Street Fashion for The Westheimer Curve - Houston, TX
Street Fashion Photography for the Westheimer Curve - Feb 2014
Street Style - Houston, TX (Feb 2014)
I’ll be shooting street fashion every Saturday (pretty much) for the Westheimer Curve. Come by and make the cut.
Street Fashion in Houston, Texas.
Savannah Lee - Houston, TX, 12/2013
Ali Hassan on being Ali Hassan
A few months ago, I got to meet Ali Hassan in Toronto. Ali is unusual. He is a Pakistani-Canadian and speaks fluent Urdu, Punjabi, English and French. He is a regular on Canadian TV. He has learned how to process success and failure very quickly and was willing to talk to me about it.
Hearing him talk was important because Ali Hassan wears many hats. He’s an MBA grad, a chef, a standup comic and an actor. As a comic and an actor, in seven short years he has appeared in three international movies and is a series regular on Canadian National TV with George Stroumboulopoulos’ Comedy Panel.
When I met him, I found Ali to be articulate, enthusiastic and very down to earth. He talked about his successes and fallouts with equal sincerity. That, coming from someone who’s fast-tracking himself as a mover and shaker in the entertainment realm, is vastly refreshing. It also helps that the guy is also really funny.
Q Where are you with your career right now?
You know I used to shit on Toronto quite a bit. And I can’t say one bad thing about the city. I moved here in Sept 2010. The day after I got married ‘Breakaway’ started shooting. A month after that, ‘Goon' began shooting and I went to Winnipeg to shoot my scene. Breakaway was the top grossing comedy in 2011, Goon was the top grossing comedy in 2012. Then my son was also born in 2011. And then CBC gave me this wonderful opportunity to be on Strombo’s (George Stromuboulopoulos) show. We just wrapped 160 episodes of Strombo’s show on CBC. After that I got this wonderful opportunity to host Laugh Out Loud. Somehow I have become this CBC darling, which has come against…not against all odds really, but against my expectations, certainly.
This journey really began back in Montreal in 2009. Montreal was just a grind. My friend, Amir and I would get together and try to make one thing after another. Amir is a creative guy but an extremely impatient human being. He says to me “Let’s work on something. You’re a chef, we could put something together around you doing your food-thing”. We figure out a concept for doing a six-minute segment on the local university not-for-profit radio station (McGill’s CKUT) called “There’s More To Life Than Hummus”. So we start doing that and Amir says “Look you’re a Muslim guy, I’m a Muslim guy. I’m sure you want to do more for the Muslim community.” I say “Eh… do I want to?” and he says “ you should want to.” Because we don’t do enough and this is something that will let you give something back to the community. Now there is this show called Caravan that runs for one hour a week on their airwaves and presently what happens is that some woman reads dispatches from the Muslim world for about 20 minutes and it’s the saddest, most depressing thing you can ever imagine. She talks about these many deaths in this country and the number of Muslims killed somewhere else. And I’m like I don’t know if we have any connection to that. And he says for the last quarter of the show, you can put together a recipe using some ingredient from the Muslim world. And I said, you know what, why not?
And we start recording this thing using ingredients like, let’s say, pomegranate or lemon or thyme. All these things that are used in different Muslim countries. So it was a lot of fun for about six months, and like I said, Amir is very impatient and he suggested we take this to CBC. I said you know, look I’ll come over on Friday and we’ll work on our pitch. He couldn’t even wait till Friday and just writes directly to somebody at CBC. He foregoes the whole process of filling out different forms and says screw all this, I’m just going to email these people. So we get a call from this woman at CBC and she says this is very interesting, I just shared this with my boss, he really likes it and I’m going to put him in touch with you. All I’m going to tell you though is that we can’t have a six-minute show on CBC. So you have to find a way to make it 26 minutes long. We’re like oh okay what do we fill it with? And she says I’m not going to tell you what to do…do whatever you want to but then this producer – her boss – calls me – and this is where this story gets interesting: We have this connection made with this producer. He calls us and tells us this is better than 99 percent of the things coming across my desk. We were like, what more could we hope for? The producer says I want you to come up with an idea for a show. So we think of doing a mock talk show kind of like how Frasier was and how he had Rozz sitting in the booth as his producer so I came up with this guy Moosa who owned the show and who hired me playing the straight man. So we put together an 11 minute segment for the show, share it with the producer and ask him what do you think of it so far…we’re like 1/3 of our way into the show? And he says this is great, let’s make it more Muslim. So we agree, work on it some more and then submit an 18 minute version. He gets back to us and says this is really coming together, it’s a very funny show…don’t be afraid to dial up the Muslim on this. We felt really good and decided we were going to go where “Little Mosque on the Praire” left off and be far more edgy and push the envelope a whole lot more. We now give him 22 minutes and he says, yeah, this is great…sprinkle some more of that Muslim on. We do that, send him the final product and he says this is great, I’m going to present this to my bosses in a couple of weeks and see where it goes.
