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The Big Sick: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter | based on the true story of the movie's screenwriters, husband and wife Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon

Kumail Nanjiani
Born: February 21, 1978
Karachi, Pakistan

Portrays himself
Kumail Nanjiani
Born: February 21, 1978
Birthplace: Karachi, Pakistan
Zoe Kazan
Born: September 9, 1983
Los Angeles, California, USA
Emily V. Gordon
Born: 1979
Birthplace: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Ray Romano
Born: December 21, 1957
Queens, New York City, New York, USA
Terry Gordon
Birthplace: USA
Holly Hunter
Born: March 20, 1958
Conyers, Georgia, USA
Beth Gordon
Birthplace: USA
Anupam Kher
Born: March 7, 1955
Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India
Azmat Nanjiani
Birthplace: Pakistan
Zenobia Shroff
Sharmeen Nanjiani
Birthplace: Pakistan
Adeel Akhtar
Born: September 18, 1980
London, UK
Naveed Nanjiani
Birthplace: Karachi, Pakistan

Questioning the Story:

Does Kumail Nanjiani play himself in the movie?

Yes. The Big Sick true story reveals that comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani (HBO's Silicon Valley) portrays himself in the movie. It tells the story of the first year of his courtship with his wife Emily V. Gordon, who co-wrote the movie with him.

Did Kumail and Emily meet like they do in the movie?

Yes. "It was a lot like in the movie. She sort of woohoo-ed, heckled me at a comedy show," Kumail said with a smile during an interview with Fabulous TV. "That's how we meet in the movie, and that's how we met in real life too." He said that particular part of the movie is very close to the true story.

"The only difference is that instead of speaking that night after his set, we actually spoke a couple nights later," added Emily. "We kind of both looked for each other that night, but I had to go home or something, and so we ended up meeting a couple nights later."

Where was their first date in real life?

"Our first date was at a restaurant right by my house," said Kumail.

"Kumail had asked me out and I said no," recalled Emily, "and then I texted him a couple days later and asked if we could just get a platonic dinner together, but it was a date. We both knew it was a date." -USA Today

Left: The real Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, who portrays himself in the movie. Right: Actress Zoe Kazan and Kumail in the film.

Did Kumail Nanjiani really work as an Uber driver?

No. In fact-checking The Big Sick movie, we learned that Kumail never actually worked as an Uber driver like his character does in the movie. Watch the film

When did Kumail come to America?

Kumail Nanjiani as a boy in Pakistan. He came to America in 1997 for college.
Kumail came to the United States from Pakistan in 1997 when he was 18 to attend Grinnell College in Iowa. His parents immigrated four years later and settled in New Jersey.

Did Kumail and Emily really have a two-day rule?

Yes. In the movie, Kumail and Emily make a rule that they can see each other no more than two days in a row. When asked about it in an interview with Tribute Magazine, Kumail responded, "That is true. I don't know how she put up with it."

"It feels like the most made up thing [in the movie]," said the real Emily, "and it is absolutely true and somehow I put up with it."

Had the real Emily already been married and divorced when she met Kumail Nanjiani?

Not exactly. In researching The Big Sick true story, we learned that Emily was still in the middle of her divorce when she met Kumail in 2006 and they started dating. She was 27 and Kumail 28. "I was recently separated and was in the waiting period to get divorced," says Emily. "I was trying to decide whether to stick it out in Chicago or go back home. Then Kumail and I met."

Did Kumail really want to look like Hugh Grant in high school?

Yes. The man crush is true. The real Emily V. Gordon said that Kumail definitely has a thing for Hugh Grant, as evidenced below. She said that he also enjoys romantic comedies, which she used to detest. In the interview, Kumail then began citing lines from some of his favorite Hugh Grant rom coms, including Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. -Tribute Magazine

Kumail's man crush on Hugh Grant is real. He even tweeted a 2017 picture with the actor (bottom).

Did Kumail Nanjiani's wife really become very sick after they started dating?

Yes. "It's sort of based on the first year of our relationship," said Kumail in a Hollywood Reporter interview. "This is true. When Emily and I were dating for a few months she got really sick, and it's sort of about that period in time." Emily's illness occurred in March of 2007 when she was 27 years old, roughly ten years prior to the movie's release.

