When Kumail Nanjiani started a stand-up show with fellow comedian Jonah Ray in 2010—in the back room of a Hollywood comic book shop—he probably didn’t think 140 or so people would eventually queue up for it every Wednesday. Or that it would be adapted for television by Comedy Central. Or that some fan named Fahad would tattoo its sheep-in-a-circle hand stamp on his wrist. But all of those things have happened, and The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail is now considered one of the best live performances in the country. Sold-out crowds notwithstanding, the operation manages an intimate, DIY feel, and producer Emily V. Gordon—also Nanjiani’s wife—consistently books impressive “I recognize them from somewhere” talent (Jerrod Carmichael) in addition to “Holy crap, it’s…” names (Nick Offerman). Celebs like Louis C.K. and Sarah Silverman stop by for surprise sets, too. Despite starring on HBO’s Silicon Valley (season three premieres April 24) and cohosting the podcasts The Indoor Kids (about video games) and The X-Files Files (about—you guessed it—The X-Files), Nanjiani hopes to keep The Meltdown rolling for good. Here he talks snacking onstage and what Mulder and Scully would be up against in L.A.
Four comedians you’d resurrect for a set at The Meltdown?
Ok, I know this. Well, George Carlin, obviously. Mitch Hedberg. He’s an amazing comedian. He would’ve been so good at Twitter, too—oh my God, he’d be crushing it on Twitter. I’d love to have Robin Williams back. He’d done the show a couple times, and I’ve been a fan of his my whole life. Sometimes he would drop in and not even perform. It was exciting. He was a wonderful, lovely, alive guy. And let’s get Richard Pryor in there. That would be amazing.
Angeleno you’d switch lives with for a day?
The Rock. Just to see what that’s like. Not the gym parts. I’d be the Rock on a cheat day so I could eat whatever I wanted.
If you could perform with a mic made of any snack food, what would it be?
Oh my God. An ice cream cone would be easy. But you know what? I’ll go chicken strips. I would love to be eating chicken strips on stage.
A microphone made of a giant chicken strip?
Oh, one giant chicken strip—that would be so amazing. I would love it. It’s my favorite fast food.
Where does Kumail Nanjiani eat chicken strips?
I would say I’ve never had a chicken strip I didn’t like. But there’s one that they have at Universal Studios. They have those weird little, like, Hercules Restaurant or whatever. There’s one of those that’s really, really good. They have spicy chicken strips that are amazing.
L.A. fashion trend Silicon Valley programmers could use?
I don’t know about L.A. fashion trends—what are we doing? Are we still doing crazy sunglasses? Are people still doing that? Hats! Fun hats, right? People here love fun hats. You go to a bar and see a bunch of fun hats and you’re like, “OK, this is a cool bar.” So many hats. Especially ladies with hats. Non-baseball caps on dudes and women.
How would hats be good for a programmer?
I think they would just look cooler. Cause the Silicon Valley style is just hoodies and jeans. Add a fedora to it.
Typical L.A. Kickstarter campaign?
Pay My Rent While I’m Following My Dreams. And it’s like, hey, following your dreams isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. Just cause you’re pursuing something doesn’t mean we should pay for your life. I sound like a crotchety old man.
Plot of an L.A.-based episode of The X-Files?
I love monster episodes, so I would love for there to be, like, a tiny dinosaur loose in Griffith Park. That would be great. It’s just around and attacking fancy homes and stuff.
Why a tiny dinosaur?
Because a big dinosaur everybody sees, you know? If you see a dinosaur that’s the size of a lion, that’s going to fuck you up. You can’t fight that. You can’t fight a lion, and a dinosaur is scarier. So a tiny dinosaur. Maybe a pterodactyl, but that flies—we don’t want that. A pterodactyl with its wings hurt going around killing people in Griffith Park.
One app L.A. needs?
A Best Bathrooms app. Like, what restaurant you can go to and they won’t give you shit for using their restroom.
You think you’d be good at Wheel of Fortune. Video game character you’d team up with?
I’d want someone who’s motivated…good at letters…I think Luigi. He knows how to be part of a duo. He knows how to be second banana. But he also has something to prove.
Who’d make a better stand up comedian: Silicon Valley’s Dinesh or Adventure Time’s Prismo?
Prismo. He’s very laid back. Also he’s sort of omnitient, you know? He knows everything; he could draw from so much experience. Dinesh is very high strung. He’d freak out and be too nervous and stumble over himself. So Prismo. It’d be a great visual to see Prismo against the wall—a shadow against the wall with a microphone in front of him.
Ultimate L.A. cheat code?
Call ahead at Sqirl and skip the line. You can still sit there and eat. Everyone looks at you like you’re a dick, but it’s like, “You could have called. The phone number is on Google.” If the line is too long, get in it, call them, and then go up and get it in five minutes. Nobody ever does it.
Now everyone will.
Angeleno you’d hire as your life coach?
I’d love to get a chef and just have him cook for me. I’d be like, “OK, thanks, great advice—could you make me some chicken strips?”