Oscar Nominee Gave Iowa A ‘Moment’ During Last Night’s Telecast
During Sunday night's Oscar telecast, actor-comedian-writer Kumail Nanjiani caught me off guard with this comment.
It was funny and probably true but left me wondering what he was talking about. Was it simply a joke from a guy who is also a stand-up comedian? Nope, it was true.
Nanjiani was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, for his work as one of the writers on the movie "The Big Sick." He co-wrote the film with his wife Emily Gordon (pictured with Kumail below), and the movie is based on their relationship. Nanjiani grew up in Pakistan. However, Iowa also helped to shape him into the man he is today.
1996 was the year Nanjiani picked up and moved from Karachi, Pakistan (where he was born) to Grinnell, Iowa. The reason? College. According to Vanity Fair, he'd only been to the United States one time before he started at Grinnell College, where his double major was computer science and philosophy. Grinnell College was also where he would try stand-up comedy for the first time.
Nanjiani told GQ,
It's a little hard for me to separate the standard American college experience of leaving home and being in a very foreign land. I remember my jaw would hurt because I wasn't used to speaking English all the time. Like how even if you exercise, you'll play kickball one day and then you're like, “Wait, I run, but new places are hurting because I don't use my muscles this way.” My mouth was not used to making these sounds.
Last May, Nanjiani returned to Grinnell College to give the commencement address. Here's part of what he said during his speech:
Before America was my home, Iowa was my home. Sixteen years ago almost to the day, I sat where you are sitting, trying to stay awake, while a very smart man said some very smart things – I think. I cannot be sure they were smart, because I couldn’t focus on anything but the gaping maw of uncertainty facing me at that moment.
Part of the 390 graduates last May in Grinnell were 50 who from other countries. This is what he said to their family members who had made the trip to the U.S. for the ceremony:
As nervous as you were to get through customs and immigration, I hope that you were just as proud to watch your children walk across the stage, and I hope that today, you see the America that we love.