Kunal Nayyar plays ever-awkward Raj on The Big Bang Theory
Kunal Nayyar plays Rajesh "Raj" Koothrappali, an astrophysicist from New Delhi who cannot speak to women unless he has consumed some form of alcohol
TV Week: Would you agree that Raj’s character treads a fine line between an affectionate parody of the culture and a sort of ethnic stereotyping?
KN: The writers do a very good job of balancing that fine line. You know, people say that to me all the time, “What do you think about stereotyping?” And I say, “Raj is a 24-year-old PhD student, so if that’s a stereotype, that’s good, man.” I don’t mind being in a culture that is stereotypically intelligent. Also, he’s not terribly Indian. He doesn’t like Indian food. He doesn’t want to go back home. He likes to eat burgers. He loves comic books. You know, he’s very different than sort of a normal what you think would be a 7-11 owner in movies or something.
Do you contribute any insights to the jokes or any of the things that Raj does?
KN: I do. I do get questions from the writers. For example, I got “What do you eat when you go to a bowling alley in New Delhi? What is your snack of choice?” Or something like that. I get questions about other stuff too, like about festivals – "What festivals do you celebrate?" Or, "What do you do for Christmas?" You know, things like that.
You took up tweeting ahead of everybody else in the cast. Why?
KN: I like to build relationships with people and I like the community of people and I like to inspire people. I realized that Twitter was a very nice way to be in touch with your fans as well as inspire people who are going through tough times. Sometimes, I’ll just tweet about myself or if I make a mistake I’ll share it. Something to learn from, you know. It’s a very easy way to get in touch – people will listen to what you have to say and I always try to remember that. It’s not just me being funny or me saying, “Hey, I had a hotdog for lunch.” I don’t want to sound pretentious, but it’s like some sort of charity for me that I am able to grow positively and influence people through Twitter. People laugh at me and go, “Oh look at you, the Buddha” – stuff like that. I don’t care. I don’t do it for anyone but myself. I really do it for the fans that really – I don’t care how it comes across, just the effect it has on people.
And you managed to persuade Simon Helberg to do it as well.
KN: (laughs) He shied away from it for a long time. And then started doing it. He’s probably one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my life so he’s slowly but surely catching on to it all, and I think he’s really going to become very, very popular on Twitter.
I know you guys are very competitive in ping pong. Are you two getting competitive on Twitter too?
KN: No, no. We joke around. I mean he’s probably going to have more followers than me because he’s just so funny. And I hope he does, he’s such a talent. But it’s all fun; he has no real competition. I don’t even know who has more.
Do you have outside projects? Are there other things you’re pursuing?
KN: I’m writing a lot – nothing that I can completely talk about because nothing is official. But I’m trying to use this time to do all the things that I want to do because I have resources now. And I want to use those to further my career in the many facets that this industry can offer, you know. But as of now, I’m just concentrating on the show. When something becomes official, I’ll let you know.
Of course, we all want to know if you’re going to be starring opposite Aishwarya Rai in Bollywood?
KN: (laughs) You know, that’s funny. I would love to do Bollywood. I really would. I think when the time is right, I would like to jump in and do some movies back home. I believe that I will at some point in my career. But for now I’m just focusing on the show.