Unreliable Narrator: Me, Myself, and Impostor Syndrome
“Nancherla offers a thoughtful and interesting peek behind the scenes at someone with a successful comedy career. People in creative fields will likely particularly enjoy the delve into the underlying anxieties that come with making creative work . . .”
In her witty and thoughtful essay collection Unreliable Narrator: Me, Myself, and Impostor Syndrome, comedian Aparna Nancherla discusses her life and career and struggles with things like imposter syndrome, anxiety, and procrastination. (Stars—They’re just like us!). As Nancherla writes, “The better my career has gone, the worse my imposter syndrome has grown.” The weight of more eyes on her leads to more examination of herself and her work.
Nancherla is a successful comedian, actress, and comedy writer who has done standup on late night, had comedy specials on Netflix and Comedy Central, and has acted in and written for several shows. But she, like a lot of other successful people, still struggles with imposter syndrome—the internal feelings of doubt and lack of belonging that many people experience despite their outward successes.
Her book mixes essays that weave in humor and research (“As you may have gathered, I’m a fiend for an outside source”) with shorter comic pieces like a résumé listing all her failures: “No major entertainment awards (that I know of), but here’s something. Got my first part in a movie, and the production company forgot to invite me to the premiere.” The structure allows Nancherla to do deeper dives into some topics while sprinkling shorter, lighter tension-breaking comic pieces throughout.
The collection covers a range of subjects beyond imposter syndrome. She writes about her struggles with depression and body image and how she has grappled with how much to call attention to her race in her act—as a South Asian American woman she is not what some audiences expect from a comedian. The essays describe a thoughtful approach to her life and comedy and show that there aren’t often easy answers to the questions she raises.
Nancherla’s honesty about the ups and downs of her career and her behind-the-scenes struggles are something some readers may not expect from a successful comedian. But many creatives will probably recognize themselves in and commiserate with her internal obstacles.
In “Anxiety in Three Acts,” one act describes a day filled with anxiety in the lead up to an evening when Nancherla is performing two standup sets. In another essay, she writes about her struggles with procrastination (which also came into play while writing the book) and discusses her use of social media to put things off. “Pre-pandemic, people would ask me how I managed to be so prolific on Twitter, and I was always too embarrassed to admit the ugly truth: I used Twitter to put off artistic work that involved less instant gratification” she writes.
Other essays cover relatable struggles in an insightful way. In “No Comment” Nancherla discusses her disillusionment with social media—including its lack of nuance and the constant commentary and examination of what she posts (that only increases as she gains followers). After examining how social media is affecting her, she decides to stop checking it.
In “Inside Voice” she writes about how her shyness and introversion play out for a person whose job it is to get on stage in front of a group of people and make them laugh. She dispels the idea that some may have of what a comedian’s personality type should be—many like herself are actually introverted overthinkers. “Unlike the class clowns, quiet or shy kids can be sleeper cells of comedy,” she writes.
Throughout the collection, Nancherla offers a thoughtful and interesting peek behind the scenes at someone with a successful comedy career. People in creative fields will likely particularly enjoy the delve into the underlying anxieties that come with making creative work, but readers looking for a funny and honest collection of essays will also appreciate this one.