Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani has never been more popular than he is now. He’s a regular on the hilarious HBO series Silicon Valley, which just wrapped up its first season. He’s made a mark with recurring roles in Veep, Portlandia, and Franklin & Bash. His “Indoor Kids” and new “The X-Files Files” podcasts have rendered him a pundit in the eyes of nerds and geeks alike—and all the while, his on-stage material has been developing in spades. Tuesday night, in his inaugural Milwaukee appearance, the budding comic delighted a brimming Turner Hall with 75 minutes—well, more like 60…but more on that later—of shameless recollections and sidesplitting insight into his eastern-inspired idiosyncrasies.
Before Nanjiani came out, opener and Milwaukee ex-pat Ryan Mason made the most of the opportunity with a strong 20-minute set rooted in his impending fatherhood, getting mugged in Riverwest, and “buttchugging.” Even after Mason introduced the headliner, the material lingered on the topic of Milwaukee momentarily, as Nanjiani asked people what they specifically loved and hated about the city. Once he’d finished ribbing a pessimistic guy named Matthew, he eased into prepared jokes regarding a toddler staring at his penis while at a urinal, and his all-around hatred of public restrooms. “Every guy’s shoes are coated in the piss of a thousand strangers,” he said.
In the altogether open and honest performance, Nanjiani effortlessly harvested laughs from the commonplace, including things like eating a bad piece of chicken, to his first dental exam in 15 years—which yielded the memorable line, “Clear my schedule. Your mouth is a cave of nightmares.” The audience gladly followed every word as he recounted memories from his Pakistani childhood, including his first time masturbating and—very much related—the “story of why [he] started to wear underwear.” The childhood memories flowed nicely into the funniest portion of Nanjiani’s tight and confident performance, reading his unsupportive father’s text messages (“Saw your program,”) and his mother’s Amazon review of his recent “comedy stand-up” special.
After briefly losing a small contingent of the audience with a prolonged rant against post-season six X-Files episodes, Nanjiani quickly regained the chuckles in regard to finding out his last name is a slang word for “poonanny” in Glasgow, Scotland…two weeks into his run of performances there. (“Audiences must’ve been so confused! ‘Hello, my name is Johnny Vagina. Here are some jokes not addressing that.’”) Later, the fairly new American citizen asked the audience if anyone else went through the rigors of obtaining U.S. citizenship and where they were originally from, to which a woman responded “India.” Quick on his feet, he sighed nervously and said “Um…security!” before the rest of his citizenship exam story brought his tremendous set to completion. Or at least it should have.
Sadly, the punch of a well-constructed and even-better-executed hour set was softened when Nanjiani solicited questions from the audience. Aside from learning that he actually possesses the famed garage door mural from Silicon Valley, and hearing his barrage of insults directed at a woman who still played Crash Bandicoot on the first Playstation, the disorganized 15-minute show-stopper devolved into people yelling over one another and questions like “Where did you get your pants?” Those not engaged in screaming pointless inquiries surely would’ve preferred more material instead—even recycled jokes from his great “Beta Male” special. And can we all agree to stop yelling “WOO!” when a comic says the name of any place? The Library Of Congress doesn’t warrant that response. Even with the unfortunate exit or audience participation, the increasingly popular comic more than did his part in his Milwaukee debut. Hopefully his first show here won’t also be his last.