So we already get commissioned for a pilot, Amir and I start doing the math of how much we want to be paid per season, we start writing ideas for future episodes and we were excited – this is going to be amazing. Anyway the day he presents it to his boss they pass on the idea and he gets back to us to tell us that they passed and we’re not going to go with it. We asked him what happened. He said “Meh…they found it ‘too Muslim’ “. You asshole! 9 months of working with you and trying to turn it more Muslim on the basis of your notes. So he says try starting over and this time make it a little different. We couldn’t! Like Amir said, we get commissioned to build a Ford and right near the end we’re asked to change it to a Nissan. That’s just not possible, the chassis, the very core is just completely different and we can’t change it. I remember feeling that this was some kind of bias being played against me but you realize later that this is part of the industry. It’s all about timing. Back then, with that product, it wasn’t my time. That year, 2009, felt like a year of just rejections. And then the next thing you know in 2012 I get hired for the Strombo show.
So where I find myself right now, it’s like, the timing is very good for Ali Hassan.
Q So those three years in the middle, what was it like being in your shoes?
I used the material from the rejected show as jokes for my stand up. You just try to move on.
Strombo’s show came out of nowhere. It was just a cattle call for all the improv comics and sketch artists out here in Toronto that they knew. At the audition, I see all the other comics, my buddies, and I tell myself that this is as much of a crap-shoot as anything. Plus earlier that morning, I cut myself shaving and this mole above my lip was bleeding profusely. I kept taking a napkin to my face every few seconds during the audition and it was really distracting. I was convinced I don’t have this. But then I get a call from the producers: “Hey we’d like you to come in for a blood-free audition”. And so I had my second audition and then was called for a third and a fourth. And during this time, I just kept writing, because comedy is my anchor…I realized that a little into my career. There was a brief period in the middle where I let go of my comedy for a while…and this was when I was getting signed on to do these three movies in a span of three months (French Immersion, Break Away, Goon). I let myself get into that frame of mind “Hey it looks like I’m going to be a movie star here onwards”. And that was so wrong; that’s not how it works. So then I was like “oh okay, I’m not a movie star yet because these movies haven’t yet come out. I have to wait for them to come out.”. It was so not the case and when there were no more movies coming my way, that’s when I realized that comedy is what I have with me throughout, to fall back on. It’s a game of patience, and you just have to keep plugging away. So I always treat comedy as my anchor. I can’t let that drop. I won’t be in that embarrassing situation again.
Q When did Comedy start for you?
Comedy was originally a means to an end. I was a chef and I wanted to be on television. I was auditioning for all these Food Network casting calls and I’d get these positive feedbacks in a sense where the people would say we didn’t pick you this year but we really want to see you again next year. I started getting better at juggling the comedy element with the precision you need with cooking – they don’t come naturally to me. So it was a skill that needed to be developed. But I really wanted it…I wanted to be on television putting together meals and entertaining people. I gave cooking lessons for ten months and now I really wanted to do this on TV. So I go to this food conference and I meet this woman called Elizabeth Baird. Elizabeth is like a star in the food world…she had her own show and at the time she was the editor-in-chief of Canadian Living. I figured, here’s my chance, let me get the advice from a master. I start chatting with her and ask her that being a guy like myself who would like to get on TV what would you suggest is the best thing I could do? “You know, Ali you just need to try to get on television as much as you can. Learn to work the camera and build your confidence”. I thanked her over and over again for her advice and when she leaves, I’m like what the hell do I do with that advice? It’s not like I have access to television cameras or that there is a crew on every street corner to film people. What’s the action item now that I have this nugget of information? How do I put it into practice?
