The stand-up comic and star of HBO’s Silicon Valley talks about his new movie The Big Sick, an indie romcom based on his own unusual love story
ESQUIRE: You moved to America when you were an adult. Do you think that gives you a different comedic angle? KUMAIL NANJIANI: Yes, definitely. If you’re coming into America from outside, you’re hearing all the background noise that everyone else has tuned out. It allowed me to look at America from a little bit of an outsider’s perspective, but also to look back at Pakistan from a similar perspective. ESQ: The Big Sick is about you juggling your Pakistani parents’ arranged marriage plans for you while you fall for an American girl, based on your wife and co-writer Emily V Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan). Did you come to any realisations about your behaviour while making the film?
KN: A lot. While we were writing it, Judd [Apatow, the film’s producer] would ask me, “What was the plan? You were dating Emily, your mom wanted you to marry a Muslim girl. So what were you going to do?”
And I really had no plan. It wasn’t that I was making the wrong decisions — I was just making no decisions. I went back and looked at some emails my mother had sent me about the perfect people she wanted me to meet, and I felt like such an asshole. It was strange to look back and see how stunted I was emotionally.
ESQ: Audiences get to see a snazzy picture of a younger you sporting impressive Hugh Grant, Nineties-era locks. Is it true he was your idol?
KN: It’s probably the most true thing in the entire movie. It’s so, so, so very true. And when I also say that I heard Hugh Grant in an interview say that he doesn’t like to smile in pictures because he thinks it makes his face look fat, so I didn’t either, that’s true too. I was obsessed with Hugh Grant. Four Weddings and
a Funeral I’ve seen probably about 50 times. Emily and I watched it on the day we got married. ESQ: There are some topical jokes in the film. What’s it like being a comedian in America right now? KN: It’s really freaky. If you’re not talking about the big stuff, then it feels like a waste of time. American audiences have this reputation for wanting mindless entertainment, and I might be wrong, but I feel like right now they want to be engaged. ESQ: How did your family feel about you getting into comedy?
KN: For years and years, it was just a hobby. My family knew I was doing it, and sort of got a kick out of the idea of it, and they were like, “Well, as long as you don’t quit your day job.” And then I quit my day job.
The Big Sick is out on 28 July