I love Silicon Valley as much as the next comedy-loving person. It’s an easy show to enjoy.
But the reason I keep coming back week after week isn’t for its consistently hilarious scripts, a perfect cast, or the hopes of more dick algorithms.
It’s for this guy:
This past week while cleansing my palette of Game of Thrones, I noticed that Kumail Nanjiani’s character Dinesh was on the screen every time I looked up to watch Silicon Valley. In this way, Silicon has put Nanjiani in the spotlight he should’ve been put in a long time ago.
Nanjiani has had a direct line to my funny bone for quite some time. But it’s just recently that he’s made the jump from “that one guy’s hilarious” to “Kumail Nanjiani’s hilarious.”
Before Silicon, he’d been slowly gaining face time as that actor more people should know about; playing minor roles in comedies more people should watch. And whether he was on screen for five minutes or five seconds, he always stole the show.
In the indie comedy The Kings of Summer in 2013, Nanjiani and the master of dead-pan himself, Nick Offerman, have a two-minute scene that could easily be a standalone SNL bit.
Most recently, he was in the first episode of Broad City’s return to Comedy Central.
And in one of his better known pre-Silicon Valley roles, Kumail Nanjiani appeared on Portlandia several times – playing everything from a cell phone salesman to a waiter who took their job way too seriously.
[quote_left]”“Just be funny. That’s all you can do. Do stuff you think is funny and not stuff you think will get you success.””[/quote_left]
But what’s most impressive about Nanjiani is how crazy good he is at improvisation. All of his appearances on Portlandia were improvised, and if you want my best guess, his whole bit at the Bro app fundraiser on last week’s episode was the same deal.
And sure, this is true of many comedians, but what makes Nanjiani so good and so damn fun to watch is the understated method of comedy he uses. Nanjiani could explain how to make chicken salad for three hours in his dead-pan voice, and I would listen to every second of it.
You get the sense that he’s just doing what he thinks is funny with a shrug and hoping other people go along with it, similar to Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords. He even gave this mindset as advice to a struggling comedian on his Reddit AMA.
“Just be funny. That’s all you can do. Do stuff you think is funny and not stuff you think will get you success. Comedy is all about a point of view. Work on that and nobody else can do what you do.”
While it sounds like a very “just be yourself” rehearsed speech, it works for him. And it’s something he more or less learned right here in Chicago.
One thing you might not know about Nanjiani – besides the fact that he’s Pakistani, not Indian – is that he was in the Chicago stand-up scene until 2007, which happened to be a golden time for Windy City comedy. With a general lack of a substantial audience, he – along with the likes of TJ Miller (Erlich on Silicon) and Pete Holmes to name a few – would just perform for fellow comics. Which according to Nanjiani, put more of an emphasis on originality and finding your own voice.
Kumail Nanjiani has no doubt found his voice, and we’ve only heard a bit of it so far. He’s no longer just that guy from that one scene on that one show. After infiltrating comedies you didn’t know you knew him from, Nanjiani is now on one of the biggest comedies on television.
He’s become a legit household name without being blinded by the spotlight that is too often self-sacrificing.
Pretty soon, we won’t be able to get away from Kumail Nanjiani. And I couldn’t be more excited.