News & Politics

Standup Comic Aparna Nancherla on Her Days as a Magazine Intern (Guess What Magazine!)

Fact-checking articles helped her realize she really wanted to be onstage.

Photograph by CleftClips/Flickr.

Standup star and actor Aparna Nancherla has released her first book, a memoir called Unreliable Narrator: Me, Myself, and Impostor Syndrome. Sample quote: “I’ve never been fully on board with my face. I know that’s about as revelatory a statement from a woman in this world as saying ‘Sorry! Totally my mistake!’ when there’s a global recession.” Though she now lives in LA, Nancherla grew up in McLean and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School. And her writing career has roots in these very pages: She was a Washingtonian intern back in 2005. She talks here about her brief stint in magazine journalism.

“It was my first real gig out of college. I was very excited to be, like, hired somewhere, because I had done some interviews and not been chosen. I was living at home and was like, I’m going into DC to be an intern! Despite the sordid history of being an intern in DC.

“We did a chocolate-chip-cookie tasting—we had to call a bunch of bakeries and get cookies. I was like, This is what working at a magazine is? Sign me up. But I don’t think I was a very good intern. I remember [an intern named] Chris was very eye-on-the-prize, looking for opportunities to rise above his station. And I was, like, checking off the minimum of what was required, like distributing the mail.

“We would get letters from this woman named Nancy S. She would send in these irate restaurant reviews, handwritten letters, like, ‘I had a very bad experience with this waitress and did not leave a tip.’ I wasn’t sure what her end game was. But a letter from Nancy S. would be a mailroom highlight. I did some digging, and it turns out she doesn’t even live in DC—her calling card is just sending letters to places around the world.

“I learned how to copy­edit and fact-check, which are skills that have come in handy as a writer. But the thing that ended up scaring me about journalism, especially with the fact-checking, was, like, you had to call places and talk to an authority. I was like, I thought I could be a writer and sit in a room and write, but this involves a lot of interaction with the real world.

“I wanted to pursue standup because I had done an open mic in college, and that’s when I got the bug. I was like, If you really want to make a go at this, you’re going to have to start getting out there more. I remember the first time I went up was shortly after my internship. I think the internship sort of got me on my feet and settled, and I was like, Now we’re gonna jump in the pool.”

This article appears in the October 2023 issue of Washingtonian.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.