At the time, I had a friend who ran a desi community television show and I asked to be on the show. He was encouraging, called me over and I had a great time doing that and I was ready to come back again. But he said to me, you know Ali, I don’t think it’s going to be for another couple of months..I’m sorry, man but we need to focus on all these other desis in Montreal doing other things with their lives. But then, I started getting gigs as an MC for desi weddings. These desi weddings often have say 500 people in attendance - a big crowd. And I started treating them as my “television” audience.
Q How old were you at the time?
I was 34. And also at that time, I had just gotten out of a horrible relationship and it really felt like I had broken free of my shackles and had gotten out of prison. I really felt like if I ever meet someone who had actually been in prison …I’ll never say it out loud because I’ll sound like an idiot…but I can literally relate to the mindset, you know – “I’m going to change my life around, I’m going to do something different something I never had a chance to do.” And that’s what I did. I said to my friend Q from Josh that I really want to do stand up because I want to get on television. And although this is not televised, I can at least treat the audience like they are a television audience, I can treat the stage like it’s a televised thing and I can work on my persona and this will build my confidence. So Q, God bless him, helped me out for a couple of months. He had his studio equipment set up in his basement and I worked on coming up with material and “performing” it on the mike. He would play it back to me and I’d work on it some more. He even added laugh tracks to give me an idea of what that would sound like. And so finally he says “Bro, I don’t know what to tell you. We have done all that we can with this equipment. I think you’re funny, you already know that. It’s time to go out there and perform in front of a crowd.” So I hit the stage, and performed my first set. I don’t remember much about the set but I remember the laughs were coming and after the set my knees almost buckled and my body was like “What did you do? This is completely crazy!” And this was a proper club, the Comedy Club in Montreal, which has since then become my home turf. I invited Q and one of my best friends, Zack. Zack was going to record my set on his camera. Zack was so nervous for me he forgot to press ‘record’ on his camera and so there is no footage of that performance. But I fell in love with comedy immediately. I went on to perform a second set which went great and then for my third set, I invite my friends. 18 of them show up. The crowd is 23. I get up on stage with all this confidence. And I just bombed! It was bad! At one point, I step on my own microphone cord and it unplugs, I interrupt my own joke to say something like “hey guys, uh…can you still hear me?” It was just bad news. The jokes were just not landing. I was nervous. I start thinking about the light, wondering if it’s falling on me just right as I move around. It was a horrible experience and 18 of my friends got to witness it live! And so Rup (also from Josh) pulls me aside and says, “Yeah ok so that wasn’t great and you know that. But you’re not going to grow if you kill every time, you learn from these fuck ups. You’ve got a lot you can learn from tonight, don’t you?” And I said “Yeah I actually do”. So he says “Go back, focus on that and now let that make you stronger”.
Q You already had your camera experience with Rup and Q because you were in their first video.
That’s right! Yeah! And I was doing exactly that in the video (jerks head towards the sound of martini shakers at the bar). And apparently when Josh would tour, they would get random people coming up to them and asking about “that bar guy” so I got more attention from that than I probably deserved! There was this guy who was in my MBA class in Hamilton who was now in Pakistan and he says to the two “I know that guy from the video” And the boys were like “Who fucking cares?! Do you have anything to say about the video itself? You know we were in it, it’s our music!” But obviously, that was his little excitement, since he left Hamilton, he had this little connection from his past life that he could relive for a moment just because of my face in that video that was getting air time in Pakistan and India. Yeah that was a fun time. I did the catering for that crew during the shoot, behind the scenes, and I also got to be in the video. So it was a fun experience.
So MBA, chef and comedy. Give me a timeline of what came first and how it led to the next.
When I was a teenager, I really found some comfort and solace in trying to put together a meal. I wasn’t experienced or trained but the one innate talent I have is to be able to visualize flavors in my mind. I have a great palate. With 95% accuracy I can think up combinations of flavors and figure out if they will work or not.
I was making my own sandwiches because I hated my mother’s sandwiches. Bless her soul, she was working a day job and tried to do the best she could. She would make me sandwiches with white bread and kraft singles the night before, the tomato would just soak through overnight and the next day, the sandwich would become soggy. I’d be looking at my buddies opening their little lunch boxes with pastrami sandwiches and little pickles and chips on the side. I’d say to myself, this is inhuman the way I am being treated! And so finally my mother says, “Look, you don’t like it? Go make your own sandwiches!”
