Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Kumail Nanjiani, Conan O’Brien
Screenshot: Conan

Kumail Nanjiani has made a very funny, acclaimed, and lucrative career out of being a self-described Beta Male. Playing a nerdy, put-upon computer genius, an autobiographical nerdy rom-com lead, or a nerdy, put-upon ride share driver has come with that territory, a land of ineffectual but endearing goofballs through which Nanjiani could blush and stammer forever. And yet, heads turned when Kumail unveiled his Marvel-aided superhero bod back in December, forcing everyone to reevaluate the actor’s perpetual beta status. You know, at least until he opens his mouth. As Nanjiani told Conan O’Brien on Tuesday’s Conan, his gym rat cred plummets as soon as that same Kumail Nanjiani voice emerges from within his new, spandex-suitable Eternals bod, with one fellow iron-pumper cracking, “I wish his voice would get a six-pack.”

Nanjiani’s been refreshingly straightforward about the sheer, tortuous nonsense it’s been to transform his perfectly acceptable human body into the chiseled and vascular physique of Kingo, the non-household-named hero he’s portraying in Marvel’s perhaps dubiously obscure Avengers followup, The Eternals. Recently and adorably eating sweet, sweet carbs for the first time in a long time on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, Nanjiani admitted that the only real change wrought by his endless hours of studio-mandated workouts is that he is now “slightly less interesting and slightly less funny.” Also, don’t ask him to open any stubborn pickle jars, since, as wife and The Big Sick co-writer Emily V. Gordon quickly found out, his new action figure muscles are merely “decorative.”

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Still, that didn’t stop those flesh-merchants at adult entertainment site PornHub from swiping the widely marveled-at still of a shirtless Nanjiani as the header image for its “muscular men” section. As Nanjiani reassured/disappointed people, he’s not actually in any of the enclosed adult content of the site, but, hey, at least the site recognized Nanjiani’s contribution by gifting him a free, 10-year subscription to its “premium” content. Say what you want about Nanjiani’s ever-rising profile in the entertainment world (having recently been named both to Time’s “100 most influential people” list and the Motion Picture Academy), Kumail—while stressing he is not being paid by said fornication concern—said that it’s nice to know that, whatever fetishes or proclivities he develops in the next decade, his new, uninvited benefactors will have him covered.

And, only slightly less awkwardly than did O’Brien, we now segue to Nanjiani’s other major current project (one that didn’t require him to stop eating human food), the Apple TV+ series Little America. Getting raves (not least from us), the anthology show—written by Nanjiani, Gordon, and Lee Eisenberg—follows immigrants from different nations as they strive to overcome the many (and Trump-multiplied) obstacles to making it as new Americans. For Pakistani immigrant Nanjiani, the stories of hardship, sacrifice, prejudice, and little triumphs is an inspirational one, even if his own experience was a little cushier. (Kumail came over at 18 to go to college, an experience that kept him in something of a protective “bubble.”) In telling the stories of a wide array of immigrants to America who’ve had it rougher than he, Nanjiani explained that the true-life tales that form the fictionalized series show how first-generation immigrants often “take a hit so that the next generation can have the life they want for their children.” Noting also how immigrants such as himself and the subjects of Little America actually chose to be here, Nanjiani deadpanned to Conan and Andy Richter, “I’m the most American man here.” Nobody argued—he’s got the Captain America abs to prove it.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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