She calls herself ‘The Funny Brown Mom’: comedian Zarna Garg

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Standup comedian Zarna Garg at her open-air gig in Central Park Sept. 12, 2020. Photo: courtesy Zarna Garg

This irrepressible, 41-year old mother of three, makes her living as a comedian in what is possibly the toughest place to succeed, not just in the world, but in the world of comedy – New York City.

But Zarna Garg, who hasn’t let even the Covid-19 pandemic phase her, obviously has the nerves of steel and the gumption that define what a typical New Yorker is made of.

Just when I thought I would like an exclusive interview with her to ask how she got into this field, she answered my question as she began her longish biography on her website with, “I’m asked all the time, ‘how did you get started in comedy?’” So I didn’t ask her that. I knew it already from reading about her.

She was born with it.

And it stood her in good stead through her life, overcoming tragedy, enjoying her success, with enough room to observe her children and husband (and her mother-in-law for that matter) as good material for her comedic ventures.

A lot of her jokes are about Indian mothers-in-law. “Because every culture has mother-in-law jokes, except ours. And all mothers-in-law are ‘Wicked Witches’,” she says in all seriousness during her Zoom interview, adding quickly, “It’s what I’m living for now.”

Garg’s three children are ages 17, 14, and 8. They, along with her husband, attend all her open-air shows, the five she has done so far. Garg says her mother-in-law is very supportive, and as for her husband, “He loves it. He goes into a corporate meeting and they ask him if he is my husband! Luckily, he is very ‘evolved’, it took 22 years,” she drops those last few words with a straight face.

The idea that something like stand-up comedy existed she says in her bio, was a revelation to her. While figuring out what to do next, she Googled ‘Jobs for funny people’.

“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!” Garg writes.

New York City comedian Zarna Garg, who has used every means available to continue her shows during Covid, from open air shows to ten minute skits in video/Zoom meetings, on Tik Tok, or other social media. (Photo: courtesy Zarna Garg)

And now, it seems as if the pandemic has opened new doors for Garg even if it may have closed others. Today, she is asked to pop into Zoom meetings or gathering, celebrations, birthday parties, even religious meetings, to give a 10-minute joke-show, lighten the atmosphere, and give people a breather. “I did about 25 such shows for Eid,” she says.

And Garg is busy writing scripts for upcoming festivals like Diwali, sure that the invitations to perform will keep coming. The pandemic is not going anywhere for now.

Garg’s Evolution

NYC comedian Zarna Garg holding her Austin Film Festival award for Best Comedy Screenplay. Photo: courtesy Zarna Garg

Garg lost her mother at 14, and her father, who she says was in shock, and soon after her mother’s death, he informed her she needed to have an arranged marriage. If not, she could leave. She left, she says, but does not blame her father. “Dad broke inside,” after her mother’s sudden death from jaundice, which seemingly had gone undiagnosed because they were in the middle of a wedding.

“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,” Garg says in her bio on her website.

All while she planned how to get to the United States where her sister lives. She accomplished all that and more, getting a law degree along the way, getting married, and having kids.

That’s the story she told in “Rearranged” the movie for which she won the Austin Film Festival award for Best Comedy Screenplay a couple years ago. From then till now has seen her planning and making comedy her go-to, full-time career.

As luck would have it, after her first stand-up show in February, at NYC’s famous comedy center, Caroline’s, to a packed house, things came to a halt with Covid with future shows canceled.

Undeterred, within a month Garg switched to Zoom to present her skits, and it was no longer just New Yorkers who could enjoy her ‘mother-in-law’ jokes, it opened up the whole world, from Guatemala to Australia.

The savvy comedian logged into social media frequented by really young people. She has 13 million hits on Tik Tok and 113,000 followers on that social media outlet alone.

Besides, it brings her closer to the generation that she says — ‘complains too much.’

“Here we are in the middle of Covid, I have my family in NOIDA (India), and a kid says, ‘oh I can’t go to tennis class’, I say, ‘Quit whining about everything’. These kids have it too easy.”

“My story in America is not about service to my kids and bringing them up. My whole life is ahead of me,” Garg says determinedly during the Zoom interview. Yet, she was not part of the traditional comedy circuit. She couldn’t be, with three children at home, staying till 3 am at the comedy club frequently, was just not done.

Over the last few months, starting with performances on Zoom, Garg has graduated to giving open air shows in locations like Central Park, or outside the Metropolitan Museum. Everyone observes social distancing and laughs, dances or sings along with her, she told Desi Talk in the Zoom interview.

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