Did Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon really break up before she got sick?

No. Unlike what's seen in the movie, the real Big Sick couple had not broken up before the real-life Emily went into her coma. They were still dating, but there was little thought of it turning into a lifelong relationship. Like in the film, the coma changed that. With regard to the movie's use of dramatic license in adding the break-up, the real Emily Gordon commented, "It's interesting to be at your casual girlfriend's side when she gets sick. But it's even more interesting to be at your recent ex-girlfriend's side."

The real Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon (top) were not broken up when she was in the medically-induced coma. Pictured at the bottom are Nanjiani and the onscreen Emily, portrayed by actress Zoe Kazan.

What disease does Emily Gordon have that made her so sick?

In 2007, Emily got a cold she couldn't shake. She largely ignored it, but found herself feeling exhausted and miserable. Eventually she started having trouble breathing and drove herself to a walk-in clinic. When she got back to the exam room they took her vitals and immediately fetched the doctor. She was in respiratory distress. An ambulance was called and the EMTs suggested they take her to the closest hospital due to the urgency of her condition. After arriving at the hospital, she still believed everyone was overreacting. She called Kumail and told him where she was but not to worry (in the movie, Emily's friend calls Kumail to let him know Emily is in the hospital).

The following day Emily was put into a medically induced coma to prevent her from dying while the doctors had time to figure out what was wrong with her. She underwent lung surgery and ended up remaining in the hospital for almost a month. On day eight of her coma, she was diagnosed with adult-onset Still's disease (AOSD), a rare systemic auto-inflammatory disease that presents with high fevers, severe fatigue, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, a salmon-pink rash, and in severe cases like Emily's, fluid accumulation in the lungs and heart. It can be managed once diagnosed and is first treated with steroids like prednisone.

"I have to sleep the right amount and exercise the right amount," says Emily, "and I still occasionally get flare-ups and have to stay in bed for a few days. But no more ICUs, which is pretty f***ing sweet."

Is The Big Sick based on a book?

No. The Big Sick is not based on a book. It is from an original screenplay by the movie's subjects, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. However, Gordon is a published author and a former couples and family therapist. She wrote the tongue-in-cheek self-help book Super You: Release Your Inner Superhero, published in 2015. The well-reviewed book is infused with humor and references to comics, video games and superheroes, just some of the things she often discussed on her podcast The Indoor Kids, which she hosted with her husband. She has also written for Hello Giggles, Huffington Post, The New York Times, Mashable, The Daily Beast, and Lenny.

The real Emily V. Gordon wrote the tongue-in-cheek self-help book Super You.

Did Kumail really not know Emily's parents at the time she became ill?

"Her parents came into town, and I didn't really know them," Kumail said in a Hollywood Reporter interview. "So [the movie] is sort of a romantic comedy of me and Emily, and then the middle part of the movie is a romantic comedy between me and her parents." In real life, Kumail did briefly meet Emily's parents once before she fell ill. -The Hollywood Reporter

Did Emily's father really ask Kumail how he felt about 9/11?

No. During an interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Kumail Nanjiani said that Emily's father never asked him what his feelings were on 9/11.

Did Emily's mother really try to attack a racist heckler at his comedy show?

No. One of actress Holly Hunter's best moments in the movie is when her character defends Kumail against a racist frat-boy heckler at his comedy show. It marks the moment that we first visibly see her dislike for Kumail begin to change. It unfolds into an intense scene but we found no evidence of it actually happening in real life.

In real life, did Kumail realize he wanted to marry Emily when she was in a coma?

Yes. It was while Emily was in a medically-induced coma that Kumail realized she was the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Though it's not shown in the movie, they married just months after she got out of the hospital.

How long was Emily Gordon in a coma?

Emily was in a medically-induced coma for over eight days. -The View

The real Emily V. Gordon was put into a medically-induced coma for roughly eight days while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with her.

Were Kumail Nanjiani's parents upset when they found out he had a white girlfriend?

