Host Rich Fahle talks with authors Kunal Nayyar and Jesse Eisenberg about their debut books, “Yes, My Accent is Real” and “Bream Gives Me Hiccups” at the 2015 Miami Book Fair.
FROM THE PUBLISHER (Yes, My Accent is Real):
Of all the charming misfits on television, there’s no doubt Raj from The Big Bang Theory—the sincere yet incurably geeky Indian-American astrophysicist—ranks among the misfittingest. Now, we meet the actor who is every bit as loveable as the character he plays on TV. In this revealing collection of essays written in his irreverent, hilarious, and self-deprecating voice, Kunal Nayyar traces his journey from a little boy in New Delhi who mistakes an awkward first kiss for a sacred commitment, gets nosebleeds chugging Coca-Cola to impress other students, and excels in the sport of badminton, to the confident, successful actor on the set of TV’s most-watched sitcom since Friends.
Going behind the scenes of The Big Bang Theory and into his personal experiences, Kunal introduces readers to the people who helped him grow, such as his James Bond-loving, mustachioed father who taught him the most important lessons in life: Treat a beggar as you would a king. There are two sides to every story. A smile goes a long way. And, when in doubt, use a spreadsheet. Kunal also walks us through his college years in Portland, where he takes his first sips of alcohol and learns to let loose with his French, 6’8” gentle-giant roommate, works his first-ever job for the university’s housekeeping department cleaning toilets for minimum wage, and begins a series of romantic exploits that go just about as well as they would for Raj. (That is, until he meets and marries a former Miss India in an elaborate seven-day event that we get to experience in a chapter titled “My Big Fat Indian Wedding.”)
Full of heart, but never taking itself too seriously, this witty and often inspiring collection of underdog tales follows a young man as he traverses two continents in search of a dream, along the way transcending culture and language (and many, many embarrassing incidents) to somehow miraculously land the role of a lifetime.
FROM THE PUBLISHER (Bream Gives Me Hiccups):
Bream Gives Me Hiccups: And Other Stories is the whip-smart fiction debut of Academy Award-nominated actor Jesse Eisenberg. Known for his iconic film roles but also for his regular pieces in the New Yorker and his two critically acclaimed plays, Eisenberg is an emerging literary voice.
Taking its title from a group of stories that begin the book, Bream Gives Me Hiccups moves from contemporary L.A. to the dorm rooms of an American college to ancient Pompeii, throwing the reader into a universe of social misfits, reimagined scenes from history, and ridiculous overreactions. In one piece, a tense email exchange between a young man and his girlfriend is taken over by his sister, who is obsessed with the Bosnian genocide (The situation reminds me of a little historical blip called the Karadordevo agreement); in another, a college freshman forced to live with a roommate is stunned when one of her ramen packets goes missing (she didn’t have “one” of my ramens. She had a chicken ramen); in another piece, Alexander Graham Bell has teething problems with his invention (I’ve been calling Mabel all day, she doesn’t pick up! Yes, of course I dialed the right number – 2!).
United by Eisenberg’s gift for humor and character, and grouped into chapters that open with illustrations by award-winning cartoonist Jean Jullien, the witty pieces collected in Bream Gives Me Hiccups explore the various insanities of the modern world, and mark the arrival of a fantastically funny, self-ironic, and original voice.