So that’s where it really started and I had fun experimenting, making omelets with olives and feta cheese – all the stuff my dad loved and brought home. Granted I knew nothing about technique but that chef bug was always there. But after I took a break from my MBA and I said to them, this is what I want to do – I want to become a chef, their response was “Baqwaas na kareya kar!”. (“Don’t talk nonsense!”). So I said, alright there’s going to be no support here let’s see what else I can do. And so I look at two buddies of mine and say “He’s pretty stupid and that guy has never impressed me with anything intelligent, ever. These guys are both doing very very well as IT consultants. So with the worst logic for starting a career ever, I said to myself, “If THEY can do it, I can do it!” And sure enough, I was the world’s worst IT consultant. So I am living in Chicago, which is great, but I am working in Deerfield Illinois, trying to bond with these other guys and they ask me did you see last month’s “Computer World”? And I’d say, “No, did you see last month’s Food and Wine magazine?”. The consensus was I didn’t really belong there. And even in the IT class that I needed to take to get to Chicago, the people were like, you shouldn’t really be doing this. Every module, we’d have to come up with a project incorporating some backend system with a real world situation and I’d be convincing my team to create a system for a food warehouse or say a front-end reservation system for a restaurant. One of my friends from that class says to me, what are you doing here? Your obsession with food is unnatural. Clearly you shouldn’t be doing this. You suck at every module I am in with you. You need tutoring to help you get by. You love food. Why aren’t you in ‘food’? And I was like, how do I explain “Baqwaas na kareya kar” to this white boy?
Anyway so that opportunity landed me a job in IT in Chicago. Great place, made some great friends. But I really hated the job. A few months later, I got laid off. I was laid off on Friday, and was the happiest laid off person you would have ever met. But what cemented my fate was the following Tuesday…when 9/11 happened. There was no way I could get back into IT even if I wanted to. I thought of shifting into IT Presales because I loved talking to people more than I did working computer systems but there was no way a guy like me could get into that in the wake of 9/11.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that in a strange way, 9/11 paved the path to where I find myself right now. Because after I was laid off and 9/11 happened even when I try and do some networking in the IT field on my own, I am told with blunt honesty that there is no way I can be hired. Not in this field…not now and possibly not for a long time. In retrospect, I can respect that but at the time, I wasn’t sure if the guy who said these words to me, also a brown guy, an Indian, who had his own IT company, was being a dick to me or not. That’s when I said okay I gotta leave Chicago, even though I love it here. So I pick up a temporary job with a construction company, making a hundred bucks a day waking up at 4:30 in the morning and working alongside these Kiwis and Aussies (everyone working illegally) and the goal was to head back at the end of the year. During that time, I learned a lot about food and fed a lot of people. I focused on trying to buy an ingredient that I had never bought before and told myself that I am going to make a dish around it. So I got short ribs for the first time and then Latin ingredients and spices I had never tried before. And then, in 2005, I also had a catering company.
Q. What is the earliest or biggest ‘win’ you can remember?
It’s tough with comedy to have a single moment. There are ups and downs. When you feel that ‘up’ you tell yourself you want that again…you want to relive that. So that rejection from the radio show always fueled me.
I did a show in North Bay, Ontario, once. It’s called the COCAA (Canadians On Campus Activities Association). I drive six hours to get there and I’m hanging out with these veterans of comedy who between them had to have some 45 years of experience. We’re kicking back with corn dogs and beer and I’m enjoying myself. A couple of hours in, I figure it’s getting late I should probably get to bed…but these guys aren’t going anywhere. Now I only had two years of experience at this point. I did not stop to think what that really means for me. I should have known that I was blessed to be at the COCAA this early in my career. Anyway I wake up, not feeling very well. I had only three hours of sleep and was feeling shaky. COCAA is made up of third and fourth year college students who are the heads of student activity committees for their respective schools. They come out to figure out who they are going to book for their event next semester. Now I’m there and I just bomb like a 0 on 10. The other comics are used to it. When you’re in North Bay, all you do is drink. The audience is hung over. I’m hung over, but I am not admitting it. All I needed to do to change that situation is say “Show of hands – who else is hung over” and then I’d raise my hand and say “Yeah! Me too! When in North Bay…” and we would have been on the same page from the beginning. That’s it. So at that point, because I bombed there, I lost out on many opportunities that could have come from COCAA. At that time, I thought about stopping comedy for a couple of months and just regroup.
