By: Sloane Hughes

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Abby Govindan On The Complex Relationship Between Immigration, Diaspora, And Comedy

Abby Govindan is a 23-year-old comedian, writer, and social media personality from Houston, Texas. She spoke with Funny Or Die over Zoom to discuss her journey in comedy so far, the importance of telling diverse stories, and what it ‘s like navigating Twitter, comedy, and creative spaces as an Indian-American woman.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

For those who don ‘t know you yet, I want to get into your origin story. How did you get started with comedy? When did you start?
I got started when my boyfriend and I broke up in 2017. I was devastated; I was convinced that he was the love of my life. I had a very Marvelous Mrs. Maisel story where I took up stand-up comedy, as just a hobby to get my mind off things, but ended up doing well. I was able to go on tour in my senior year during finals week, which was stressful, but so much fun. I got to meet other people in colleges who were my age, who had faith in me, who really invested in me early on. These sets were not good. Let me tell you. But people were so nice to me about it and so supportive.

Courtesy of Abby Govindan

Shortly after I took up stand up, I studied abroad in Ireland. I had a friend in Ireland who had 1000 followers on Twitter and he refused to follow me back. He was like, “Your Twitter is dry. I ‘m not going to follow you until you prove your worth to me. ‘ So that ‘s actually the reason I started using Twitter more. Then as I was leaving, literally on the airplane from Ireland back to Houston, some tweet [of mine] blew up on Irish Twitter, and overnight I got 2000 followers. Which looking back isn ‘t that much, but was really cool to me at the time. Later that summer in 2018, another tweet blew up and I got 10,000 followers overnight. And it ‘s only been upward from there!

I ‘ve gotten a lot of opportunities [through Twitter]. I ‘ve gotten to meet a lot of people, including my heroes. I got to meet federal politicians, I worked as a volunteer influencer with Julian Castro who has been one of my favorite politicians since I was in high school, because I grew up in Texas.

Something you talk a lot about in your standup sets as well as on Twitter, whether it ‘s jokingly or seriously, is having immigrant parents and being Indian-American. What ‘s that like taking up space in such a white, and male, dominated industry?
Okay. I love this question. I was 20 when I started stand-up and being a young Indian woman was definitely daunting because people did not take me seriously. But it was really a power trip when I would walk into a room, everyone would see me as the youngest there, they ‘d really underestimate me, and then I ‘d end up being the funniest [comic] there. Every time I had imposter syndrome, I would just look at these men who I was performing alongside who ‘d been doing this for 10, 11 years who couldn ‘t even get one or two laughs. I am a bit of a perfectionist, and I put so much time and effort into the writing process.

Sometimes it gets frustrating, and I do fail. I have jokes that I thought would work well, that don ‘t. But at the end of the day, the stuff that I say on stage, I ‘m really proud of. I don ‘t feel like it ‘s tacky, I don ‘t feel like I ‘m throwing my identity under the bus. It ‘s stuff that I hope will age well. I try to be very intentional with what I do, I don ‘t want to ever punch down.

So it ‘s been daunting, but also I ‘ve gotten a lot of opportunities, and I think having a [large] Twitter following proves that people do have vested interest in diverse stories. People want alternative perspectives. So I ‘ve been proving that investing in not only me, but people whose stories you wouldn ‘t hear or typically see on screen is worth it. I feel like Hollywood now is more accessible than ever. It ‘s just been so great.

Regarding my Indian identity, that ‘s funny because I have a story about that from this week. I really love the Desi (South Asian) community. I wouldn ‘t be where I am without their support. I wouldn ‘t be able to do what I ‘m doing without them, but they really try it with me sometimes. A year ago my parents found my Narcan, which is a drug that you inject people with who are experiencing an opioid overdose. It literally saves lives. The opioid crisis disproportionately affects low income and homeless people who wouldn ‘t otherwise have access to Narcan, so in New York City they were giving it away for free. So, my parents found it and they automatically assumed it was for me, which is an insane assumption, because my mom is a physician and you can ‘t inject it into yourself.

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