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We Want the Airwaves - Sapna Kumar

We Want the Airwaves - Sapna Kumar

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Published by Nia King
You may have seen her on Last Comic Standing. Or on LoGo. Or at Sundance. In this interview, comedian Sapna Kumar and I dive deep into the depths of comedy nerd-dom to discuss improv's infiltration into Chicago's standup scene, the decline of "ethnic" comedy, and the burgeoning queer comedy circuit. We also discuss the career trajectories of Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K., Neal Brennan, Aziz Ansari, and Kumail Nanjiani. Highlights include:

-How to make a living as a standup comedian,
-how not to get pigeonholed as an "ethnic" comic,
-and why I love/hate Marc Maron.

Transcribed by Gunjan Chopra
You may have seen her on Last Comic Standing. Or on LoGo. Or at Sundance. In this interview, comedian Sapna Kumar and I dive deep into the depths of comedy nerd-dom to discuss improv's infiltration into Chicago's standup scene, the decline of "ethnic" comedy, and the burgeoning queer comedy circuit. We also discuss the career trajectories of Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K., Neal Brennan, Aziz Ansari, and Kumail Nanjiani. Highlights include:

-How to make a living as a standup comedian,
-how not to get pigeonholed as an "ethnic" comic,
-and why I love/hate Marc Maron.

Transcribed by Gunjan Chopra

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Published by: Nia King on Jul 29, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/01/2014

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We Want the Airwaves: QPOC Artists on the Rise
 
Addicted to the Hustle: An Interview with Sapna Kumar
 Sapna
: It is a story that relates to people who are really young and are like, “Oh I'm going
through the same things, I'm looking for my parents to accept me, I wanna see somebodywho's lived this life. And our community -
a lot of South Asians are like, “I wil
l never 
talk to you again”
-
for being gay. A lot of South Asian kids are like, “I would rather kill
myself than be gay, and have this separation with my family,
because our family ties areso strong. So just in the fact that like, I've been able to do this successfully as this voice -out for a long time. It's political in that sense that it gives empowerment to a group of  people who might say,
I will never be able to be out, I'll never be able to be accepted bymy parents.
 *musical intro* Nia King: W
elcome to “We Want the Airwaves.” My name is Nia King. This week I sat
down with stand-up comedian Sapna Kumar from Chicago. She was in town for the Desi-Q conference, which is a queer South Asian conference in San Francisco. I want to thank Carey Callahan for recommending her as a guest. I'm always open to suggestions and tipsfor people you think I should talk to, so if you have them, please tweet them at me. Youcan always find me on twitter at @artactivistnia. And without further ado, here's Sapna.*musical interlude* NK: So the acting came first, or the comedy?SK: Acting. Acting came first. NK: And you've been in a couple feature films?SK: Yeah, they're indies. One of them was - Wendy Jo Carlton is a pretty - she's gaininga lot of momentum as an indie lesbian filmmaker. She's doing a web series right now
called “Easy Abby,” and it's gotten over millions of hits. As far as the lesbian
community, a lot of people know the web
series. I was in a film of hers called “Jamie and
Jessie Are Not Together 
.” It was my first time on a film set. I mean, I had like a couple
lines. But it was my first time on a film set, which was really cool. And then the second
film was called “Promise Land” which is an independent film out of Chicago with an all
-South Asian cast. NK: Awesome.SK: And it's actually doing pretty well. They're doing a lot of screenings. They weredoing about twenty screenings around the United States in most of the major metropolitan areas. And, oh, they got into Sundance. NK: Oh, wow.
 
 SK: And I had a supporting role in that. Actually when I saw the final film, I was like, ohI have a pretty meaty role, and I was pretty proud of that, so. *laughs* NK: That's good, that most of your footage didn't end up on the cutting room floor -SK: No. Actually I don't think there was one line that I got in the script that did not makeit to the final cut. So I was like,
“W
ow, that's really cool.
  NK: What's the story?SK: Oh, well they're actually three short vignettes that are sort of tied together, andthey're all stories about immigration. And one of them has to do with a lesbian couple,that one of the partners is being sent back to India and then another one has to do with awhole family where I think the daughter is being sent back. NK: You mean deported?SK: Yeah, being deported. Deported, yeah that's the right word. 'Cuz like they're newlyentered immigrants who are having trouble retaining their status, and it shows how thefamilies are being broken apart. Or in one case how a lesbian couple, she's with anAmerican woman, who lives in this country, and how they're being broken apart. Andthen one of the actual vignettes which I wasn't part of was stories of a call center. And ithas immigration status issues in there as well, and I don't remember that clearly what -*laughs* NK: A call center in the States or?SK: A call center in the States. NK: Okay.SK: But hiring immigrants. Basically this happens a lot in call centers where they hireimmigrants who have no papers so they sort of treat them as terribly as they can. Becausethey don't have a way to work in any other place. NK: Right. And then who's your character?SK: Malaika Kapoor, and she is your typical Indian aunty. Just really spacey, always ineverybody's business, a complete busybody. You know, and just the kind of aunty who'salways making fun of people but trying to be really sweet about it, you know. NK: And was that fun, or did you feel like it was reinforcing stereotypes?SK: It doesn't because the rest of the script is done in a way that - the characters arereality-based. Like I already told you it's stories about immigration and so forth, and
 
 being a part of that culture, there's always aunties like that. Like it's not even a stereotypeto me. There's always aunties who give people trouble about their weight or trouble aboutwho's dating who, or trouble about why isn't so-and-so married, you know, there's alwaysan aunty like that. And so maybe it's a stereotype, but - *laughs* NK: But when you have an all South Asian cast it's not like - It would be different if thatwas the only South Asian character.SK: Yeah, and the filmmakers are South Asian too. It wasn't like, Caucasians who wrotethe script and were like - you know, there are plenty of things that were done like that,where they had like, white - I shouldn't say 'white' but like, white writers and whitedirectors doing a thing with a South Asian cast. And for me this seemed more authentic,you know. Because I feel like they understood the story. NK: So how did you get involved with that production?SK: How did I get involved? I auditioned. Chicago has a pretty healthy independent filmscene that's kind of burgeoning, it's doing pretty well. So I just read about the audition.And it was the theater company I was in, cause I was part of a South Asian theatrecompany. And they invited the actors and the company to audition. NK: Oh awesome. So they almost sort of had a pool to draw from...SK: Yeah and actually, probably about five of us worked with the theater company thatwere in the actual film, so. NK: And was that your first time doing film, or you did the other - ?SK: Yeah I did the other film first, so it was my second time doing film. But it wasdefinitely a bigger role. So there was definitely learning the mechanics of it all, and thetechnique. And also I did a LOGO TV special, so that was like my third time being on aset. Like I did the LOGO thing first, and then I did two independent films, and it was allin one year. So I got a lot of practical experience being on sets, which I had not had before, so - NK: How does it feel to have - I would imagine when you're going from TV to film tofilm, it feels like,
“O
h my career's really taking off right now,
” right? But
one of thethings about being an artist I find is that you never know when the next job's coming.SK: Well, the thing is I actually focused on just working and not running around anddoing a lot of auditions after that. A lot of times people say,
if you feel the momentumyou should go with it
,”
and I sort of didn't. And I don't know if I felt the momentum 'cuz Iknow a lot of working actors and comics. I'm like,
“O
h they've got a LOT more going onthan me! This is good
 for 
 
me
.
I d
on‟t k 
now. For me it was sticking my toes in andlearning something new. I mean, I would like to do more of that. But at the time it justwasn't the right timing for me.

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