Podcasts might just be Kumail Nanjiani’s good luck charm. Before he was the beloved star of “Silicon Valley,” one of the masterminds behind Comedy Central’s “The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail” and an indispensable guest on up shows like “Broad City,” “Veep” and “Portlandia,” Kumail Nanjiani was recording content for pop culture junkies. Back in July 2011, the comedian joined forces with “X-Play” staffer Ali Baker (later replaced by Nanjiani’s wife Emily V. Gordon) to found “The Indoor Kids,” a loving video game and general nerd culture podcast hosted on the Nerdist Podcast Network. But in June 2014, Nanjiani would seal his own fate with the help of a new audio project that would help garner him a role on his all-time favorite show. Here are his secrets to success.
1. Start a Passion Project
Kumail’s project, which started the ball rolling in the first place? “The ‘X-Files’ Files,” a podcast devoted to a meticulous re-watch of every “good” episode (that is, a complete omission of the 8th or 9th season and an obvious avoidance of “First Person Shooter”). The first episode aired in June of 2014, focusing on the first two episodes of the “X-Files”: “Pilot” and “Deep Throat.” Well over an hour in length, the episodes featured extensive commentary and research on the show, including excerpts from online forums at the time of the show’s air; it sometimes seemed so stuffed with content that you could convince yourself that listening to the show counted as mildly academic. At this point, the idea of an “X-Files” revival existed only in the faint hope of an eventual film that would finally scrub “I Want to Believe” from the minds of “X-Files” fans everywhere, but the show would prove to be uniquely timed to serve as artifact of the revival’s slow-burn reveal.
2. Gain Prominence
It didn’t take long for Nanjiani’s fanboy excursion to get attention. Produced in his home in Los Angeles, and featuring many appearances by his wife and his beloved cat Bagel, the show’s DIY sensibilities and fanlike rabidity helped it to breed a considerable fanbase of UFO-loving devotees. About a month into the show’s airing, Dean Haglund, one of the show’s stars, popped by for an hour of reminiscing, giving the kind of great insider scoops you’d expect from one of the beloved Lone Gunmen. Following shortly after were appearances by Mark Snow, composer of the show, and Glen Morgan, a writer and co-executive producer. Always inclusive, guests also included names like Dan Harmon, Aisha Tyler and Emma Caulfield, who spoke animatedly with Nanjiani about their mutual love of the show.
3. Stay Plugged In
About six months into the show’s run, the January 21 podcast found Nanjiani and his wife squealing over the announcement that the show would return, though at this point the details were murky at best. Still, Nanjiani began the episode speaking lowly, “It’s gonna happen. I will tell you this: I think everyone is coming back.” It was two excruciating months of silence from the “X-Files” rumor mill until March 25, when Nanjiani coyly began his podcast, “Oh, I don’t know if there’s any news to discuss, I can’t think of anything,” before caving: “Oh, right. ‘X-Files’ is coming back. Six episodes. I am beyond excited about this. I have few words, I have no words. We don’t know anything except all the major players are coming back, there will be six episodes. It’s going to be on Fox.” With that, Nanjiani knew that the world of science fiction television would become forever changed. What he didn’t know was how he might be involved.
4. Lay Low
One would think that when met with such great news about the show that your podcast is devoted to, that “The ‘X-Files’ Files” would ramp up as the fever pitch of the show runs high. Certainly, more content, more information and newly interested guests might begin to present themselves. And yet, Nanjiani didn’t post an episode after early May, sinking into questionable quiet even after the podcast reached its one year anniversary. Though it certainly felt like a coincidence that Nanjiani’s disappearance from the show ran concurrent to the reboot’s shooting schedule, it became difficult not to wonder.
5. Break the News
Mercifully, on July 18, Nanjiani broke the news with a series of tweets as he visited the set, received his welcome binder and teased an upcoming podcast featuring 3am talks with Duchovny and Anderson. Posting the photo above with the caption “the lighting is weird because there’s a UFO right above our heads,” Nanjiani followed up with a series of tweets: “We were shooting nights. It was 3 AM. Gillian and David were reminiscing about the show. She looked at me and said ‘You should record this.’ So I did. I recorded them swapping stories, laughing. I don’t know how the quality is cuz it was on my phone. But I hope to release it soon.”
On August 6, Nanjiani returned to the podcast to gush about his involvement on the reboot.”We shot three nights in a row, it was like a weird fever dream,” confessed Nanjiani to podcast regular Rhea Butcher. “I just had to squash the feeling that they were Mulder and Scully. They look really good, they look the same, so the whole time it’s like a battle not to nerd out. I freaked out when I got in the car and they gave me the welcome packet because it had my name on it. I had to call my wife to have her talk me down.”
Before finishing his excited rant he added, “I also freaked out when I saw Scully with a flashlight.” (Who wouldn’t? The lady is good with handheld light sources.)
The saga continued, as just last week Nanjiani appeared as the panel moderator for the NYCC “X-Files” event, back in superfan form, referring to aliens by the outdated “E.B.E.” (Extraterrestrial Biological Entity) and discussing the surreal transition from viewer to active participant. Opening the panel by asking the audience to “please take pictures of the screen; I’ll pay you thousands of dollars,” Nanjiani’s “X-Files” hype seems not to have died down with his attachment. Though Nanjiani had the advantages of prominence and considerable talent, his unexpected involvement serves as an optimistic suggestion that sometimes it might be enough just to want to believe.
You can listen to “The ‘X-Files’ Files” from the beginning on Feral Audio. The tenth season of “X-Files” premieres on Fox in January. Hint: Nanjiani appears in episode 3.