But then I make this other trip to Montreal - a long grueling six hour drive. And I am running late - I am supposed to be hosting the show when I am actually stuck in traffic. When I get there, I don’t even have time to park the car. Q actually runs out to meet me and park the car as I scramble to get on stage to a packed crowd of some 350 people. And I had so much pent up energy in that moment that I could share with the crowd and channel into my comedy and my performance that night, it turned into something really special.
Q. So is that part of your process now, that you know how to “rev” yourself up to that level before going on stage?
Yeah it is important. Sometimes you don’t feel it until you’re actually on stage. Some days it’s hard. With three kids, you’re bound to be tired sometimes and I’ll be dragging my feet…but I hear that first burst of laughter from the audience, and I’m just rejuvenated and it may just be a five minute set but I’d walk off stage a completely different person from the guy who went on moments before.
*At this point we hear a little girl crying in the background…somewhere in the restaurant*
Some chick’s getting broken up with. She’s really letting it all out. Don’t worry honey you’re going to be okay! You’re going to find somebody else.
Q. Okay so would you say you’re a really funny chef or a comedian who knows how to cook really well?
That’s a great question. And it’s a very difficult one for me to answer. Right now, I’m a funny guy who cooks well. And that’s only because at the moment, my cooking, at least professionally, is almost on a bit of a hiatus. That had to be a deliberate choice because perception is a huge part of this industry and that’s why my goal is to have my own cooking show because then you can be in someone’s home maybe have an assistant, and really be perceived as this food show guy with a good chunk of credibility.
Q What gives you that sense of validation?
It’s two words: “instant gratification”. I don’t know why I am wired that way but my two passions both give me that. Laughter is immediate and somebody’s reaction once they taste your food is immediate. The longest you have to wait is say when you’re working in an industrial kitchen and you can’t see the guests. Then when the plates come back to the kitchen is when you get your gratification.
Q Okay so then what role does money play in your life?
I know it should be really important…it should play a really big role in my life, especially now, with a family of five, more than ever before.
Long before I heard the saying “Do what you love and the money will come”, I was a firm believer in that. No one had articulated that to me nor I had ever known it to be a ‘thing’, but that’s just what I believed in all along. And I’m not a pious Muslim guy or anything who will say “Inshaa Allah” to stuff. But there’s the basic faith I had that The Big Guy is looking out for me and He’s not going to let me fall too far.
And yeah, I definitely suffered for my art - I was in debt for a while. But I was able to maintain comedy as ‘my thing’.
Q I’m sure it helps to have an agent now who can do all your hustling for you.
Yeah I actually had an agent back before I even had anything. No movie, no festival- credit. And Kim comes up to me and says I’d like to represent you. And I say “Absolutely Kim!” I don’t know why, but I guess that’s what people do. So Kim is someone who believed in me from the beginning. She’s an agent in Montreal and is still very enthusiastically behind me. Whenever I need to talk to her I can. Some of these agents at the bigger agencies in Toronto are hard to get face-time with so I have lucked out in that regard too.
Q So right now, what’s your ‘method’? How do you organize everything into your workflow?
What I try to do is get some writing done every week. I would love to be able to write every day of the week but that’s not always possible, you know. When you also want to exercise, and do the groceries and cook for the kids, there’s only so much that you can actually get done in a day. The writing right now can vary from a sitcom pitch I’m working on or putting together a script for someone. It’s still all enjoyable – I don’t need to motivate myself to get into the groove, not like it was in University.
So writing is a huge part of my week, performing is a huge part of my week, and then something I learned from my days as a caterer: I try and stay on people’s radar. They need to be thinking of you. Because just like in catering, I can cater someone’s event and they can say this was a fantastic meal, the next time we have an event, we’ll definitely pick you. That next time can be in a year, and in that year, they’ll have their friends telling them of some new restaurant or some other caterer. So you have to find a way to send those emails and figure out ways to plug what you’re up to and to stay in touch. I try to do the same in comedy: stay in touch with people with related interests. So the national Comedy Awards are coming up. I’d be stupid not to mention this and touch base with directors I have worked with in the past. I have to reach out to these guys and be on their radar and indirectly I’m asking them to participate in the industry-wide voting and to obviously vote for me.
