Opening Act: ‘Funny Brown Woman’ first stand-up at Caroline’s On Broadway reopening

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Comedian Zarna Garg greets her audience at the famous comedy club Caroline’s on Broadway June 13, 2021, as the opening act on the first day of reopening. Photo: courtesy Zarna Garg

“I am in a little bit of a state of disbelief,” says Zarna Garg, whose meteoric rise as a stand-up comic seemed largely unaffected by the 2020 pandemic, a feat that was nevertheless, tough to accomplish.

The Funny Brown Mom’s act has the underlying theme of an  ‘Indian immigrant’ though she is a lawyer turned award-winning screenwriter and now stand-up comedian.

That steadfast theme was on display in her opening line in the opening act at the popular comedy club Caroline’s on Broadway June 13, 2021, when it reopened to the public:

“I’m one in a billion

No really, there’s a billion of us

It’s not a big deal

There’s a billion of us

But only one

Headlining at Caroline’s 

NAMASTE!” 

While everyone was baking banana bread during the global pandemic, Zarna was doing what she does best – COMEDY, notes her website.

She joined TikTok and garnered more than 30 million views within her first year on the platform.

With her ‘can do’ spirit, she took her act to Central Park and the MET, and when security chased her away, she continued her set on the New York City subway.

Garg when online big time with her comedy shows (profiled in the New York Times), IGTV appearances, interviews with the cast of Netflix’s summer smash “Indian Matchmaking” (covered by Screen Rant).

Most recently, she received the Ladies of Laughter’s 2021 ‘Newcomer Award,’ on the eve of her opening the show at first Caroline’s’ return.

An idea born in the late 1980s, Ladies of Laughter is now a successful initiative in which funny women from around the U.S, Canada, England and Australia apply for participation, and the likes of Amy Schumer, are among its alumni.

Her Caroline’s performance entitled ‘SARI, NOT SORRY’ brought the house down, highlighting the immigrant and American experience connecting with the audience on relatable topics like marriage, kids, and mothers-in-law — including her own!

But the 45-minute performance didn’t start like that.

“It was a very emotional reunion – all the people who hadn’t met in more than a year,” Garg told Desi Talk.

The show started with the Indian national anthem and a Bollywood song to acknowledge the dire situation in India, and part of the funds raised from the show will go to COVID relief in that country.

“But (after all that solemnity) comedy soon took over because you have to laugh. You have to take your medicine, you cannot avoid it,” Garg added about the Caroline’s show.

It was a very ‘global’ crowd. “There was an Irish table, an Iranian table, a gay table, and a lot of my famous TikTok friends,” that night at Caroline’s, she recalls.

On her website, Garg speaks of how she got where she is. I’m asked all the time, ‘how did you get started in comedy?’ she notes on her eponymous website.

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),” she quips.

But her story is not all funny. She lost her mother suddenly when she was 14 years old. Shortly after, she says her father wanted her to have an arranged marriage.

“It was get married or leave this home,” Garg felt.

Amazingly, Garg, who felt the walls were caving in on her, “decided to leave home and find my own way.”

The germ for comedy was planted in her as a teenager. “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,” she recalls in her biography.

Raised in Bombay, Garg has lived in multiple countries, endured the entire immigration process in the U.S., and is now raising her 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,” she says.

Apart from her latest incarnation, Zarna has also experienced success as a screenwriter. Her debut screenplay REARRANGED won the Best Comedy Screenplay Award at the 2019 Austin Film Festival (placing #1 out of nearly 12,000 scripts), and was also a 2019 Academy Nicholl Fellowships Semi-Finalist. The script has been optioned by Marginal Mediaworks. She has a sitcom in development.

“I feel great that the quality of my work is being acknowledge and at par with others,” Garg told Desi Talk.

“The Indian community has really come out and supported me – a shout out to my Indian friends … women, moms. They come to my shows.”

Even at Caroline’s, all the expensive tables are sold, “I’ve never experienced such an outpouring of love,” Garg said with emotion in her voice.

During the COVID pandemic, “We all danced to Bollywood music, supported charities sending money to India, especially to Humans of Bombay and Hemkunt Foundation,” Garg said, apart from other appearances.

Her comedy “brings a lot of worlds together,” Garg believes. “People can be comfortable around me. Even non-Indians – all have an Indian friend.”

And as Garg philosophizes about her latest career – “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,” and of course, fodder for comedy.

 

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