Review: Kumail Nanjiani, Assembly Roxy (Venue 139)

Kumail Nanjiani is effortlessly charming, with endearing emotional honestyPicture: Kate Chandler
Kumail Nanjiani is effortlessly charming, with endearing emotional honestyPicture: Kate Chandler
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There’s little in Kumail Nanjiani’s breezy, light-hearted introduction to justify the buzz that’s followed him from Los Angeles. But even in this initial loosening up, reflecting on the enormous environmental cost of a city plastered in flyers, I begin to intuit the relaxed stage assurance and observational skill that sets him apart.

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A storytelling comic with an attuned eye for the absurd, he picks up his show’s impetus with a fine routine about films, revealing how Freddie Krueger is an even bigger monster than society has hitherto acknowledged, and how his mother’s summary of The Elephant Man turned him into the coward he is today.

Not that she didn’t have help. Terrified by a rickety old New York rollercoaster, he truly grabs his audience with the tale of noises in his old Brooklyn apartment’s attic, exposing his ineffectual, beta-male personality when he’s the flatmate sent to investigate. Recalled with endearing emotional honesty and self-mocking suspense, it sets up some more genuinely disturbing anecdotes he shares about his native Pakistan.

The first, informed by a Muslim upbringing that maintained lustful gazes were tantamount to stabbing the Prophet’s nephew in the back as he was praying, involves his acquisition of pornography and feverish accompanying guilt, escalating when he has to take desperate measures to prevent his terrible secret being discovered. The second, a grimly mesmerising story, is the account of a birthday party that became a horrific tableau of animal snuff, his wide-eyed incredulity that young children were exposed to such a spectacle still resonating decades later.

Nanjiani is still adjusting to the UK and appears to get considerably more from his Harry Potter routine than the Edinburgh crowd. Yet just as his integration into the US is related with disarming wit, notwithstanding the obligatory peril he felt at the time, with his future in the hands of an overt Christian worried about his moral values, so he effortlessly charms with this hugely impressive Fringe debut, his ease and accomplishment behind the mic reflecting an act who’s in complete command of his stage.

Until 27 August. Today 8pm.