Zarna Gard On Switching Careers, Storytelling, Strategy, And Success
By Jia Wertz
After being a stay-at-home mom for 16 years, all the while knowing she wanted to do more, Zarna Garg was pushed to try stand-up comedy by her children. Her daughter recognized that she had a real talent, one that she herself didn’t even consider. But with the encouragement of her daughter, and the social media savvy of her son, Garg has made it big with an extremely successful second career in life. And all after the age of 40.
All jokes aside, Garg always approached her comedy career as a business. She knew that the only way to viably continue to do stand-up, would require her to dissect the business model, have a marketing plan, and grow it, just like any other startup. Her focus was on monetization, and not only the art form.
I sat down with Garg and she very candidly shared the secrets to her success, the best and toughest thing about having this new career, and how her life has changed.
The Beginning Stages
Prior to starting a comedy career, Garg had never even attended a comedy show as an audience member, let alone perform at one.
“I didn’t even know what a joke was. I had never been to a comedy club, even to watch a show. I didn’t know what you do there. You know, our community – we don’t do that. Like comedy is not a thing for us.”
The first time she took the stage at an open-mic night, she asked the woman who ran the comedy club what she should do, and the woman told her to go on stage and talk about whatever she finds funny for five minutes. “So I got up on stage and I started ripping apart my mother-in-law. And I was like, I think that’s funny. And I really didn’t realize that the whole world would find it funny with me. I just went with what came most naturally to me.”
This brought upon a realization that she may be onto something. “And then when I got off stage, the woman said to me, ‘you are so funny, but you don’t have jokes.’ So I went home and I was like Google, what is a joke? And I learned how to write a joke for the first time.”
Garg’s relentless penchant for trying new things, and learning on the job is so refreshing. It’s a lesson we can all takeaway from her story – it’s never too late to try new things, or start a new career, or simply learn a new skill.
Building A Business
“So I decided in addition to the art, I’m going to start marketing right away. Because without one, I can’t do the other. I don’t live a life where I have that luxury – if I was 25-years-old with no responsibilities, I may have done open mics for years. But I didn’t come into this world in that state. So I was very conscious,” says Garg.
She knew that marketing was key to growing her art into a viable business. She analyzed the industry and made decisions that would pay off in the long run, such as the decision to be a clean comic. “I knew that if I wanted to make money, and do a corporate gig, or be in one of these big spaces where people pay money for this kind of thing, you have to be clean.”
And it all paid off, she won Kevin Hart’s Lyft Comics competition in 2021. And she booked her first show at Caroline’s, one of New York City’s premier comedy venues at the time, within a year of doing her first open mic. But that was the same time that the pandemic hit – shutting down all in-person events. So Garg had to pivot, and that pivot came in the form of her 14-year-old son introducing her to TikTok, which led to the creation of her entire digital business.
The Power Of Storytelling
Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools – when done right, the art of storytelling can move people to take action, can create relatability between people from different walks of life, and have significant impact on an audience.
Garg also points out that people love to root for the underdog. “Everything is storytelling – everything anybody wants to get done, it’s the story behind the story that is the main story. They want the story of grit and determination, and that person that persevered – everybody wants to root for the underdog.”
She adds that it’s important to focus on your uniqueness. “Whatever is your story that makes you unique, that’s what’s going to propel everything around you. I think storytelling is a really, really important skill, especially in the world we are in today. ”
What It Takes
When I asked Garg what advice she’d give other women who don’t have the guts to switch careers at a later stage in life, she responded by saying, “First of all, you don’t need guts. You need desperation. You need to fuel yourself with your own desperation. You need to realize that you’re gonna die. We’re all gonna die. Use the time that God has given you right now.”
“Second of all, ask yourself, what exactly are you worried about? What exactly? You think people are going to judge you? They are judging you now when you’re not doing anything. The people who judge, judge everything freely, all day long. So it’s irrelevant what anybody thinks.”
“And third of all, in the world we live in right now, everybody’s obsessed with themselves. I say use that indifference. No one is paying attention to you and what you’re doing, take that chance – fail 50 times. If no one’s going to even realize, use that indifference to your advantage. I used to go to the early open mics and think, the worst that can happen is that I didn’t make anybody laugh. And maybe five people in that room, or 15 people will know that I didn’t make anybody laugh that day. But before the evening is over, there will be ten more pieces of news that will be much more important than anything I’m about to do. So I tell every woman out there that whatever is your inclination, whether it’s cooking, whether it’s organizing – social media has opened up a world of possibilities. I know people that are doing such exotic, creative things – I know women who obsess over organizing office cabinets, who are making six figures now, just because they took their obsession and they turned it into a business.”
Garg says we owe it to ourselves to live our fullest life. And before we try and make everyone else happy, we owe it ourselves to be happy. “I really believe that. That a happy person, has a ripple effect being out in the world, and it is so great – that we all have to aspire to be that.”
Garg’s latest success is her one-hour comedy special, Zarna Garg: One In A Billion, which was filmed at New York City’s Gramercy Theater, and is releasing globally on Amazon Prime on May 16th.