When you come from a country with a billion people, saying “one in a million” does not sound like a compliment, said Zarna Garg, aptly naming her recently released comedy special on Prime Video Zarna Garg: One in a Billion.
An ordinary stay-at-home mother, Garg made the almost unprecedented choice to switch to a career in comedy with a little push from her daughter.
Little did she know that five years later, well into her 40s, she would emerge as an internet sensation, leaving millions of her followers in splits with her relatable humour, become an award-winning screenwriter, perform at sold-out venues across the US, write an award-winning feature, and also sign a film.
Her comedy special hit the streaming service on May 16 and platformed an unapologetically mocking, satirical, prominent voice making sense of today's world in all its ironies and contradictions.
Right off the bat, she set the tone by saying, “I’m not your typical Indian woman. This bindi is a PR thing.”
Talking about comedy being considered as an offbeat career choice in the Indian community, she told Forbes, “You know, our community – we don't do that. Like, comedy is not a thing for us.”
Her content focuses on precisely that, and her comedic vocabulary is punctuated with subjects related to familial drama, growing up in India, the immigrant experience, politics, and culture.
Introducing herself as a job-stealing immigrant, she starts the show poking fun at a quintessentially desi subject of humour – marriage and in-laws. She weaves in anecdotal commentary on cultural differences between her home country and the United States, with the immigrant perspective of finding balance on a transoceanic trapeze.
Rejecting an arranged marriage at 16 (“What is an escape room called in India? An arranged marriage!”), she moved to Ohio, United States, to live with her sister. Regretting the rejection and talking about the boons of an arranged marriage, she says, “Today, she (my sister) has a 15,000 sq. ft house, a private plane – two storeys, and a dead mother-in-law.”
A “fresh off the boat” immigrant, she had “only $9 in her pocket but $10,000 in the bank” and decided to pursue a law degree, which would later become one of her punchlines.
Garg has a knack for acknowledging a split identity – the duality of experiencing life through a South Asian lens and also the occidental lens. “Everything Indian is hot right now in America, have you guys realised that? Ayurveda, turmeric, living with your parents,” she says.
In the late 90s, she took to the decade’s most popular online messaging service AOL and posted an ad saying she was looking for an Indian man to marry. Here, she met her husband, Shalabh Garg, an entrepreneur and businessman who founded Tesseract Macro, a New York-based company.
The two married in 1998 and had three children. Today, the family lives in New York, where the comedian frequently performs sold-out shows.
The special is packed with familial mockery – some of it funny, while some perpetuate blanket conclusions about the vastly degreed and nuanced Indian culture – albeit with a conscious strategy to use outdated myths as fodder for comedic material.
Proudly claiming her identity as an Indian immigrant “aunty”, Garg is not shy to comment on the superficial American interpretation of Indian culture.
Hailed as one of the most prominent immigrant voices on the internet, Garg is still going strong half a decade later and staying true to her pessimistic, comedic sense filled with sarcasm and motherly humour – bindi and all, however, with a few recycled and outdated attempts at humour.