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The Big Sick

A much delayed reflection.

As many of you know, Kumail Nanjiani ’01’s movie, The Big Sick was recently released. I very much appreciate the movie, on many levels, and for many reasons. Here are some.

  1. It’s nice to see a romcom [1] in which the male lead represents a non-majority group. It’s particularly nice to see that when our country is in its current state.

  2. It reminds me of how happy Kumail is with Emily. I really like seeing my students happy.

  3. It does not reference his summer doing research with me. He used to reference it in one of his shows. If I recall correctly, it went something like the following.

    Then I got hired to do summer research. What I mostly recall about that summer is sitting under a tree while smoking cigarettes, contemplating philosophy, and losing my religion [2,9].

  4. When Kumail was on campus to give his legendary graduation speech, I gave Emily one of the amazing Grinnell Women in Computing shirts [10,11], which has a brain [12] superimposed over a grid of binary numbers. Emily and Kumail both laughed and said something on the order of A shirt with a brain on the front plays an important role in the movie. It was great to see what they meant.

  5. When students ask me what you can do with a Grinnell CS degree, I can now say something like

    While the majority of our graduates start in a programming job, a job related to programming (e.g., PM), or graduate school, CS teaches you to think more broadly and more carefully. Our graduates do a wide variety of things outside of CS. Some go on to graduate school in other fields. Some consult. Some are physicians. I count at least one fundraiser and one helicopter pilot among our graduates. And some go on to become professional comedians with groundbreaking films [14].

  6. My children get to say look, there’s my babysitter on the big screen [15].

  7. Emily and Kumail chose an interesting name for their company, or at least I think they did. I saw it at the end of the credits, but I can’t remember what it was and I can’t find it online. Maybe I’m just hallucinating.

  8. Oh, yeah, the movie is really funny. Laughter is good for my soul and my health. I’d venture to guess that added a week to my life.

On the other hand, the movie is not perfect.

  1. As far as I know, Kumail was a computer programmer when he first moved to Chicago [19]. He certainly wasn’t an Uber driver, since Uber didn’t exist in 2001 [20]. Plot-wise, it makes more sense to have him as an Uber driver, and it creates some great situations. But it would be nice to see him embrace his geek past, or at least his temporary willingness to listen to his parents about career choices.

To be fair, this musing is also far from perfect. It does reveal, however, that Kumail gained none of his comedic skills from this advisor [21].


[1] Romantic comedy, at least in my world.

[2] Vaguely remembered quotation from hour-long routine whose name I no longer recall. I do, however, recall, seeing Kumail perform it in Main Lounge [3].

[3] No, it is not called that because it’s the primary lounge on campus, it’s named it because it’s in Main Hall [4].

[4] No, it is not called that because it was the primary hall, although the Gothic [5] dining room might suggest that. Instead,

Main Hall was named to honor President John Hanson Thomas Main, who conceived of and carried forward the idea of Grinnell as a residential college. Through the investment of about $1 million, the College built the Women’s Quadrangle in 1915, and the men’s halls in 1916-17 [6]. Main Hall serves as the central building of the South Campus residence halls, and at the time of its opening, it included a beautiful drawing room, an inspiring Gothic dining room, and the Little Theatre [8].

https://www.grinnell.edu/about/visit/spaces/main-hall

[5] The students say Harry Potter style.

[6] Why is that Women’s Quadrangle [7] is capitalized, but men’s halls is not?

[7] And why is it a quadrangle? It’s not really four sided.

[8] Do we still have a Little Theatre in Main? I don’t recall seeing one.

[9] I prefer that my research students do research more closely related to CS.

[10] Computers are binary, computing isn’t.

[11] I realize that she is not necessarily a woman in computing. But it’s a great shirt and can be worn by both women in computing and their allies.

[12] Drawn by our own Rachel Swoap ’19.

[14] Believe it or not, but that’s similar to what I’ve been saying for a decade or so. I just get to add with groundbreaking films [17].

[15] Okay, I’m pretty sure that Kumail was only their babysitter once. And it was when we were at a conference in which the students decided to let Michelle and me have a night out. They concluded that just as it takes a village to raise a child, it requires a large cadre of students to watch Middle Son [16]. Kumail was part of that large cadre.

[16] He was then Youngest Son. Isn’t it strange how names change? His middle name was also a T word that I don’t think we’ve used in a decade.

[17] I guess I should only say with a groundbreaking film, but I’m optimistic. Of course, some go on to become professional comedians should also be one went on to become a professional comedian, but I have faith in the other nuclear twin [18].

[18] That was intended as an in joke. I probably got it wrong.

[19] For the lab school, or something related to Penny Bender Sebring, if I remember correctly.

[20] If it did, Kumail and Vivek should have gotten in on the ground floor, as it were.

[21] Johanna is almost certainly much funnier than I.


Version 1.0 of 2017-08-18.