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In Conversation with Comedian Ali Hassan: Can I Say That?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

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  • Photo Credit: Riaz K photography

    Photo Credit: Riaz K photography

Written by Zoey Ross

ZR: With the politically correct climate in comedy right now, how are you adjusting to that?

AH: I hate to admit it, but there are a couple things I don’t do in Toronto specifically anymore, because I tried my damndest. Even when I had the crowds complete trust and they were laughing and they were with me and I said, this was about three quarters into my set, I definitely had them on my side let me try this bit and then when what we dub as white liberal guilt, we don’t really know where it’s coming from, but we use this term, and just takes over. It’s one of these things where, it’s me making a joke about Muslims, I am Muslim. I feel like I can take that liberty to make fun of my own personal experience, with the religion, with the community, but people just sort of clam up and go ‘oh I don’t feel comfortable doing that’ - But I am a Muslim! It doesn’t seem to matter to people. In Toronto especially there’s definitely things - there are two jokes I don’t do anymore. On the road I’ll do those because I know it’s not the same. Montreal the same jokes will get huge laughs.

ZR: How do feel you fit into the set tonight with two strong feminist comedians before you?

AH: I had an experience, I only met my daughters five years ago they were already six and four when I married my wife, and one of my daughters was on YouTube. She goes ‘Baba how do you spell your name?’ And I said ‘what are you doing there?’ ‘I’m just looking you up on YouTube’. All of a sudden, I just went through my mind and started thinking like, what sets of my mine have been recorded and are on YouTube? What if she me talking about something that is horrific and has to go ask her mother, ‘what does this mean, because Baba said it?’. I - they’re just too young. I also want them to proud of their father. They had very poor father as their role model, their biological dad. So I started doing jokes about them, and also, luckily enough for me they were writing my own jokes. They were writing my jokes just by being themselves. So I was getting a constant sort of feed of material every day, every week, and I’m like ‘I don’t need go to that dirty well anymore. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with dirty comedy I did plenty of it. Then I just felt the need to not do it anymore. I also felt like if you want to have a family, if you to have a broader appeal that’s you best bet to be able to do corporate work… I am happy with the choices I have made. Having made those choices, you get in situations where you have to follow comics who have been very dirty, and sometimes that dirt is landing so well as it was tonight. I’ve crafted my act to be something where (pause) it should work no matter who I follow, no matter which kind of comedy they do.

ZR: How do you decide what is too dirty and what’s not right now?

AH: Well the audience decides. Effectively the audience decides you know, and they’ll tell you what’s funny or not. Now if you’re doing all of your comedy in a University environment that’ll be a different decision that’s made for you, versus if you’re in dark dingy basement clubs. It’s when the club comic goes to a university and sort of, doesn’t have that sensitivity, it gets to be a little bit of a sticky situation.

I had just started doing comedy I was two three years in and McGill my alma mater called me back to speak to the frosh class. It’s like 2000 people and in the afternoon another 2000 people.  Very big audience incoming frosh -‘talk to them about what McGill meant to you, how it helped shape you, the idea of getting involved, this kind of stuff. So I’m meeting with the lady who organizing this and she said ‘I just want to go over words that you can’t say’ and I go ‘absolutely no swearing no retard, I got it don’t worry about it’. She goes ‘ya great and words like lame’. I was like ‘what, lame? Let’s go over this list together again because I really don’t know.’ I was lucky to that lesson 6-7 years ago, to help me make better choices when I’m in front of a younger, especially a university audience.

ZR: What’s next for you?

AH: The word blessed is so clichéd cause everyone’s like hashtag blessed you know, but I feel really, I’m so constantly grateful. [...] A lot of the work I do get’s me more work like it or from it. I started doing a lot of voice work and a lot of writing, which I didn’t really realize I had a knack for a sort of sitcom and film writing, but it’s coming a lot more easily then I thought it would. Especially with my ADD I find it very hard for me to focus, but because I enjoy it so much focus isn’t that much of an issue. The next thing I’m doing, my buddy Dave Merheje and I got a development deal with the CBC on a sitcom loosely based around in his life.

ZR: There are funny people here in comedy, but where are they?

AH: At the Canadian comedy awards there was a joke where anyone who got an award, it was almost for sure that they were being canceled next year. As soon as something is celebrated, somehow that means it’s not moving on. We see so much talent go south from Canada.

 

ZR: Is Gerry D our Saviour?

AH: Gerry D, I think has provided us with hope. Shitts Creek has done the same. […] There’s glimmers, maybe more than a glimmer, there’s good signs of hope right now that we can create something special in this country. There’s a pride that I see is coming back.  Whereas, you know in the past people were [like] ‘Like Canadian television I would never like Canadian television.’ After a while man were the problem, the people who keep saying they’d never watch Canadian television it’s garbage. We’re the problem. Support it, maybe’s there is only one show you like, but at least watch that one.

ZR: Anything you want to say to Guelph?

AH: This is a great place to hang. We were just talking about the pride of Canada […] there’s a resurgence of pride in this city. […] If you can avoid it you don’t want to be the city that isn’t quite Toronto. You’re carving out your own little identity here and it’s working.

 

Previously, Hassan has appeared on stages across Canada, the United States and internationally. You may have spotted him as uncle Stevie in the film Goon, or on the small screen in Man Seeking Woman, which plays on the FXX network.

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