Arts & Culture » Comedy Critic's Choice

Bringing the "brown to town"

Kumail Nanjiani stands up for the Pakistani-American way



My intro to Kumail Nanjiani was his quick bit about how a level in Call of Duty is named "Karachi," after the city in Pakistan where the comedian grew up. Nanjiani notes that while the video game's developers were meticulous with details right down to a soldier's bouncing shoelaces, they inexplicably fudged the country's official language. Signs are written in Arabic when they should be in Urdu. "All they had to do was google 'Pakistan language,'" he points out.

The joke is a clever cross-pollination between pop culture and what Americans think of as foreign. A former Chicagoan, Nanjiani works a swift routine that often pokes fun at our assumptions through his Pakistani-American lens but without belaboring the punchline. His stand-up is conversational and easygoing, creating a communal vibe in which his concern for humanity is palpable. He has a smart quip about a trip to Orange County during which a white stranger taunted him with "Hey Kumar, where's Harold?" Nanjiani imagines the guy "waiting around the corner for weeks," thinking, "'I can't wait for a brown to come to town! I have a pop-culture reference to belittle him with.'" Another former Chicago comic, C.J. Toledano, opens.

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