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Kumail Nanjiani on why he hates R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”

In HateSongwe ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.

The hater: Though Pakistani-born actor-comedian Kumail Nanjiani is most widely known for playing agoraphobic lawyer Pindar Singh on Franklin & Bash, it’s the work he does on the side that’s endeared him to comedy geeks: He does stand-up, appears on stuff like Portlandia and Burning Love, and hosts a videogame podcast, The Indoor Kids, with his wife, Emily Gordon. He’s also the co-host of the weekly Nerd Melt comedy show in L.A. with Jonah Ray, and an adaptation of that show will pop up on Comedy Central later this fall under the name The Meltdown With Jonah And Kumail. Last week marked the debut of Nanjiani’s first one-hour comedy special, Beta Male, on Comedy Central; it’s also available as a CD/DVD.

The hated: R.E.M., “Everybody Hurts” (1992)

The A.V. Club: Why is “Everybody Hurts” the song you hate the most?

Kumail Nanjiani: Well, I never liked it. When it first came out, I was a kid and everybody liked the song. I think it made people feel like it was cool to be sad. It’s such a trite idea to me that “everybody hurts.” I think R.E.M. hasn’t been sad in a long time, and this was their attempt to identify with actual human beings. Like everybody hurts, right? We all cry, right? It’s like an alien trying to relate to humanity. It’s such a basic idea that they’re presenting like it’s this crazy, philosophical breakthrough. The video doesn’t help, either.


AVC: What makes you say that?

KN: You remember the video where they’re all in the car and it’s all their stupid thoughts? First of all, that’s the saddest traffic jam I’ve ever seen. Why is everyone in the traffic jam sad? Why isn’t there one person who’s like, “Hey, it’s a pretty good day!” That’s very inaccurate. And at the end, the implication is that they all get out of their cars. First of all, the message is terrible; just walk away from your problems? That couple that was fighting in the car, they’re still going to be fighting. It’s not the car that’s holding them back. Or is it that they’re going to commit suicide? Because if they don’t, the next shot is going to be them sheepishly coming back the next day to pick their cars up from this highway.


AVC: Bill Berry wrote this song, and Peter Buck has said that it’s pretty much written for teenagers.

KN: See, that’s what I mean. It feels insincere to me because it’s not something that they believe. Unless all those people are getting out of their cars because they don’t want to listen to the fucking song anymore, there’s no way that video makes sense to me. Didn’t the drummer leave?


AVC: Bill Berry did leave. He had an aneurysm on stage in 1995 and then left the group a couple of years later.

KN: Well if I didn’t know about the brain aneurysm, I would have tried to talk with him to say, “Hey, that song you wrote was a real piece of shit.”


AVC: People love it, though. It’s been covered dozens of times.

KN: I know people who love that song; I never liked it. You can’t romanticize grief and sadness, you know? Just be happy. The song says “Everybody hurts sometimes” but it suggests that everybody hurts all the time. And it’s really sad and I don’t like the way it sounds. It makes me feel like I want a shower.


AVC: This might not be true, but the legend is that this is the song that Kurt Cobain had cued up in his CD player when he was found dead.

KN: That makes sense. He got out of the car and walked. It’s a bad message that they’re sending. Don’t get out of the car, wait for the traffic jam to resolve itself, go home or go to work and solve your problems.


AVC: The old man in the video is especially depressing.

KN: And then for one of the people the thoughts are in Spanish and it’s like, “See! We talk about everyone.” I think there’s a Native American in one car, there’s a guy in an Eskimo outfit—it’s just an attempt to try and relate, you know? To try to speak to some truth about the human condition when, really, you can ask a 5-year-old and they’ll say, “Yeah, everybody hurts sometimes.” But R.E.M. presents it as this really mature idea that they just came up with. And then the news reporter lady comes on in the end and is like, “Oh, they just walked away. What happened, what happened?” It must have been a slow news day.


AVC: Did you just watch the video again?

KN: I watched it this morning but I remembered the video so well because I was in Pakistan when it came out and MTV played it all the time. I have really bad taste in music so I don’t remember what I liked; it was probably Whitney Houston or something happy, but every time a video was about to start, I’d be excited about it being one of my favorite songs. But I don’t get to talk because I fucking love Meat Loaf. But then this would come on and I would just get angry and sad.


AVC: So a song about being sad made you sadder?

KN: Yeah. A song about being sad made me sadder, but not just because it was on, but because of the message it had.


AVC: It was supposed to make you feel like you were one with everyone else.

KN: I just wanted to listen to “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” by Meat Loaf. There’s a beast in there, then he turns into Meat Loaf and he’s on a bike, there’s an epic castle. It’s a great video. With “Everybody Hurts” I literally felt like I was sitting in a traffic jam. Why would you want to make a video of something that everybody hates and happens to us every day?


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