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Kumail Nanjiani to play Mill City Nights

Comedy wasn’t first nature for Kumail Nanjiani.
Kumail Nanjianis cunning wit comes from great work ethic.
Image by Courtesy of Kumail Nanjiani
Kumail Nanjiani’s cunning wit comes from great work ethic.

When comedian Kumail Nanjiani moved to New York City, he decided he was only going to write material that was true to his actual experiences.

Luckily for him, there were things like the pigeon man.

“The week I moved [to Brooklyn], there was a guy on my street catching pigeons with his bare hands and stuffing them into his pockets, like some sort of horrible reverse magician,” he said in his 2013 special “Beta Male.”

Real life has apparently proved itself as a fruitful muse for Nanjiani. The comedian currently lives in Los Angeles, where he hosts his live show “The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail,” acts in several television programs, including HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and is working on his next stand-up special.

On Thursday, he’ll bring his stand-up routine to Minneapolis’ Mill City Nights.

Nanjiani grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, and everything from the strict Muslim culture he grew up in to the bootlegged VHS copies of American films he watched at home inspires his comedy.

“Nobody in my family does what I do,” he said. “I think they’re hoping that I’m gonna be responsible with my money, and I think they trust me enough, not as a comedian, but as a person, to do the right thing.”

After he turned 18, Nanjiani left Karachi to attend Grinnell College in Iowa. Attending school in a new environment started a perceptual shift for him, he said, as Grinnell exposed him to stand-up comedy.

Nanjiani moved to Chicago after graduating, setting aside his computer science and philosophy double major to begin building a career as a comic in 2002.

Nanjiani started out with many now-famous comedians of the Chicago scene. He hung out with and learned from Pete Holmes, Hannibal Buress and Kyle Kinane ­–– to name a few –– as his notoriety grew within the trade.

“It was a really, really good time because I went to this open mic at the Lyon’s Den, it was this amazing place that was always packed. It was a pure lottery,” he said. “I would go and sign up and hope for a late number so I wouldn’t have to go up because I was so scared.”

Nanjiani spent six months writing his first five minutes of material before he found the courage to go onstage. And later, that premium on quality material didn’t stop.

The comic said it was important to stay on his A-game during that period of his life — the group of comedians he was running with put pressure on each other to stay away from unoriginal material and work hard to find their own voices.

“You wanted to become the guy that other comic’s would shut up for, because the truth is that everybody who’s a comic starts out as a huge fan of comedy,” he said.

In 2007, Nanjiani left for New York City. It was there that he made ties with the likes of Eugene Mirman and the group Stella. Nanjiani said his time in the city helped him grow into the comic he would become.

“I was able to present myself in a different way; I could go to a bunch of open mics and be much more confident. I was focused and writing all the time,” he said. “Once I started getting booked onto the bigger shows, my motto was, ‘Fake it till you make it.’ I said, ‘I just gotta pretend I’m as good as these guys until I’m actually as good as these guys.'”

When Nanjiani got his first television job in 2009 on Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter’s Comedy Central program, “Michael and Michael Have Issues,” he found a new passion.

“I thought, ‘Oh yeah! This is gonna be my life forever!’ I had fallen in love with acting, and it got cancelled after six episodes,” he said.

Still, life is turning out pretty smoothly for the comic who has found plenty of other acting opportunities. When asked to look back on what he’s learned, he left A&E with this:

“You can’t get caught up with comparisons. Compare what you’re doing to what you were doing a little bit ago, that is the only way you won’t completely kill yourself,” he said. “Also, never fly through O’Hare — that airport always has delays.”


What: Kumail Nanjiani
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Where: Mill City Nights, 111 N. Fifth St., Minneapolis
Cost: $20
Ages: 18+


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