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Kumail Nanjiani And Emily V. Gordon's Totally Doable Tips For Being Heard When No One's Listening

They involve jokes, sarcasm, and not giving up

Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon have been getting a lot of buzz after their film, The Big Sick, hit theaters to rave reviews from critics and fans alike. The based-on-real-life love story has since earned them an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and no doubt helped them land a development deal with Apple for their newest project, a half-hour anthology series called Little America.

The whirlwind experience has left the husband-and-wife team feeling "overwhelmed with happiness and excitement, but also with exhaustion," Gordon told MTV News at the Makers Conference in Los Angeles earlier this month. "But it's very good," Nanjiani added.

"We’re in a great category with this very select group. It’s very satisfying," he continued, as Gordon chimed in, "I’ve worn more dresses than I’ve ever worn in my life in the past few months. It's great! I love it!"

Their ability to successfully work together bolstered by their quippy back-and-forth might simply be proof that these two make a good pair, but it's also evidence that they've figured out how to help each other thrive in an industry that so often suffers from underrepresentation (of both the female and minority varieties).

Gordon and Nanjiani talked about this and more during their discussion at the Makers Conference, and then gave MTV News even more tips on how we can all help ourselves — and each other — be heard.

MTV News: You touched upon this during your talk, but in a room full of men, how can women get a word in, and how can men help women speak up without speaking for them?

Emily V. Gordon: The trick that I learned that kind of shuts a room down is a joke. I do a quick joke... then I can speak and say what I would like to say. That's not always the only trick you can use, that’s just what I've learned. I've learned that when I get cut off — because it will happen — to not get discouraged and think, "Oh, these guys aren’t going to listen to me because they’re sexist!" Because that's all true, inherently, but that doesn’t mean that I should get discouraged. I’m still supposed to keep speaking up even if I get shut down, and I wish the world were constructed differently that that wasn't the case, but don’t get discouraged. That’s my biggest piece of advice, because I think early on it was my thought that if that happened to me, that meant I should just be quiet, and that’s not true.

If you’re in a writers room, everyone pitches jokes, and the jokes either get a big laugh or they get nothing, they get ignored, and you move on, and a guy I was in a room with pitched a joke, it got nothing, and he moved on, but he kept pitching jokes. Candidly, I was like, "That didn't shut you down at all? Getting shut down for that bad joke you did?" And he was like, "No, they didn’t like that one, but I thought maybe they’d like another one." And just that very, very basic thought was something that kind of caused me to shift. He’s not thinking, "One joke means everyone thinks I'm trash." His was, "Oh, that one didn’t work, keep moving." And I thought that was a good way to adopt things, and so I started adopting it as well: Just keep moving. Just keep moving and keep working.

MTV News: Fake it 'till you make it.

Gordon: Yeah! Very basic advice, but it’s what works.

Kumail Nanjiani: And I would say — as Emily said, you’re going to see women get interrupted — and I think it’s your job to be like, “Hey, let her finish!”

Gordon: Which you have done, many times!

Nanjiani: Yeah, that happened a lot while we were working on our movie. I’d be like, “She was talking before you started talking, so let her finish her thought first!” I think that’s a very concrete way that men can do that because if a woman’s like, “Let me finish,” then that makes it real awkward, unfortunately. Then guys feel threatened and attacked, and guys don’t react well when they’re feeling like that.

Gordon: And they should fix that, but until they do…

Nanjiani: Yeah, they should fix that!

Gordon: But I also think, with ladies in rooms, it’s all our jobs to watch out for each other. If anyone is being spoken over, I think it’s our job to go back and be like, “You were saying something.” I used to conduct group therapy as a therapist, and that was part of what we had to do as a facilitator, was go, “Oh, you were talking. You got cut off. What were you saying?” I think that’s a great lesson for anyone — male, female, anybody. People are going to get cut off. It happens. Just go back. Go back and let the person finish what they were saying.

MTV News: That ties into what you said during your talk — if someone sounds racist, Emily will tackle it, and if someone sounds sexist, Kumail will tackle it, so that neither of you are dismissed as acting crazy.

Gordon: I think it’s just really that if he is forced to tell people that they’re being racist, then people think that he’s being overly sensitive. Same thing with me.

Nanjiani: Playing the race card.

Gordon: Yeah, exactly, and so we just found it’s always easier to speak up for each other than it is to speak up for yourself, and it just erases that line that you don’t have to worry about whether or not you seem sensitive, you’re just sticking up for someone else.

MTV News: Do you have tips on how to speak up for someone else? That’s not always easy, especially when you don’t want to throw yourself into a line of fire.

Gordon: Depending on the situation, I’ll sometimes go with humor and sarcasm. I love sarcasm, like, “What are you, old? What is this, 1945?” Just a literal, “Do you see how stupid you look right now?” Kind of like holding up a mirror more than making it like, “I’m going to make a stand!” Just being like, “What are you, stupid? What’s wrong with you?” I learned that from Todd Glass. There’s a comedian named Todd Glass who has a way that he shuts down people at dinner parties when they’re saying something awful that’s like, “What are you, like 70? What are you doing?” I love that. It’s sarcastic, it gets the point across, it’s quick. I sometimes go sarcasm. What do you think?

Nanjiani: You know, this situation is a tricky thing. You just have to speak up and hope that the people around you agree with you or see it as well because it can be very easy to feel like you’re being sensitive.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.