For more coverage of the 2015 Miami Book Fair:
Fiction, humorous fiction, youth, short stories,
hello I'm rich folly I'm the host of book for you now we're here at the Miami Book Fair 2015 and we're sitting here now with two new guests we have Kunal Nayyar whose book as yes my accent is real and we have Jesse Eisenberg whose book is called bream gives me hiccups welcome to both of you thank thank you thank you for having us yeah we're just explaining that we are live we're live at this massive festival you guys do lots of different things you have a play together that we'll talk about a little bit or you've worked together but now you find yourself going to book festivals and together how does that work and have you ever found did you expect to find yourself in the world of books Jesse we'll start with you I never expect to find myself in the worlds I wind up in and then I'm very still very lucky to be part of it and get to meet people you know from who you know have existed in that world for a while and I feel initially like an interloper and then welcome and it's it's been such a nice experience when we do you know publicity for the other things we work on the TV show or movies uh you know it's that's normally a lot of intense people and you know this this has kind of been a nice relief you know people who work in this industry seem a little kind of more quieter laid-back you know they've had to spend a lot of time alone reading a book or writing a book so you get all kind of just a different crowd there's fewer screaming people almost you get to the Y egg categories which we can talk about properly and maybe you guys bring a little bit of the screaming thing to KU now this is your first book yes yeah and it's a collection of short essays about your life and about your background and growing up in Delhi tell us a little bit about when you decided to dive into the world of books I think you know with the success of BIGBANG I would go on to talk shows and people would want to know stories the talk shows more know stories about my past mainly but what was it that growing up in India you know you grew up in India then you ended up on this show so I would tell these stories and I started thinking about them and I realized they have a nice chronological order and my upbringing in India and then my journey to get him to BIGBANG was so colorful and from cleaning toilets for living to being a waiter like most actors have to do which I'm sure you didn't but I played one in a mainstream film there yes I just wanted you know human is no Hollywood experience I think and also inspire kids to start living their dreams doing what the parents want them to do into their dreams yeah so a lot of people may not know that you guys know each other canal Big Bang Theory phenomenally successful in showing some wasn't Jesse actor for a long time but you guys have worked together – the last time we spoke in fact you guys were going to play together that you had written tell us about that yeah we played roommates Cannell played Nepalese immigrant coming to America and it was just a fantastic experience we had such a wonderful rapport on stage he was playing a guy who I used to know and you know so strange when they know somebody you know initially if you you know write something you see the person as you know that as another person but very quickly who now became that character he just was so wonderful in the play and I was so thrilled that people got to see him do a kind of such a different kind of romantic dramatic performance he wouldn't incredible play the spoils it was really it was the the the cadence of the dialogue was sort of effortless for an actor to jump in which is always a sign of good writing for an actor if you come into something and you find like it's very difficult to get through dialogue because it feels choppy or the rhythm is not right you know that's not a well-written script jesse script all of us just jumped on it and it sort of flowed very tripping me off our tongues and actually during when we were rehearsing the Nepal earthquake happen right there was very emotional time for us too because Jesse had written about his friend from Nepal and that one we were rehearsing the earthquake happens and me being from India being so close to Nepal it was a pretty emotional experience yeah you know there's a difference when you're writing for on the page and you both of you do comedy really well I mean different types to some degree but you're both both books are funny but there's a difference between you know obviously writing those words on a page and then performing them and yet as I'm reading both of your books I can sort of feel you guys saying them out loud you both have a very sort of animated way of writing it almost feels physical yeah for myself but I imagine you probably do the same thing which is that to me if it's not working orally then it's it's sighs I change it because I write yeah so I'm usually reading everything out you know out loud while I'm while I'm writing it I don't know why I think it's just my nature as a a writer of plays and as an actor that if do you think if you wouldn't do you think if you weren't an actor you would have the same experience because you're an actor you feel that way yeah I just feel like that's the way to tell that's the way to feel if like the emotional trajectory seems authentic if you're thinking it and it feels like oh this is actually when I'd be feeling at this given moment then it seems like it works on the page too yeah you're both storytellers canal you're the stories in here are hilarious I mean you lead off the book with that sort of story about Winnie from The Wonder Years and that first kiss and her ending up in a Big Bang and it's hilarious and you read it and it's very self-deprecating I mean that's kind of your thing I think it's important