Q We talked about money but how does the ‘income’ thing come about. How do you make a living?
It’s important to figure out a way to diversify as a comic, especially in Canada. Because I get air-time on TV with Strombo’s show, I’m in a unique position to be considered for Speakers circuits and I get booked to host or MC events.
Q At this stage in your career, what is it like being Canadian, Muslim, and Pakistani?
I’m embarrassed to say this but in the first couple of years as a comic, when you’re trying to figure out who you are and what your voice is, I’d say that I was Indian or I would stretch the fact that my mother was born in Delhi or that my dad was born in pre-partition India. And the reason I did that was because culturally certain contexts that are “Indian” resonate more with the Canadian audience - pretty much the way a Bengali opens an “Indian Restaurant” in Montreal.
But soon enough I realized that I had an opportunity here that I am not tapping into. Because Pakistan was getting in the news a fair amount (for all the wrong reasons, of course) I figured I would be remiss to not take this opportunity to spin the public perception of Pakistan more positively. It’s small but it’s at least something I can do with this career. So I would go from show to show and share with the crowd that I am a Muslim and Pakistani and sometimes it would give the someone from the audience a chance to connect with a Pakistani – perhaps for the first time. Hopefully they’d see someone who seemed calm and relaxed and who could make fun of himself as much as he would make fun of them. I just realized that if I could gradually get into people’s psyche and show them that Pakistan isn’t all about death and destruction, that through a joke or two I could express my own outrage at what the Taliban did to Malala Yusufzai, I could perhaps get across my point that the stuff in the news isn’t representative of me or other Pakistanis like me…that there is more to who we are.
Q So between the lines, you’re actually a hardcore patriot?
I’m no hardcore patriot. But there’s a lot of good that comes out of Pakistan. It’s not just “samosas and chai”. The people have a very generous spirit. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more wonderful host than a Pakistani. My background is Punjabi and I’ve always been proud of my culture and the language. My grandfather, Noon Meem Rashid, was a poet in Pakistan and he exposed me to the rich heritage of art and literature of Pakistan that most people aren’t aware of. There’s a lot that I can connect to and relate with. That’s why I said I am embarrassed about that six-month period in the beginning where I dismissed that when I was trying to find my voice. But you really have to be in comedy to know what that’s like because you need to spend a good chunk of time figuring out your style and your direction…whether you’re going to be an absurdist comic or not etc. It really takes time to discover who you are and that’s part of the process.
Q Are you looking for ways to open doors for yourself in South Asia and other regions of the world.
Absolutely. One of the most soul-satisfying and eye-opening experiences for me was performing in Amman, Jordan in 2008. That was the first comedy festival to ever be held in the Middle East and I was asked to be a part of it. And I was called back again in 2009. But in that experience in 2008 I remember I’m sitting on a table with Maaz Jibrani, Russell Peters and Dino Abedalah and the mayor of Amman takes us out for lunch just as the festival is about to start. Now bear in mind that I am just a guy who’s been doing comedy for just two or three years and I’m just bewildered being there with these guys. I’m totally excited and in my own head…going over what jokes I am going to use and how I am going to set them up, you know? And the mayor stands up, gives a speech and in the end he says “I want to thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for being here because you are bringing joy and laughter to a region that is truly in need of it. ” And at that point, I had chills run down my spine and I had this epiphany “Oh my God, comedy is not about you”. Until that point I realized that my motivation for doing comedy was all about my own gratification and now I could see that comedy could be so much more. So since then I have taken on a few pro bono and charity events here and there in addition to my regular gigs. So I am very interested in South Asia and the Middle East in particular. I have been able to network a little in Dubai and there are comedians like Saad Haroon in Pakistan and Nitin Mirani in India whom I’d like to collaborate with. I’ll probably need to modify my sets a little to cater to the different audiences in the different regions but that’s part of the excitement.
Q What’s it like being a family man and how is fatherhood, specifically, affecting your career?
If you had met me in 2007, you would have said that there is no chance in hell that this guy is going to become a father to one, let alone three kids. And somehow, when I met my wife, she brought something wonderful into my life. Just this calming sense of fulfillment and responsibility with taking care of her and her two daughters who are now my own daughters. These girls are wonderful and now I have sown my own seed with my son who is two years old. He is a little devil but I love him to death as well.