Yes. The movie's portrayal of this seems to be pretty accurate, though slightly exaggerated. Kumail had previously promised them he would enter into an arranged marriage with a Pakistani woman. He avoided their calls for the first few days that Emily was in a coma, because he knew he would have to tell them he had a non-Muslim girlfriend. When he did finally take their call one night, he told them the truth and his mother actually became concerned for Emily, asking daily how she was doing (something the character doesn't do in the movie). However, when Emily came out of the coma and they found out she would be okay, Kumail's mother finally responded, "How could you do this to us?"

The Big Sick movie is availabe to watch here. Like in the film, Kumail's parents were upset he was dating a non-Muslim.

Are Emily and Kumail's parents in the movie similar to their real-life parents?

No. Emily admits her parents are quite different than the characters portrayed by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. Kumail's real-life parents are perhaps more similar to his movie parents, especially in that they did expect him to enter into an arranged marriage. However, they were living in a different city than they do in The Big Sick movie (watch the trailer).

Is Kumail really a big X-Files fan?

Yes. In the movie, one of the potential women Kumail's parents try to set him up with awkwardly reminds him that "the truth is out there," a reference to The X-Files TV show. While fact-checking The Big Sick movie, we discovered that Kumail's love for The X-Files goes much further than what is seen in the film. In 2014, he started hosting The X-Files Files, a podcast in which he and a guest analyze an episode of the show. Then in 2015 he got to guest star on an episode of The X-Files 6-part revival on FOX. Kumail tweeted, "I got to be in an ep of my favorite show (X Files) written & directed by my favorite writer (Darin Morgan.) And this script is wonderful." Kumail played an Animal Control Officer in episode 3, titled "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster."

Kumail Nanjiani's love for The X-Files reached a crescendo when he guest starred on an episode of the 2015 X-Files revival on FOX.

Was the real Emily upset and angry when she came out of the coma?

Yes. The Big Sick true story confirms that the real Emily Gordon was miserable when she came out of the coma, despite those around her feeling very happy she was awake. "Yeah, a lot of the hospital people had invented a personality for me that did not match how I felt when I woke up," says Emily. "Because I had, like, fun hair, and I just was mean, and scary, and very upset, and angry and would cry a lot, for like a while. And people were like, 'Oh, we thought you were gonna be fun.' And I was like, 'I used to be.'" According to her now-husband Kumail, she needed time to deal with the fact that she had been betrayed by her own body. "It took me a few months to remember to be fun again," says Emily.

How long did it take for Emily and Kumail to get married when she got out of the hospital?

"I became so fearless that I married my boyfriend in a manic haze three months after getting out of the hospital," says Emily ( Kumail and Emily married on July 14, 2007 at City Hall in Chicago, with six friends present as witnesses. They got matching tattoos because they didn't have money for wedding rings ( Kumail had proposed to her with a $20 ring from Walmart. Emily first met Kumail's parents after the city hall nuptials (The View). Two weeks later, Kumail's parents held a Pakistani wedding for them in New Jersey. "I think that the ceremony was my mom's way of saying to Emily, even though you're not the bride I imagined, I'm trying my best to include you in the family." Kumail said. His mom gave Emily a collection of jewelry that she had been saving for Kumail's future wife. Emily and Kumail have been together ever since (

Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon on the day of their Pakistani wedding ceremony in the summer of 2007.

Did Kumail really move to New York first without Emily?

No. Kumail and Emily were already married when they decided to move to Brooklyn so that Kumail could pursue standup as more than just a hobby. The movie has Kumail first moving there with two comedian friends instead of Emily.

Did the real Emily Gordon ever consider playing herself in the movie since her husband does?

"No, not at all," said Emily, "because my husband is an actor and has been on many TV shows and movies, whereas I was the president of the thespian society in high school, but since then I've kind of hung up my acting shoes. ... So never at any point. I'm very happy to be a writer and kind of tell stories that way." In addition to being one of the movie's screenwriters along with her husband, Emily was on set every day of the New York shoot, as seen below. -Fabulous TV

Actress Zoe Kazan and her character's real-life counterpart, screenwriter Emily V. Gordon, on the set of The Big Sick movie.

Interviews with the Real "Big Sick" Couple & Related Videos

The videos below offer a closer look at The Big Sick true story, including interviews with the real couple, screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon.

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