Comedian Kumail Nanjiani will be in Seattle with Chris Hardwick on Saturday, June 4th for a show at the Showbox Market. I saw Nanjiani’s set last year at Bumbershoot and he really is hilarious. I got to interview him that same day, and the stars have aligned here to call attention to his upcoming Seattle appearance plus his new TV show, Franklin & Bash, which premieres June 1st on TNT. Nanjiani moved to the States from Pakistan when he was eighteen years old to attend Grinnell College, and lived in Chicago and New York before moving to Los Angeles. He did his own one-man show called Unpronounceable, recently got married, and now he continues to make people laugh. Really hard.
For Franklin & Bash you’ve been working with Mark-Paul Gosselaar from NYPD?
Kumail Nanjiani: And from Saved by the Bell. He’s the nicest guy. He’s come to a couple of my shows. He’s a down to earth guy.
He always seemed cool to me.
KN: He really is. It’s weird how grounded he is, given that he’s been famous since he was thirteen or something.
You moved from New York to Los Angeles. Do you like LA?
KN: I do. New York has such a strong emphasis on live performance whereas LA is more TV and movies. In the beginning it was hard because with stand-up there’s instant satisfaction. You write something and try it. This show [Franklin & Bash] is a good example. I found that I was getting really stressed in New York, in kind of a good way. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do stuff all the time. In LA I can be more centered, but I love New York.
In school you were a double major. One major was Computer Science?
KN: And philosophy, but I’m using neither of them. Although I kind of am using both. They’re pretty similar. They’re both logic, problem solving. Comedy is a lot like that – this is a thing, what are the different angles you can take on it? You think of a thing everyone knows, and you find new ways to approach it.
You listed Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children as one of your favorite books on your Myspace Comedy page. That’s one of my faves too. What do you like about it?
KN: First of all, it’s written so well. The stories are so good. . . certain sentences. I’m sort of obsessed with this thing, what am I going to leave after I die? All the best people are immortal. Woody Allen has Annie Hall, Salman Rushdie has Midnight’s Children, they have that thing. They’ll never be forgotten because they’ve made something that’s always going to be brilliant and relevant. I’m obsessed with that, almost in almost an unhealthy way. I like horror and sci-fi a lot, I think you gathered from my set. It’s such an interesting way to get at human issues. You put humans in an extraordinary situation and you get at what it means to be a person – an insight into human nature. The best horror does that. I have this thing with horror movies because it’s always taking the supernatural and the mundane and making one work against the other.
Kumail Nanjiani @ Bumbershoot, 2010 – photo by Dagmar
What are some of your favorite horror & sci-fi films?
KN: The Thing. I love The X-Files – that was one of my favorite TV shows. The Shining. All these movies that are really grounded in character and people. Like Mulder just wants to know what happened to his sister. There’s a big conspiracy and there’s monsters and aliens every week but ultimately it’s about a guy trying to find out what happened to his sister. Even the monster of the week episodes were great. My favorite one is called “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” with Peter Boyle, who died a couple years ago. The guy is psychic, but he can only see how people die. What would happen if a normal human being could see how everybody dies, including himself? He dreams every night how he’s going to die. It explores it in a very grounded, real way.
KN: Yes. So good!
Did your family move together to the US?
KN: I moved alone when I was eighteen. They moved here about four or five years ago.
Your dad is a doctor?
KN: He’s a psychiatrist.
Oh, that would be kind of scary.
KN: He’s good about not bringing work home. He didn’t become a psychiatrist until I was a grown up so it wasn’t like he was always analyzing us. [Nanjiani has one younger brother].
You got married recently – you’ve had a lot of changes in your life.
KN: It feels like that. I think this point happened to me where I’d been doing stand-up in Chicago for years and not really making a living at it. It was sort of this thing where I gotta make a run for it. Two and a half years ago my perspective changed. I got married . . . moved to New York.
Do you think about creating another entire show, the way you did with Unpronounceable?
KN: I want to find something really relevant to me in the way that was. I’m sort of waiting for that. It was so much work, and it was exhausting personally. It was really grueling in every way, from performance to writing. I do have ideas for the next one but I want to get to a place where I can pour my whole life into it.
From what you said about your mom she sounds really honest.
KN: Yes. Definitely. My parents are amazing. To be someone who grew up in Pakistan, to move here, that they worked so hard to get us here. . . My dad worked so hard to get us money to send us to college. And to have their son do stand-up comedy, it’s a hard thing to hear. But they were very supportive the whole time and always believed in me. It’s kind of scary how much they trusted me, how much faith they had in me. It’s rare.
How was doing Late Show with David Letterman?
KN: When I first did stand up, I was on stage and I was like, some day I wanna do David Letterman. It took eight years to get there. I feel like it legitimized me in a way. For me, as a stand-up that was the only thing that I count [as] real, that was legit. He’s the only real legend working in late night. It was intimidating. I had to remind myself when I got there, to enjoy it . . . to have fun.
What other jobs have you had?
KN: When I was in Chicago I only had one job. I worked for the University of Chicago doing tech support.
How did you end up on Stephen Colbert’s show?
KN: I knew a couple of the writers from The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. That was just a few months after I moved to New York. Colbert was the nicest guy. So cool. I actually learned a lot about acting. He would be directing the show and then switch into the character. He’s so funny. You have to pretend they’re not that person otherwise you’d be so intimidated. You have to put that out of your mind. For me it would melt me.
**Click here for tix and more information on Saturday’s show.**
interview by Dagmar