This is shaping up to be a very good year for Kumail Nanjiani.
As one of the stars of the breakout hit TV show Silicon Valley, the comedian has opened the eyes of new fans that may not have been familiar with his outstanding work on Portlandia and Franklin & Bash, or his phenomenal standup.
This week, you'll have not one but two chances to catch him onstage, as he'll be performing standup Thursday at Mill City Nights, and will be the featured guest for Friday's installment of Wits.
We talked with Nanjiani about his upcoming show on Comedy Central, keeping his personal and stage personas separate, and how it feels to be a part of the most epic dick joke in history.
You were part of what many are calling the greatest dick joke of all time during the season finale of Silicon Valley. What does that honor mean to you?
I think that's bigger than an Oscar, right? I mean, they give out Oscars and Emmys every year, but how often can someone say they have the best dick joke in history? The two things about that joke that I thought were so hilarious were first, how long it goes on for, and secondly, how the characters themselves are taking it so seriously and not finding it funny.
The really funny part for me is that all of the math that we're doing on the whiteboard in the scene is completely accurate. We have Stanford engineers who work on the show, and they worked out that equation themselves.
What do you think it feels like for a Stanford engineer to be working on the show?
I think for them it's a best-case scenario. I mean, it's got to be better than working on cold fusion or something. All of the guys we work with love doing the show. I met a bunch of them at one of the premieres, and they were all really excited. It's interesting, because they're a lot like the characters on the show, in that they both really like taking on these challenging mathematical equations. In fact, a couple of them are apparently planning to publish a paper about that dick joke from the finale.
Silicon Valley has become one of the most well reviewed new shows this year. Were you expecting that kind of response?
It was really exciting for me to be a part of the show, and it was just very different than anything I've ever done before. The thing is that everyone on the show, we're all really good friends and that made it feel like we were creating it for ourselves and not for anyone else. I mean, I hoped that people would like it, but it's been a bit surprising how many people have said they like it.
You've been a series regular on Franklin & Bash for the past couple of seasons. Is this new show going to affect that at all?
Yeah, I actually had to leave Franklin & Bash to do Silicon Valley, so you'll see in the new season that we figure out a way to hand it off to another character in a really funny way.
On top of your acting work, you host a standup show in Los Angeles that's about to become a TV show on Comedy Central. What's that going to look like?
The show is called The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail, and it's going to premiere July 23. We're just finishing up an eight-episode order, and I think we're in really good shape. Each episode is going to be kind of like its own little documentary about what's happening during that week's show, the comedians backstage, and how it all ties together onstage. Nothing is going to be scripted, but each episode will have its own story to tell.
What's it like to take an existing live show and turn it into a TV show?
The advantage of developing a show outside of the system is that you can make it the show you want, and then show it to the networks. When you're creating a new show from scratch, you have to try and get them to visualize it and hopefully see your vision. Now we can actually show them what it looks like. That's why I think shows like our show or Broad City that started as live shows are becoming more and more popular.
Has all of your newfound TV exposure changed your standup at all?
I don't think that the TV shows have changed my standup; I think it's just changed as a result of me changing as a person. Certain things I used to talk about onstage are kind of boring to me now, or they don't really apply anymore. The other thing that's changed it is that I've done so many podcasts that people feel like they know me, and they sort of do. I try to keep some of my personal life separate from who I am as a comedian or an actor, but it inevitably bleeds in. Sometimes that helps me onstage though, because I can talk about more personal things and people know what I'm talking about.
Going back to that mathematical equation from the Silicon Valley finale: If you had to jerk off every dick inside of Mill City Nights or at Wits this week, how many dicks do you think you could do during your show?
I think I would just do a longer set and make sure I got everyone. Let me say this: If you have a dick, and you're into that sort of thing, your needs will be met at this show. I promise.
IF YOU GO:
Thursday, June 19
Mill City Nights
8 p.m. doors, 9 p.m. show
8 p.m. Friday, June 20
With musical guest Valerie June.