There's a scene in Kumail Nanjiani's terrific new comedy The Big Sick in which the Pakistani-born comedian gets heckled by a racist: "Go back to ISIS!" Nanjiani, who plays a version of himself in the movie, got used to such taunts when he started his standup career shortly after 9/11. But he wasn't very interested in mining ethnicity for comedy.
"Yeah, stuff like that would happen to me," Nanjiani said during a recent stop in Dallas to show the movie. "Back then a lot of Middle Eastern people started doing stand up and using race to get laughs. I didn't want to be that, because my favorite comedians, their acts weren't solely defined by their ethnicity. I wanted to do material more like the people I love, which was Seinfeld and Zach Galifianakis and Woody Allen."