Kumail Nanjiani is a Pakistani-American comedian, actor, and screenwriter from Karachi, Pakistan. Nanjiani was raised, along with his brother, by his parents Shabana and Aijaz Nanjiani. At the age of 18, Nanjiani immigrated to the United States to study computer science and philosophy in Iowa. Nanjiani grew up as a Shiite Muslim, but once he began studying at Iowa’s Grinnell College, he began identifying as an Atheist.
In an interview with AV Club, Nanjani mentions how he likes to incorporate his past religion into his stand-up routines. However, he notes that he does find it problematic when others who have not been a part of the religion make fun of it along with him or laugh too much at his comments on Islamic culture. Nanjiani states in the interview, “I understand the religion so well that I can make fun of it, but they don’t know anything about it. That is something that rankles me a little bit when I’m up there. I don’t want people to get the sense from this that I’m ripping on Islam. It’s just my journey with it.”
Nanjiani’s immigrant experience
Like many other successful comedians, Nanjiani draws comedic material from his personal life, including his culture and previous religion. However, despite the jokes he makes, Nanjiani has still faced many struggles as a Pakistani man moving to the U.S.
In a powerful Twitter thread, Nanjiani described his sobering experience immigrating to the U.S. He started his thread by writing, “America is the hardest countries [sic] to visit, let alone emigrate to. I remember my dad shaking during his visa interview. The process is scary.” He goes into detail about how intimidating the immigration process is, and how it is scary enough to cause people to potentially change their minds about moving to the U.S.
Nanjiani has also been transparent about the hate he receives from being an immigrant. In a now-deleted tweet, he wrote, “I’ve heard ‘Go back to your country’ many many times. Most recently was about a month and a half ago in LA. It hurts my feelings every time.” Nanjiani has also been vocal about his concerns with then-President Trump’s negative statements regarding immigrants, and how these statements have incited more hatred and violence in the U.S. In a true reflection of Nanjiani’s intelligence and character, he states in his 2017 Commencement Address at his alma mater, “Refugees are people who risked everything and left their homes in search of better lives for them and their families. What could be more American than that?”
Nanjiani’s successful career
Ever since Nanjiani kicked off his career doing stand-up in comedy clubs, he has consistently booked memorable roles in TV shows and movies. Nanjiani is arguably most known for his role as computer programmer Dinesh on HBO’s Silicon Valley.
Another notable role for Nanjiani was playing himself in his comedy movie The Big Sick, which he wrote with his wife Emily Gordon. The Big Sick shows the highs and lows of Nanjiani and Gordon’s non-traditional relationship over time. His film debut took Hollywood by storm, grossing nearly 11 times its budget. His film was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Nanjiani is set to star in the upcoming Marvel film Eternals, which is set to release in November 2021.