of her first child. Then, after 15 years of being a stay-at-home mom, Garg decided to go to work in an area where she would make a difference. “I couldn’t think of a smart, romantic comedy written by an Indian woman and thought I may be able to fill that space,” she explained. So Garg learned how to write screenplays through local and online classes, the first step to her current career.
Her debut comedy screenplay “Rearranged” won the top comedy feature prize at the Austin Film Festival in October 2019 while competing against 11,000 other scripts. The screenplay got major attention and won a major development deal with the streaming platform Rooster Teeth Digital.
Becoming a Stand-up Comedian
After discovering her screenwriting talent, Garg tested her jokes on live audiences to see how they might resonate. Garg performed at her first open mic in YEAR, and has since been hooked on performing to live audiences.
Her eccentric humor made waves in the comedy world and today she’s become an icon for Indian women. Her latest stand-up comedy act “HinJews” is co-created with Felicia Madison, a stand-up comedian who also mentored Gard’s successful transition into stand-up comedy.
“She told me I could do it and I believed her. Her open mic is the best in the city, she watched me fumble on day one, gave me very great notes and by the second time I got up on her stage, I knew I could do it,” Garg said.
“HinJews” resulted from Madison and Garg realizing their personal lives had much in common and their desire to deliver comical but impactful messaging. “We thought it would be fun to try to bring people together and laugh at different cultures at a time when political and social tensions are running so high in the world,” Gard explained.
Why Do You Create Your Art?
Pic credit: Rashmi Gill photography.
“Today, I do what I do because I realize that immigrants don’t really do comedy” — Zarna Garg
There aren’t many Indian women in the comedy scene and immigrants are reluctant to share their own experiences in the US. Garg’s vision to be a voice as a female Indian performer on a global comedy stage helps to connect audiences on deeper cultural levels without glossing over stigmas in Indian Culture. “I want to represent my people, my culture and my heritage — in a thoughtful and articulate way,” Garg said.
Garg builds a connection with her audience by taking a universally relatable topic from her own experiences and then adding her perspective for a humorous twist. For example, she said, “Mother-in-law jokes are very common in America. But an Indian mother-in-law dynamic is being explored for the first time for many audiences. I have to ease them into the trauma.” By adding her own outlook, Garg creates a safe space for her audience to laugh at topics that may seem taboo in Indian communities.
Garg and Madison’s stand-up comedy act “HinJews” is still one of the hottest acts in town. If you’re in NYC and want to check out one of her shows, you can find more information on Garg’s website here.
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SEEMA held a virtual happy hour with Zarna Garg on May 1, 2020.