When Kumail Nanjiani was 18, he came halfway around the world from Karachi, Pakistan, to one of the whitest places on Earth, Grinnell College in Iowa. Appropriately, at 34, he's now a comedian specializing in wry jokes and fish-out-of-water observations, which have landed him both a Late Show With David Letterman appearance and a recently filmed Comedy Central special.
His wife, Emily V. Gordon, also works in the comedy industry, but that's about where their similarities end, at least on paper. Hailing from Winston-Salem, N.C., the 33-year-old Gordon previously was employed as a therapist at a Chicago institution for schizophrenics. Now program director of West Hollywood's Nerdist Theater, Gordon is charged with wrangling events at the venue, which happens to be in the rear of a Sunset Boulevard comics store.
Nerdist's flagship weekly show is called The Meltdown, which Gordon produces and Nanjiani co-hosts. It has quickly become the best event at the coolest alternative room in the city: Rising talent appears alongside such alt-comedy superstars as Patton Oswalt, Aziz Ansari and Louis C.K., and admission costs only eight bucks.
Though Gordon's pale skin, red bangs and Southern reticence contrast with Nanjiani's dark complexion, animated eyebrows and thickly accented erudition, they're nonetheless a harmonious pair. Just watch them giggling over subjects like their shared love of video games — they co-host a gaming-centric podcast — or the odd manner in which they met. One night in the mid-aughts, not long after Nanjiani had moved to Chicago to pursue comedy, Gordon happened to be sitting in the front row of the venue where he was performing.
“Is anyone here from Pakistan?” he inquired of the crowd, presumably about to launch into a bit.
“Whoo!” cried out Gordon, sarcastically. (Oddly, she was completely sober.)
“She's clearly not from Pakistan,” Nanjiani recalls thinking to himself. “But hey, she's cute.”
A week later they ran into each other at a bar, and he confronted her. “I was, like, 'Hey, you're the girl who heckled me!' ” She initially declined when he asked her out, but before long she was sending him messages. “I realized texting him was more fun than hanging out with most of my friends,” she says.
After moving to New York together in 2007, the pair married — a few times, actually, both in a courthouse and in a traditional Muslim ceremony. They arrived in L.A. in 2010, and before long teamed up with Meltdown founder Jonah Ray.
It's been off to the races ever since, although they admit their venue isn't the fanciest. “It is a little rough around the edges, the ceilings are low and we have folding chairs,” Nanjiani says.
But they've nonetheless succeeded in uniting a community-in-the-know of nerdy alt-comedy fans who might not otherwise venture out on a Wednesday night.
“If they stop coming, then that's it,” Gordon says of the loyal patrons. “Then we're just some weirdos in the back of a store.”