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The Boston Globe

Theater & art

Nanjiani is channeling his comic persona

Kumail Nanjiani, from Pakistan, first experienced stand-up when he came to the States and saw Jerry Seinfeld.

CLIFF CHENEY

Kumail Nanjiani, from Pakistan, first experienced stand-up when he came to the States and saw Jerry Seinfeld.

With two television shows on the way, Kumail Nanjiani is on the verge of a big year. He and cohost Jonah Ray start filming a new stand-up show for Comedy Central called “The Meltdown” next month, and they will be coming to The Gas at Great Scott Sunday to try out new material for it. Modeled after the freewheeling, experimental shows Nanjiani used to frequent in New York, “The Meltdown” is a weekly showcase held in the back of a Los Angeles comic book store that has attracted some of the bigger names in comedy, including Robin Williams, Louis C.K., Donald Glover, and Marc Maron. Nanjiani, 35, will also costar in “Beavis and Butt-Head” creator Mike Judge’s new HBO comedy, “Silicon Valley,” which debuts in April. It’s a precipitous climb for a guy from Karachi who had never seen stand-up comedy before he moved to the United States for college. The Globe spoke to Nanjiani this week about his new TV shows and his take on stand-up.

Q. What would you say, for the uninitiated, is the mood and atmosphere of “The Meltdown”?

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A. It’s a pretty loose show. It’s a show where we basically want to have the funniest people in the world come on and kind of just play around and do whatever they want to do. So they don’t feel pressure to do a tight set or their A material. They can just talk about stuff they’re working on or stuff that happened to them that day. So it’s a very sort of playful, very friendly, and supportive atmosphere.

The Gas Presents: An Evening With Kumail Nanjiani and Jonah Ray

Great Scott, Allston, 617-566-9014. http://www.greatscottboston.com

Date closing:
Sunday at 9 p.m.
Ticket price:
$15

Q. Are you planning anything spectacularly different for the TV version than the live version?

A. No, but we want to try and capture the vibe of the show, so we actually do a lot of backstage stuff as well. None of it’s scripted. We try and approach it not as a showcase but as a documentary of the night, so every show has a different feel and a different vibe and different comedians. The comedy community is so close-knit and we’re all such good friends with each other, [but] on a lot of shows that doesn’t really come across. I think people get a better sense of it on podcasts.

Q. Are you planning anything different for the show we’ll get in Boston? Will this be kind of a “Meltdown” show?

A. No, we’re not doing the “Meltdown” show. It’s me and Jonah trying out material that we’ll be doing for the TV show. The [TV] show itself is going to have three or four comedians, and then me and Jonah hosting. This one is going to be me and Jonah sort of hosting ourselves. It’s just a way for us to figure out the material that we’re doing for the TV show. It’s sort of a run-through.

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Q. Does that particular venue, in a comic book shop, change how people approach the comedy? Does it have any sort of effect on the vibe of the show?

A. I think it does. You have to walk through a comic book store to get to the place, so it doesn’t change people’s expectations, it just means that they don’t really have any expectations.

Q. What led you to stand-up comedy in the first place? When did you start?

A. I started right after college. I had just seen a friend of mine do stand-up at an open mic, and I thought he was really funny, and I was like, Oh, I think I could do that.

Q. Was there anything like a tradition of stand-up comedy or live comedy in any form in Pakistan that you would have seen growing up?

A. No, I really didn’t. I think there’s more of a scene now. But I never really saw stand-up until I was in college and I saw [Jerry] Seinfeld, and I was like, Oh, wow, this is pretty good. You can just tell jokes and make a living.

Q. What’s your character on “Silicon Valley”?

A. There’s five of us that are the main characters. One of us comes up with a new computer program, and we all sort of start a company together. It’s me, T. J. Miller, Thomas Middleditch, Zach Woods, and Martin Starr. All amazing.

Interview was edited and condensed. Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nickzaino.com.

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