Kumail Nanjiani's Chippendales Show Accused of Ripping off Major Podcast

Kumail Nanjiani is being accused of plagiarising his recent project. Dr. Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, associate professor of history at the New School in New York, claims her Spotify podcast, Welcome to Your Fantasy, was used for Hulu's Welcome to Chippendales limited series without attribution or payment. Both the podcast and the Hulu show recount the story of disgraced Chippendales founder Somen Banerjee. As Petrzela explained, a producer sent early episodes of Welcome to Your Fantasy to a variety of Hollywood writers and producers a year before the show was released in hopes of someone adapting it. Kumail Nanjiani and his wife and writing partner Emily V. Gordon were among those who were pitched and declined to work with the podcast.

"Kumail and I listened to the podcast and it's such a fun story, but unfortunately I don't think it's the right project for us to write," Gordon wrote in an email to a producer as shared by Dr. Petrzela in an article published by The New York Times. "As much as we love watching crime stories, I don't know if that's a strength that we have as a writing duo. It didn't spark an immediate take in our brains." In July 2021, the podcast was released. Then, it was announced by Hulu in May 2021 that Welcome to Chippendales (then titled Immigrant) would star Nanjiani, with he and Gordon serving as executive producers. Robert Siegel (Pam & Tommy) and Jenni Konner (Girls) served as showrunners on the show. The show is credited as being inspired by the nonfiction book Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders authored by K. Scot Macdonald and Patrick MontesDeOca. It was self-published by the Macdonald-owned Kerrera Press in 2014.

During a recent interview with IndieWire, Nanjiani recalled that Siegel gave him a script for Chippendales in 2017, shortly after The Big Sick came out. Nanjiani said, "I loved the script, but I didn't feel ready to do it. I had a bunch more conversations with him, and then one day he was like, 'I'm just going to tell you what the whole show is…' He talked me through episode by episode, all the stuff that happened; my jaw was on the floor. I couldn't believe that all this really happened, and by the end of his pitch, I was like, I have no choice but to do this."

According to podcast senior producer Eleanor Kagan, Chippendales used exclusive content only shared with Welcome to Your Fantasy, as reported in the New York Times. She provided over a dozen details only shared with Welcome to Your Fantasy. In addition, two key characters from the Hulu series were based only on podcast details, and the original reporting and narrative focus was used without citations. Netflix also canceled plans to adapt Welcome to Your Fantasy into a streaming series due to Hulu releasing Welcome to Chippendales.

A real-life Chippendales show producer, Candace Mayeron, is believed to be portrayed by Juliette Lewis in the Hulu series. Despite her efforts, Mayeron told The New York Times she has not been able to get a response from the writers and producers of Welcome to Chippendales, nor is Lewis' talent representative responding to her request for free consulting.

"There is no doubt that they relied on the podcast," Mayeron said. In one scene, Nanjiani's founder character of Welcome to Chippendales calls a church as a publicity stunt to incite a protest against the obscenity in the live male strip show. This story was told only by the first Black Chippendales dancer Hodari Sababu, who appears to be the inspiration for the Otis Hulu character, played by Quentin Phair, in Welcome to Your Fantasy. He says the story arc was based on the podcast episode.

"I only watched part of the TV show, but I thought, 'How do they know that?' The only way that they could know that is if they heard that podcast interview I did," Sababu said. As Petrzela, the host of the podcast Welcome to Your Fantasy, concluded, "I found myself really flabbergasted by this whole situation. But then again, I come from a world of footnotes and source citations."