Review: Zarna Garg Offers Hilarious Hot Takes On Familiar Indian Themes On ‘One In A Billion’

By Aditya Mani Jha 17 May 2023 4 mins read

Zarna Garg talks about American parents, Gen-Z and Jerry Seinfeld on debut special 'One In A Billion'.

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Like a lot of Indian-American comedians Zarna Garg, too, is tired of the ‘chai tea and yoga’ tropes. In her comedy, she points out these tropes for what they are. But she doesn’t let that knowledge keep her from identifying as an “Indian auntie”, and that’s the genius of her show One in a Billion, released 16 May on Amazon Prime Video. Garg begins the show with a namaste, launches into a routine about the bindi she’s wearing, and proceeds to channel several typical concerns of the Indian-American parent: What if their child falls for a white person? What if their child rebels in a typically American teenage way? What if (gasp) their child does not get admission into an Ivy League college, or worse, gets in but chooses a major like “ceramics”?

These concerns might feel like well-trodden ground to some Indian viewers, but I urge them to stick with One in a Billion. As she points out during the show, Garg was a lawyer and a stay-at-home mom for over a decade before pivoting to professional standup comedy. This atypical narrative arc affords her a unique point of view and an idiosyncratic style to boot. She is clearly a self-taught comic, but her fundamentals are rock solid.  

You can see why Garg won Kevin Hart’s talent hunt (called Lyft Comics, on the streaming service Peacock). She knows when to extend a joke well beyond the anticipated punch line, she knows which jokes will be ‘divisive’ and she knows how to use these things to her advantage. Sample this routine about Garg coming to America as an immigrant. See how cleverly she weaves in the classic Eddie Murphy/Arsenio Hall movie Coming to America (1998). 

“I dreamt of coming to America just like Eddie Murphy. You know, when you’re outside this country looking at life in here, everything looks so much more fun. People frolicking in hot tubs. Jacuzzis! Bubble baths! I mean, in India you get water in a bucket. There are buckets in America too but they are filled with fried chicken! A shower doesn’t stop here until you stop it. People fill gallons of drinkable water in a bathtub and just sit in it. Because they’re sad.”

This routine arrives at around the five-minute mark of the special, and it sets the tone for the show, because the best parts of this special are the ones dealing in distinctly American themes. Like when she talks about her immigrant status for the first time. “I’m an immigrant and I’m here to take your jobs,” Garg says. “Be afraid, Jerry Seinfeld!” And then, not too long after, she makes a Superman joke involving her husband. This is quite clever because—as the attentive fan knows— Seinfeld is obsessed with the original Superman comics and his TV show was littered with references to Superman.

One in a Billion both roots for Gen Z—and hints at the dystopian, ultra-capitalist hellhole they’re about to inherit.

Garg is also more than fair in her tongue-in-cheek assessment of American parents vs Desi parents. She calls out the latter group because they’re behind on issues like queer rights—something which America is still ahead on, despite the rash of exclusionary legislation in certain American states of late (example: Florida’s ‘Don’t say gay’ law, which was expanded last month). But American parents are the butt of the joke when Garg talks about romantic relationships and the fixation with ‘happily ever after’. And she’s right, you know—read ten pages of anything written by Colleen Hoover (the bestselling novelist in America these last few years) and you’ll understand the depths of this obsession with romance.

“[O]n this one thing, the bar is set so high. On education, it’s so low!” Garg says. “Like, happily ever after? Absolutely! Calculus? Well, you did your best. Enough with the happily ever after, like, we don’t even want that. What we want is 1600 on the SATs and an eyebrow lady who won’t quit on us.” (“The aunties love that, the struggle is real”, she says after the applause dies down, acknowledging one of her core target demographics).

I loved how One in a Billion both roots for Gen Z—and hints at the dystopian, ultra-capitalist hellhole they’re about to inherit. Garg’s routine about worrying for her children’s future jobs is pitch-black humour. It is also one hundred per cent accurate and should be extremely concerning for anyone with procreation plans. Garg reminds the audience that so many blue-chip American firms have CEOs of Indian origin—and that those CEOs likely had very little by way of ‘all-American fun’, like summer camp, teenage romances or the radical idea of picking one’s own majors. 

“You think those CEOs chose their own majors? You think those CEOs spent their summers swinging on a tire? You think their parents ever said to them, ‘Don’t worry be happy’!? (…) And what do these kids want us to say to them? ‘Go be a DJ. Be a YouTuber. Y’know, UPS is always hiring philosophers.”

One in a Billion is full of hilarious and devastatingly accurate routines like this one. If you’re not an Indian auntie, you should watch it to realise just how much of the world rests on their overworked shoulders. And if you are an Indian auntie, I’m beginning to think you might just have even better jokes up your sleeve. 


Aditya Mani Jha

Aditya Mani Jha is a Delhi-based independent writer and journalist. He’s currently working on his first book of non-fiction, a collection of essays on Indian comics and graphic novels.


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