Baron Vaughn and Kumail Nanjiani

Baron Vaughn (left) and Kumail Nanjiani

Last night, two of NYC’s favorite comics bid farewell to the city in their final shows before they each move to L.A. this week. As a way of saying goodbye to their friends and fans, Baron Vaughn and Kumail Nanjiani both performed half-hour stand-up sets at “Big Terrific,” the free weekly comedy show hosted by Max Silvestri, Gabe Liedman, and Jenny Slate at Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Earlier this year, Vaughn and Nanjiani were both cast in pilots for series that have since been picked up and will begin shooting full seasons in Los Angeles. Vaughn will co-star in the new hour-long dramedy Facing Kate on USA, while Nanjiani has been cast in the hour-long TNT comedy Franklin & Bash. Today, Nanjiani is on his way to sunny California; Vaughn begins his westward journey this weekend.

“They’re two of the smartest, most interesting and inventive stand-ups,” Liedman says of Vaughn and Nanjiani. “They don’t do the same thing that everyone else is doing. So without them around, it’s actually a loss. A lot of comics get up and move to L.A., but the two of them have something really special going on. It just so happens they’re leaving the same week. I can only imagine they’ll rise to the top [in L.A.] like they did in New York.”

After the show, I spoke with Vaughn and Nanjiani about leaving New York, moving to L.A., and starting new careers on basic cable:

Baron Vaughn

Baron Vaughn

“It feels a little weird, you know,” Vaughn says of leaving NYC. “The livelihood that I’ve chosen, being a stand-up comedian — and especially in the last couple of years being a touring comedian, working a lot of colleges — I’ve gotten used to traveling. I’ve gotten used to feeling like everywhere’s a hotel, even the place that I pay rent for in New York. So the feeling that I’m leaving, that I’m traveling, hasn’t really hit me. It just feels like it’s another gig. But when I don’t come back, that’s really when it’s really going to feel real to me.”

“I was sad, and I’m still sad,” Nanjiani adds. “I just hate leaving New York, because it’s literally the only place I’ve lived where I felt like I could stay here forever, you know? It’s such a great scene, and there’s so many good comics.”

In Facing Kate, Vaughn plays Leonardo, the trusted “geek chic” assistant to central character Kate Reed (Sarah Shahi), a top litigator who got frustrated with the daily injustice she saw as a lawyer and decided to become an “anti-lawyer” — a mediator — instead.

“I’m going to be a character that’s welcome,” Vaughn says of his new gig on USA. “As I said before, I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to a water fountain that says ‘no characters,’ so finally, a place where characters are welcome.”

And for fans who worry that Vaughn may not be able to show his full comedic range in his new role, he says, “I’m also the comedic element of the show, so I’ll have a lot of laugh lines. And even if I don’t say anything funny, my afro is going to be so damn big its just going to feel like its funny. I can’t cut my hair — no one wants to be Kerry Russell, right? Cut your hair and your show is off the air.”

Kumail Nanjiani

Kumail Nanjiani

Nanjiani interrupts: “You’re like Goliath — no, what’s his name?”

“Samson,” Vaughn corrects.

“Samsonite? What’s his name?”

“Samson. Samsonite? The guy who cut his hair and his hair turned into luggage.”

“Yeah, he’s so strong!”

“It’s indestructible!”

Nanjiani will play a nerdy, germaphobic lawyer on Franklin & Bash, which stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Breckin Meyer as lifelong friends and lawyers who get recruited by the firm they defeated in a high-profile case; Malcolm McDowell will play the head of the firm. (The show was originally planned for TBS but moved to TNT, Nanjiani says, because TBS “gave all their money to Conan.”)

“We’re so similar,” Vaughn says of their new roles. “I’m a nerdy assistant too.”

“Well, we’re only going to play nerds, dude,” Nanjiani counters. “We’re not going to play the hip guy. No one want to see that. But I really like the character. He’s a super weird guy, and they let me improvise a lot. Then I watched the pilot, and a lot of that stuff that we improvised, made up on the spot, made it in.”

