“We want comics to do what they wanna do, not what they think they should do,” Kumail Nanjiani tells TheWrap of his unique show with Jonah Ray
Long before Comedy Central’s “The Meltdown With Jonah and Kumail” premiered last week, the eponymous stand-up comedy show was a hip Wednesday night destination in Los Angeles, taking place in the former stockroom of a comic book shop.
The underground spot was discovered by hosts Jonah Ray and Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”) years earlier, as the duo was looking for a room to feature their comedy — and their friends.
“Our room is open to more experimentation,” Nanjiani told TheWrap. “We want comics to do what they wanna do, not what they think they should do.”
He continued: “That’s why Jonah and I mostly riff up top. We wanna create a loose atmosphere where people can do their ‘A’ stuff, or just talk about what happened to them that day, and have the crowd be receptive to both equally.”
Clearly, it’s worked out for them, specifically to the tune of an eight-episode run on the cable channel.
The almost secret room at Meltdown — there is little-to-no advertising, save for a chalk sandwich board out front — has predictably become more crowded since the cameras moved in, but regulars still remain, and even dominate the audience.
It’s still made up mostly of “f–king nerds,” in other words (Nanjiani’s affectionate ones, specifically).
The space has also been wildly improved by the funds Nanjiani and Ray have earned from years of Wednesday night stand-up — and its backstage area is possibly the most comfortable and fun green room in the industry, where comics pop in early but rarely leave until late. In addition to the friends onstage and backstage, the stand-up show — and it’s subsequent cable offspring — is a true family affair: Nanjiani’s wife Emily V. Gordon produces both.
In the cable TV version, an episode of “The Meltdown With Jonah and Kumail” features four stand-up comics and backstage banter.
For the half-hour television production, each invited guest comic does a 10-minute set, which is edited down to about three-and-a-half minutes for the show. The hosts get maybe six minutes of airtime — which is them doing 15-minutes worth of crowd work and telling jokes improv-style up front — leaving a little bit for the candid backstage moments that give the show its heart.
While the 12:30 a.m. timeslot isn’t ideal — “primetime would be cool,” the guys admitted — stand-up comedy is a late-night game, so it is somewhat fitting.
The first season — which features Nick Offerman (“Parks and Rec”), Marc Maron (“Maron”) and Chris Hardwick (“@midnight”), among others, is just a sampling of those who have stopped by the comic book shop to perform live.
Nanjiani and Ray told TheWrap that their dream list for a potential Season 2 would include Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer and even Robin Williams — who expressed interest but couldn’t make it happen with his schedule this time around.
But mostly, Nanjiani has the following hope for the TV version: “I hope it doesn’t change the stand-up show at all.”
The Meltdown airs Thursdays at 12:30 a.m. on Comedy Central.