Interview: Comedian Aparna Nancherla Fights Cakeriarchy in Debate Wars
If you’re not a fan of Aparna Nancherla yet, go watch all these clips, read her amazing tweets, and then we can be friends. Nancherla’s comedy is #relatable in the way that she puts all your thoughts about anxiety, the internet, and the cruel world into words—and then makes you laugh about them. She’s been a writer on Late Night with Seth Meyers, recently performed on The Half Hour, and now she’s working to “make debate great again” to save us from the absurdism of this presidential race.
Debate Wars is a new show on comedy streaming channel Seeso that pits comedians against each other on pressing social issues like Pie vs. Cake and Babies vs. Old People with Michael Ian Black as moderator. In a horrifying/wonderful way, these debates are infinitely more enjoyable than the ones we’re seeing now (and oftentimes better argued).
I got to interview Nancherla over email, who, in addition to working on the show behind the scenes, also entered the Debatium to make impassioned and hilarious points on the merits of pie.
TMS (Charline): How would you describe your debate style?
Nancherla: I would describe my debate style like a cup of coffee: measured, loaded with anxiety, and comes with free wifi. And one bathroom visit minimum.
TMS: You have a lot of credits on Debate Wars in addition to being a debater. Can you tell me a bit more about your roles?
Nancherla: Yes, in addition to being in two of the debates, I also helped showrunner Brian McCann with some of the logistical writing areas in terms of talent intros, transitions between segments, and figuring out ideas for the little jokes throughout the show, either for moderator Michael Ian Black or built in structurally. I better stop talking about it because it was truly glamorous work.
TMS: If you could have Clinton and Trump debate any topic, what would it be?
Nancherla: Now vs. Later
TMS: I attended the NYU event you performed at a while back about race in comedy, and you make a lot of #hashtag jokes in your pie debate. How do you feel like these conversations of social justice inform your comedy, if they do at all?
Nancherla: I feel like humor opens a lot of conversations that would be difficult or sensitive to have otherwise. It at least provides an access point for people to venture into the murkier depths. Also, it allows people who may not agree with you a chance to hear you out without feeling automatically defensive, though of course, I can’t speak for everyone.
TMS: Is there anything else we should know about the show that we haven’t covered?
Nancherla: In every episode, at least one contestant was a hologram! Try to guess who.
If you want some hilarious arguments that also serves as a delightful relief from other debates, Seeso has a free month trial on their site! Alternatively, they also upload a generous amount of clips on their YouTube channel. Debate Wars reminds us that debating can be a wonderful, spirited thing that excites and challenges us to learn more, rather than a mudslinging trash fire.
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