Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Comedian Aparna Nancherla Is Proof You Can Be Shy and Still Thrive in the Spotlight

Aparna Nancherla
Aparna Nancherla

There’s a common misconception that shy people don’t like attention. That social interactions freak them out and they’d rather be alone than with people.

As a result, many people convince themselves that because they’re shy, they don’t have what it takes to thrive in the spotlight. And that means leading meetings or speaking on a panel is off limits.

But if you need any motivation to convince yourself otherwise, look no further than stand-up comedian, writer, and actress Aparna Nancherla.

Nancherla’s starred in specials and TV shows on Comedy Central, HBO, NBC, and Netflix, most notably in shows such as BoJack Horseman, Master of None, and Corporate. She’s been recognized every year since 2013 as one of the funniest people to watch by publications such as Rolling Stone, Variety, Vulture, and Time Magazine. She’s co-hosted her own podcast, “Blue Woman Group,” and guest starred on various NPR shows. And she has half a million followers on Twitter (and a pretty stellar social media presence).

But she’s also, as a recent Washington Post article highlights, “unassuming, soft-spoken, and reflective.” And she was always this way—the article’s author, Ellen McCarthy, discusses how Nancherla was an incredibly shy child, clinging to her parents and speaking little in school or in public.

And yet she stands in front of an audience every day, by herself, making people laugh. In fact, she’s made her shyness a critical part of her job as a comedian. In one skit on her personal website, Nancherla talks about her biggest pet peeve: when her social friends also claim that they’re “shy sometimes.”

“Don’t take the one thing I have in this world to cling to—preferably in the fetal position—as a self-identifier…If you say you’re shy you need the street cred to back it up. I have that street cred, I’ve earned it,” she jokes.

And, she’s embraced the fact that it’s OK to resort back to her shy tendencies from time to time. Quotes McCarthy, “On rough days, she retreats to her most familiar space: her own head. ‘The way some people fantasize about being rich and famous, I fantasize about being very under the radar—working in a bookstore. That’s the thing I go to when I feel so overwhelmed,’ [Nancherla] says.”

You could say Nancherla is breaking barriers by being the opposite of shy in her career, but in reality she’s just not letting her “weaknesses” hold her back. More so, she’s found ways to use them to her advantage. And most importantly, she’s proof that the spotlight can shine on even the most surprising of individuals.