to make fun of yourself yeah otherwise is that an Indian thing because that that's what I think of that is like an exclusively Jewish like application yes that's a good question I'm not sure that Indians are self-deprecating people because I think I get a lot of comments like why are you making fun of India on Big Bang I'm like you have to you know how you're a former comedian I have to have the ability to laugh at myself all cultures have eccentricities which are hilarious to think about which I think you bring up a lot in your you know you're sort of Jewish humor that you talk about from your family right I have the same thing with my Indian family they're hilarious that's I grew up in a family that was full of humor if you didn't have a quick comeback or a quick wit you would get eaten alive Anthony might but somehow or another I and maybe it wasn't that way when you're a kid because the you know the Badminton story is another hilarious one where this federer certainly doll-like epic Batman that I followed as I'm reading this book I'm like come on you can do it better now you can win this match but I mean it then they stopped back and you think that you're watching badminton which most Americans have no clue about and don't have any idea about the sort of athletic ability well if there's any success about my book is that I managed to make one badminton match interesting yeah and for the entire works and they may use shuttlecock nuts yes and I got to say the word shuttlecock a little off context yes yeah but but the stick with you for a minute canal there's also as funny as the book is you tell some wonderful stories to about your family and about your father who really taught you a time yeah and there are times when I feel like he kept you on the tracks like everybody I mean he gives you all this guidance and then sometimes you're just laughing out loud at your dad and other times that you drop in these moments which I think you bring into the book really well I think that Jesse now we're talking about this earlier and you'll find this a lot in Jesse's writing too is that if your words don't have a humanity behind it how can anyone ever connect to what you're writing you know sometimes I think authors or writers or even actors or anyone as an artist can sometimes alienate the audience in self and of their own self-indulgence if I want to be so self indulgent in my writing that I want to block out my my fan base or my audience then what's the point you know so I tried to make in a very conscious effort to to be completely honest about these stories so that people whatever background you come from can read it and be like oh yeah I know what that feels like oh oh I've been through that you know and I find that parallel especially in Jesse's writing as well you know Jesse your your books sort of make me laugh in an entirely different way I mean there's sort of this slow creeping humour that comes out where you realize you're being taken for this nice little story ride and this sometimes completely unusual situation that you've made up in that I I think we talked about this last time you were together I reminded me of the way Steve Martin used to write some of those stories it reminds me of all that you do in shouts and rumors in The New Yorker tell us about that sort of style that's short form of writing that you've really grown comfortable with yeah it's a I didn't know what existed until I was about 24 which is I would I wish I knew what I was younger that you know McSweeney's and the New Yorker existed and writing was able to be done in like a thousand words with that kind of funny concept and so I loved doing it and then I think a lot of you know my training as an actor has taught me to kind of like try to infuse a humorous situation with real character and pathos so I try to like have a kind of funny concept whatever that is some strange juxtaposition of one world and another and then try to bring in real characters and populate that world with you know people who are experiencing different levels of discomfort yeah you we talked about others other actor writers that are out there and there's a sort of a subset of actors that do write Woody Allen was one of them who else in your world do you find sort of is able even you know past actors to they wouldn't cross over into both those universes geez I don't know I I mean people mostly compare me to Tolstoy where if you read the book you can probably see see why so I don't know that's kind of my frequent or Jesus you know yeah the most frequent energy here since I was gonna say Jesus but I didn't want to offend many no that's what they say well for you qu now I get Gandhi if anyone's asking right now you can feel that yeah spicy like I don't know what is cheese balls I think that's a joy so tell me about actually now you're a storyteller and and obviously you're really great at telling your stories verbally but what was the difference in putting them down on pages and kind of maintaining that that comic element throughout I think that you have a great a great ability to really stop and and flush out a moment on the page with words that you may not be able to do so much in a in a story at a bar that you're telling your friends you may not be able to say when I saw her her hair was golden like the sunshine I know that sounds it's a cliche I bet it's very written in the book but I think that when you write you can actually take the moment to say she smelled like grapefruit with a hint of peppercorn and probably finish that with a morning ritual of her dad's aftershave you can actually say that you know do describes what someone smells like but sometimes in a story that's not as you can't be that verbose so you can't be that literal mm-hmm both of you have done these artistic projects you know like the play or or you know other things that you're just