This is why my one-man show is called “From Zero to Hero”, because my life just changed completely with the blink of an eye when my wife and I met. We’re very different - almost opposites - and she helped ground me. Fatherhood has come so naturally and effortlessly in my case that it is absurd and for a period I was afraid that somewhere deep inside I hadn’t really woken up and that I was faking it but to this day I feel just as calm and just as strong as I did then. I just really enjoy being a father to three wonderful kids. And obviously there is a lot of comedy that comes out of my life as a dad. Especially with the little guy, there’s so much material there that I can use to connect with a whole new demographic that I did not have at my disposal before.
Q How old are your kids?
They are now 10, 8 and 2.
Q What kind of family support were you getting back then and how has it different now?
It’s definitely worlds apart. My parents were skeptical about me becoming a father when I couldn’t even take care of myself. And I’d be like, I don’t know, we’ll figure out a way. And we definitely have. But I do think my parents are very happy with the developments and the positive changes in my life. It’s very exciting and probably as much a surprise to them as it was to me. At one point I had just resigned to the possibility that I am not going to meet anyone at all.
But I have to say that my in-laws deserve a lot of credit. When I think about how I have two daughters and one of them may come up to me and say I’m remarrying someone who is a standup comedian. I’m sure they were worried, but they looked at the fact that he loves the kids, he loves their daughter and he’s a guy who’s going to do some work (when we first met, I had to be on the movie set the next morning). They’re really great people and help out with the kids a lot. They live only a couple of blocks away from us. But they really handled and embraced this new development with good humor and grace.
Q If you could reboot and restart, how would you change your career strategy?
That’s a very tough question to answer I mean so much good has come as a result of so many obstacles, I’m afraid of coming up with some kind of rebooting strategy that doesn’t even get me here. Because if you think about it in seven years for someone to start as a comic from scratch and then to be on national tv and get recognized on the streets – it’s a huge thing and always takes me by surprise. I don’t know if there really is a need for a reboot. If anything I wish that I could have spent more time studying the craft. For the first two years I was religious about going over my acts after a performance and taking notes. Somehow that has tapered off. That is a shortcoming in me that I need to work on. That’s the only thing I would change where I would be more diligent about working on my sets.
Q What do you see next in your career trajectory?
I really think I have gotten the acting bug, after being in the three movies. Especially with my first movie, French Immersion, I really feel I could have brought more to that role. And now, after taking a few more acting classes, I think I can genuinely do a better job. But up till now, there was really no time to devote to movies…Now with the new season of Strombo’s show about to begin, they have changed the structure a little and I will have more room to maneuver and possibly dedicate to some meaty movie roles.
Also, like I said before, comedy is my anchor so I will continue to write. And one of the things I want to do different is tour more. So in March of 2014, I hope to do a little Out-West tour and hit Calgary, Edmonton and a little bit of Vancouver. And then hopefully in May, do a tour of the Maritimes. And this should be a cool experience, because I get to bring with me that Strombo name too and that gets the people a little excited to see you, which in turn gets you excited to perform for them.
Then of course, I really want a cooking show. It doesn’t have to be on Food Network, it can be on a smaller more discrete channel but that will be the ultimate combination of my two passions.
Q Is there an ugliness to the business that now, at this stage, you don’t have to worry about because you can rise above it all?
Oh I always have to worry about the ugliness of the business. That’s something you cannot get away from. Despite all your skill and your achievement and your hustle, it could well be that one executive from the network gets up and says “I’m not feeling him” and that’s the end of your stint and you’re no longer a part of something that you thought you were great for. You realize this is part of life, you get used to it and you keep chugging along. This is a road paved with rejection but it’s how you handle that rejection that will make you a better-qualified person to finally get those opportunities you have been vying for.
Q I think that’s a great note to end on.
Yeah, ‘rejection’! Always a great end to a conversation!
photo shoot: Canadian stand up comic and actor - Ali Hassan ; @StandUpAli
* wardrobe - Chloe Dao; model - Ashley Pakzaban; hair - Andrea Benson; makeup - Shakespeare Harris *
Jenny and I collaborated on this project to consecutively shoot the same model at the same location and get two distinct looks.
Check out Jenny’s images in the complete set on my Behance page.