Vaughn and Nanjiani both realize that their regular eight-days-a-week stand-up performance schedule will change, due to the hectic shooting schedules of series television and less opportunities for stage time in Los Angeles comedy clubs compared to New York City.

“I’ll do stand-up, obviously,” Nanjiani says, “but I’ll focus on more of the long-term projects, like writing movies and TV shows. And then shooting the show, and trying to get my satisfaction that way. Just because there aren’t as many [comedy] shows, there just aren’t.”

“I was out in L.A. for three months,” Vaughn recalls, “and I realized I didn’t write one joke the entire time. I am kind of worried about that trend, but we’ll see what the hell happens.”

“In New York we perform so much,” Nanjiani adds, “and there’s such an emphasis on — I mean, I don’t want to compare it to L.A., but there’s a big emphasis on writing new stuff. Like the other comics judge you if you don’t write as much.”

Nanjiani said he specifically chose “Big Terrific,” as well as Leo Allen’s “Whiplash” on Monday night, to be his final two shows in New York.

“I was like, ‘I’ll do two shows, and that’ll be the two shows that I want to do that will be billed as my last two shows’,” he says. “They’re  awesome, fun shows, and I love to have them be the final memories. But it’s hard, because now I’m like, ‘I want to do this again!’ ”

“Well, the thing is, Kumail,” Vaughn cuts in, “I said this the other day: I’m moving to Los Angeles so that I can establish myself enough so that I don’t actually have to live in Los Angeles.”

“You know who said that when they moved there?” Nanjiani asks Vaughn. “Everybody. Everybody said that. And I say that too! But everybody says that, and then they never leave.”

Even though both comedians claim they plan to return to New York at some point, Liedman was already eulogizing in the past tense: “Baron was awesome. He walked the line between theater and comedy a lot better than most comedians do. He not only does stand-up, but he’s so good at acting while he does stand-up. And Kumail just had a really unique perspective on all of his stuff, about being from Pakistan, seeing New York through a different lens than the rest of us did. You’re not going to get that from typical stand-up acts. He had a lot of amazing insight.”

“I guess my favorite thing about New York,” Vaughn says in a moment of wistful nostalgia, “is how you can run around and do a bunch of spots the same night. I could do three spots where I’d kill, bomb, and kill in the same night. I’d be like, ‘I’m good at comedy! I’m bad! I’m good again!’ in the same night.”

“Once you bomb, you have to have another set,” Nanjiani adds.

“You have to prove yourself to yourself,” Vaughn says. “But that’s New York for you.”

Baron Vaughn moved to New York from Boston, and he has appeared on TV on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham,” and various shows on VH1, MTV, and Fuse. He has performed in the 2006 HBO US Comedy Arts Festival, the South Beach Comedy Festival, DC Comedy Festival, Bridgetown Comedy Festival, and All Points West. As an actor, Vaughn has starred on stage in “Damn Yankees” at NY City Center with Jane Krakowski and Sean Hayes, and on screen in “Black Dynamite” and the upcoming film “The Other Guys,” as well as episodes of “Law & Order” and “Rescue Me.” Vaughn can currently be seen in the new comedy documentary “The Awkward Comedy Show” on Comedy Central and DVD. Coming up, you can see him in “Russell Simmons Presents: Stand Up at the El Rey” on Comedy Central, and live at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.

Kumail Nanjiani moved from Chicago to New York in 2007. Since then, he has appeared on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” and “The Colbert Report,” and he was a writer and actor in the Comedy Central series “Michael & Michael Have Issues.” He was also named to Comedy Central’s “Hot List” and featured in the New York Times. In 2008, he received two ECNY awards for best male stand-up comedian and best one person show (“Unpronounceable”). Coming up, you can see Nanjiani in the romantic comedy “Life As We Know It,” starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel. Be sure to read Kumail Nanjiani’s advice for comedians who are moving to NYC to start their comedy careers, part of our 2010 Back Stage “Guide to New York Acting Markets.”

This story was posted online May 27, 2010 at Blog Stage.

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