‘If she lives, I’ll ask her to marry me’: the romantic true story behind The Big Sick

Multi-cultural Soho feels at once both the perfect spot and completely the wrong place to be meeting Kumail Nanjiani. The 39-year-old Pakistani-American comedian is in London to publicise a romcom about a Muslim guy who gets together with a white American girl – and he is extremely keen to know the state of community relations in Britain. How much do non-Muslims know about the lives of Muslims in this country?

“Just from walking around and watching British television, I feel you are more integrated than we are in America,” he says, taking a slurp of coffee. “There are people who are matter-of-factly brown on television in Britain – there will be, like, an [Asian] constable… in America it’s always a statement. It’s like, ‘Oh, look at the diversity we have!’”

I am tempted to say that, although it might look like a multi-ethnic paradise on the doorstep of his expensive hotel, or on his television screen, Nanjiani would probably have a rather different impression of the UK if he had been put up in a B&B in Ebbw Vale or Stockton-on-Tees.

Nevertheless, setting British demographics to one side, it is safe to say that The Big Sick – a film that Nanjiani co-wrote with his wife, Emily Gordon, and in which he stars as a character also called Kumail – is already pushing boundaries in America. Based on the true story of how he and Gordon met, and set in Chicago, the film chronicles the first months of a relationship between a 20-something up-and-coming comedian (Kumail), and Emily, a graduate student.

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