Review: Kumail Nanjiani, “Beta Male” (CD/DVD)

You don’t have to travel the world to see how global stand-up comedy has become in the digital age.

You can see it right here, as a kid born in Pakistan grew up, moved to America, and is becoming one of our funniest and most engaging stand-up comedians, as well as a rising comedic star on TV. Kumail Nanjiani’s first hour CD/DVD special, “Beta Male,” premieres tonight on Comedy Central. You’ll get a full uncensored hour on the DVD (available now on some platforms, everywhere else July 23), plus another six minutes of bonus footage from his encore, when Nanjiani takes questions from the audience at the Moody Theater in Austin. And yes, there is a question about Pinder, the character he plays on TNT’s Franklin & Bash.

Long before he became an American citizen, Nanjiani’s worldview, perhaps like many immigrants, was informed by Hollywood and pop culture.

His first personal story he shares with the audience, about “the first time I remember crying,” involves him watching The Ugly Duckling when he was 5. When he was 8, his parents let him rent The Elephant Man. “I thought it was a superhero movie,” Nanjiani quips about his thought process then, picking out that film. He also has thought long and hard about the movie, Freddy Vs. Jason — “They are alpha males,” he says, compared to his “Beta Male” experience at the end of the hour when he thinks his own house is haunted.

Nanjiani’s strict Muslim upbringing, and that religion’s attitudes toward women, conflicted with his own pubescent thoughts of Cindy Crawford in a Pepsi commercial. And when he discovers porn, his first mishap leads a 12-year-old Nanjiani to imagine running away from home, asking around for work to pay his keep. “I can beat Mario, and draw a Ninja Turtle. That’s my whole skill set,” he said. Instead, Nanjiani stayed home, learning another teen-aged skill with technology, porn and VHS tapes, waiting until 1997 to move to the United States and attend college here.

The movies and pop-culture references Nanjiani makes aren’t just for nostalgia’s sake or to remain current; he always has a point to make, some relevance to his own history and point of view. And he’s able to bring anyone into that world with him.

When he talks about video games, yes, there’s a lengthy description of “Heavy Rain” for PlayStation 3 that seems too dark and detailed to be true. But it’s not nearly as powerful as watching or hearing Nanjiani talk about discovering that the “Call of Duty” games had discovered and re-created a version of Karachi, Pakistan — his hometown.

Here’s a clip!

Also in this hour: An awkwardly hilarious tale about a boy’s birthday party gone horribly wrong in Pakistan (“It is such a good show!” when there’s the inevitable monkey, but once a mongoose and a snake fight to the death, it’s a bit too soon to be thinking about one’s own mortality, right, guys?). Nanjiani also finds funny in a newfangled drug cocktail called “cheese” that hopefully never became more popular since he first joked about it a few years ago; a ride on the Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island, and his first experience with racism in Orange County, Calif.

To that latter point, Nanjiani’s counterpoint is to hopefully achieve fame in his own right. “I want to be so famous, that I’m the pop culture reference that people would try to make to be racist to me.”

We may not cure racism in 2013 or even 2014, but sooner rather than later, Kumail Nanjiani will become a household name.

“Kumail Nanjiani: Beta Male” debuts tonight on Comedy Central, and is available in a CD/DVD combo from Comedy Central Records on Tuesday, July 23, 2013. It’s already available now via iTunes and other digital platforms.

iTunes movie:

iTunes audio:

Amazon CD/DVD combo:

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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