Comedian Kumail Nanjiani: Pakistan to 'Silicon Valley'

RAGHAV MEHTA | Updated 6/19/2014

The respected stand-up stars in HBO's new hit "Silicon Valley."

Comedian Kumail Nanjiani will perform next Thursday at Mill City Nights.
AP

Comedian Kumail Nanjiani will never forget the day he was introduced to “Beavis and Butt-head,” the hit 1990s MTV series launched by comedy luminary Mike Judge.

“I started getting MTV and I was like, ‘What the fuck is this show?’ I genuinely fell in love with it,” recalled Nanjiani, who will perform at Mill City Nights next Thursday and as a guest on MPR’s “Wits” the following day.

Unlike many fans of Judge’s dynamically profane duo, Nanjiani didn’t watch “Beavis and Butt-head” from the safe couches of suburban America. He spent the first half of his life in Karachi, Pakistan — a place CNN once dubbed “the city of terror,” he quips on his 2013 debut stand-up album, “Beta Male.”

“I was always the one among all my friends who was the most into TV and movies and video games,” Nanjiani said in a recent phone interview. “A lot of the other kids were running outside and being social. I was maybe the only person I knew [in Karachi] who was really, really into ‘Beavis and Butt-head.’ ”

So, considering his die-hard fandom, one can imagine how the 36-year-old comedian felt last year when he was called in to audition for Judge’s new HBO series “Silicon Valley.”

“It was intimidating because I knew what was at stake and I’m such a huge fan, but he could not have been less intimidating,” Nanjiani remembered. “At one point, I came up to him and told him that I was a big fan and he didn’t even know how to take the compliment. He was just so awkward about it. He just wants to be a regular guy.”

In “Silicon Valley,” which has already been picked up for a second season, Nanjiani plays a highly skilled computer programmer alongside “Freaks and Geeks” alumnus Martin Starr, Zach Woods (UCB, “The Office”) and Thomas Middleditch (“The Office,” “The Campaign”). The story line is loosely based on Judge’s experience as a Silicon Valley engineer in the late 1980s, and while it’s relatively easy to follow, there’s plenty of tech-world jargon for real-life software junkies to enjoy.

“Every little graph, every single chart is mathematically sound. The show is really very accurate,” Nanjiani said. “It’s really the best job I’ve ever had.”

Before his acting career took off, Nanjiani — who left Pakistan in the late 1990s to attend Grinnell College in Iowa — had established himself as one the most reliably hysterical and original stand-up comics in the country. After graduating from college, he relocated to Chicago, quickly winning respect in a comedy scene that included friends and future stars such as Hannibal Buress, Pete Holmes and “Silicon Valley” co-star T.J. Miller.

Twelve years into his career, Nanjiani said, his parents (who live in New Jersey now) have never seen him perform live.

“It’s just a world that doesn’t really make sense to them. What if they don’t laugh? What if they laugh? Just thinking about it gives me a panic attack. Those worlds aren’t going to collide anytime soon, and I’m OK with that.”

Nanjiani’s mounting success can be attributed to his tireless work ethic. In addition to stand-up and acting, he hosts two podcasts: one with his wife, writer/producer Emily Gordon, called “The Indoor Kids” (it’s about video games) and another newly launched one titled “The X Files Files” (it’s exactly what it sounds like). Next month, Nanjiani will co-host Comedy Central’s new stand-up series, “The Meltdown,” with “Nerdist” podcast member Jonah Ray.

If that sounds like a bloated schedule, Nanjiani insists that he’s coping just fine.

“None of it ever feels like work to me. The only part that feels like work is getting up at 5 a.m.”

 

Kumail Nanjiani

When: 9 p.m. next Thu.

Where: Mill City Nights, 111 N. 5th St., Mpls.

Tickets: $20. 612-333-3422 or www.axs.com.