passionate about they don't bring you the level of fame that's something like Big Bang Theory does or like your work in you know Batman vs Superman and everything that's happening where you know there's another level out there of fandom and then the curiosity about your lives becomes really intense and it's something that you know you can go out and it's kind of escape but every once in a while but then you go back and everybody wants to know about you take pictures with you we had 17 pictures with you guys out in this Lobby just a few minutes ago how do you separate those two elements of your life that's sort of I want to know everything about you and want to take a picture with you and I wanted to and that other side that sort of creative side they just want to kind of get away from them well I feel like half the time like a hypocrite you know because I say like I I don't to be you know bothered when I go outside but I want to go to this television studio and doing you then I hope those people see so you can't really have it both ways you know you can't be kind of you know live in a bubble and also expect to you know be kind of like a famous person you know whatever so it's strange you know to me I have remind myself all the time that the publicity surrounding all the things are not real you know that's not real the things that I like to do that I can do well that you know that where the publicity becomes a byproduct that's the real thing and if you like it enough if you like acting enough which we do because we do you know we do theater for the small amount that people if you like writing enough which we do then you're okay you know the danger I think is if you like the other stuff too much eh it's not the same ones won't be there if you don't keep doing the things that rule that that earn it but but be it's it's less enjoyable you know I think we have a lot of fun doing the things we like to do and then as a by-product there's kind of but it's also like exactly what is it was also like a drug I think you can get it attracted to the fame you can get attracted to the adulation you realise that it's not real because it doesn't last forever but it's also very difficult to not enjoy it you know sometimes it's not so easy some days you're like I don't want to deal with this and some days I really you know you're like wow this is really lovely I got to meet this person whose life that we changed with some of our work or or you meet someone from a different country who loves your work and you you get to meet someone wonderful because of your work and then some days you're like guys I need to be on my own it's a very it's a weird thing but it also by the way we've lost a lot of wonderful actors over the last few years because this world can drive you nuts you can drive you crazy and you find escapism in in drugs or alcohol or other issues other ways to to sort of hide and I don't know there's no easy answer you know it sometimes it's amazing and then sometimes it's scary well both of you have really I mean you write about your family in here but tell us about the importance of family instead of keeping as all that swirling around you you know Fame is happening and yet is you read this there's a pretty normal guy here yeah and there's a pretty normal person here who happened to be a wildly creative and doing some really cool things that a lot of people like to watch what his family meant to both of you and sort of keeping that through normal you said that your family is boring like innocence right you're like yeah yeah they're kind of normal boring a family the only people that can really insult you safely so you know if you have you surround yourself with people that can safely insult you and you'll speak to them the next day then that's healthy yes it'll remind you you know to Gladys the most important thing yeah I just thought of at this moment really you can now have it can I put that in my next book yes yes or the it's always important to be surrounded by people who saved simply into you again you can talk to in the next day like your family yeah if you want do for the paperback cover visor which sex is something you have to think about in your book you know because you're talking about your family in your book directly what were they like when they're like really you're gonna put that in a you know I didn't ask anyone's permission before I did but knowing my family they will find some way to make fun of me about the book definitely and there's no I mean they already have you know so but I think it's important it's important to be normalized when everything around you is this can be a storm sometimes it's good to come home and be like oh you know my life is normal and it's also up to you how much you want to keep it normal yeah you can get caught up in the rest of it you can but you risk you know then when it's gone like it someday BIGBANG will be done and maybe people won't care as much and then I'll be sitting alone because I would have fallen in love with this lifestyle that wasn't real and that's not how I want to be look at the time being no let that let its show for the record that you did say second book I heard something no second button either I have to live another 30 34 years to write another book yeah maybe we call know my accent is not real because I've lived in America for exactly yeah exactly and then that'd be a whole like title share do it that's good 34 years ago cool perfect yeah clearly you guys know one another well it's fun it's been fun sitting down the sec you so much both your books it's also cool to sort of bar you from your other lives and bring you into this book world that we have you're welcoming us just slide in and settle with a nice little paper thanks oh yes yes well thanks both of you for being here just a Weisberg Kunal Nayyar thank you a books are wonderful