Overfed On A Mother's Affection | With Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon

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(Brian Rea for The New York Times)
(Brian Rea for The New York Times)

It can be hard to break certain truths to your parents ... and to establish boundaries as an adult. That's what Sung Woo discovered, when his mother's culinary intrusions began to affect his marriage.

Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon were nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay for their movie, "The Big Sick." They read Sung's essay, "Overfed on a Mother's Affection."

Where Are They Now?

Sung Woo still visits his mother every two weeks. And that Costco trip, those lunches, and the many containers of food? It's all still happening.

"They've expanded to six now," he says. "It was four, and now it's six, because my mother has convinced me that two of them are fruit, and that's not really food, according to her definition. I have Dawn's support. But my mother continues to be quite sneaky. What she's doing now is incrementally increasing her portions. Since there's a limit on the number of containers, she's putting more food into me."

Sung doesn't cook much himself. He says that he used to, in college, but wasn't very good at it. And even though it's caused some problems in his marriage, he appreciates the way he and his mother are able to connect through her cooking.

"We hardly talk at all outside of what we're going to be eating, or shopping for," he says. "That's the core of our relationship. It hasn't really gotten beyond that. But I'm okay with that. And I think she is too. It's very simple this way. Almost primal. But it works for us."

Sung feels deep empathy for his mother, who he says didn't ever have it easy.

"My father had a successful import/ export business in Korea. And then the gas crisis hit, and he lost everything. We all lost everything. He had to leave, and my mother had to raised three kids by herself for about seven years. She never spoke a word of English, so she had to learn all of that."

Sung knows that there will be some people who hear his story, and wonder — what's the problem with having two women who want to cook for him?

"This is such a non-problem, if you think about it — the fact that there are two women who want to feed me," he says. "Boo hoo, me, really.  But the fact is that I have to live with one of these women, all the time. And then I see the other one every so often, but she's my mother, and I want to keep everyone as happy as possible. In the grand scheme of things, there are much worse problems. But this is still a problem. And I'm glad we've found some peace."

Voices In This Episode

(Courtesy Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon)
(Courtesy Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon)

Kumail Nanjiani is a critically acclaimed actor, writer and comedian, perhaps best known for his co-starring role as 'Dinesh' on the award-winning HBO comedy series "Silicon Valley," which won the TV Critics Choice Award for 'Best Comedy Series' last year and has two Emmy® and Golden Globe® wins, as well as several Emmy® and Golden Globes® nominations.

He also appears in the Warner Bros. comedy, Fist Fight and voices one of the ninja warriors in The Lego Ninjago Movie also from Warner Bros.

Nanjiani's many memorable comedic roles include The Five-Year Engagement, produced by Judd Apatow, Sex Tape and Hot Tub Time Machine 2, and more recently on the big screen in Hello, My Name Is Doris, Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates and Central Intelligence.

On television, Nanjiani is writer, executive producer and co-host of Comedy Central's "The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail," along with Jonah Ray. He has had roles on IFC's "Portlandia," TNT's "Franklin & Bash," the reality show parody, "Burning Love" and Comedy Central's "Michael & Michael Have Issues." where he also served as a staff writer. He recently appeared in a guest role on the return of "The X-Files" on FOX and has appeared on "Community," "Inside Amy Schumer" and "Drunk History," among others.

His 2013 comedy special "Kumail Nanjiani: Beta Male" was on several "Best of" lists for Vulture, Village Voice and The AV Club, and was chosen as one of the 5 best stand-up albums of the year by Entertainment Weekly. Nanjiani also hosts two podcasts, “The Indoor Kids” and “The X-Files Files.”

He currently resides in Los Angeles, California.

Emily V. Gordon is a former therapist turned writer and producer. She produced the incredibly popular live show The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail, as well as three seasons of the show for Comedy Central. She is also a prolific writer, with pieces that have been published for The New York Times, Rookie, Refinery29, Bust Magazine, The Atlantic, Hello Giggles, xoJane, GQ, and many more. Her book, Super You: Release Your Inner Superhero was published in 2015. Her television writing credits include “The Carmichael Show” on NBC and “Another Period” on Comedy Central.

(Courtesy Sung J. Woo)
(Courtesy Sung J. Woo)

Sung J. Woo is a writer whose short stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, PEN/Guernica, and Vox. He has written two novels, Love Love (2015) and Everything Asian (2009). He lives in Washington, New Jersey.

Headshot of Caitlin O'Keefe

Caitlin O'Keefe Producer, Podcasts & New Programs
Caitlin O'Keefe was a producer of podcasts and new programming at WBUR.



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