By Arubiyyah Qadir Balouch
Give us a little insight on how you got involved with sketch comedy?
I got involved with sketch comedy through improv originally. I moved to Toronto for the second time in Fall 2015 for law school – my first attempt in Fall 2014 did not go well to say the least. I ended up withdrawing from the Winter 2015 semester and moving back to Calgary, depressed! When I came back in Fall 2015, I wanted to do things differently – get outside of the law school bubble and hopefully make some friends. I started taking improv classes and joined U of T Improv and I absolutely loved it. After I finished improv levels A-E at Second City, I auditioned and got in to their sketch conservatory program, which was my first real exposure to sketch comedy.
What was your first gig as a comedian?
My first comedy gig of any kind was with U of T Improv. I was on the training team with a bunch of other fabulous folks, and we had our first show at a pub near campus. I remember being incredibly nervous and not wanting to let my teammates down. There were actually only a handful of people there and it didn’t go horrible wrong, so I thought to myself, “hey, that wasn’t so bad. I could do this again.”
When did you realize that comedy was your calling?
After finishing law school, I was articling at a firm and I ended up quitting three months before my articles were finished (mainly due to racial micro-aggressions). I told myself I could take the next six months off to step away from the law and re-evaluate the kind of environment I wanted to work in. I watched a ton of Netflix and cried a lot during that time, but I also kept coming back to comedy. Don’t get me wrong, comedy has its own set of problems, but if I’m going to devote my life to something, I want it to feel worthwhile and meaningful. Comedy – and entertainment/media in general – has a huge impact on the narratives we tell each other and even ourselves. It’s important that marginalized voices take up space in the industry so we can continue to see more of the diversity of the world around us reflected on the stage and screen.
You are a Pakistani Canadian comedian, who would you say your role model is as a South Asian Canadian in the world of comedy?
There are a few, but if I had to pick one: Hassan Minhaj. His story about first starting out in stand-up comedy is very relatable – lying to his parents that he was at the library when he was actually doing shows. I love that he doesn’t shy away from talking about his background and experiences in a way that’s accessible to all audiences, but also celebrates his South Asian roots.
Could you tell us a bit about your Pakistani background and family?
My mom’s side is from Karachi and my dad’s side is from Rawalpindi, which is where both myself and my older sister were born. We left Pakistan when I was about two years old and moved to the UK, the US (where my little brother was born), and then finally settled in Calgary in 2001. Growing up, my mom was really adamant about us speaking Urdu at home and when I was younger, I hated it. Now that I’m older, I’m glad my mom pushed me to use it because language is such a big part of my connection to my extended family and culture. I’m learning how to read Urdu now and, while it’s slow going, I’ve finally moved on to children’s books.
Are there any plans of coming in Pakistani films or doing something for Pakistani Television?
Nothing in the works right now, but if ARY or HUM TV come knocking, I wouldn’t say no!
What kind of topics are your covering during the Toronto Sketch Festival 2020?
For sketchfest, I want to incorporate more physical comedy and possibly the specific type of antagonistic comedy that is part of Idiot clown work (i.e. being “the little shit”). Not gonna lie, I’m still figuring out what exactly I’m doing so I guess it’ll be a surprise for all of us!
What other things can people expect from you at Toronto Sketch Festival 2020?
I’m also performing with my sketch supergroup, the Wow. We’re a mix of newer sketch comedians and veterans, and it’s been great learning from everyone in the group. We’re a wacky bunch, so it’ll be some wacky sketch!
Any advice for young South Asian Canadians who want to get into this career?
Just do it. To get better at comedy – whether it’s improv, sketch, stand-up, clown – you just have to keep working at it. I’ve had horrible shows where I’ve walked off the stage and just wanted the ground to swallow me whole. Just keep showing up and set goals to be working towards that are in your control. For example, maybe your goal is applying to three festivals in 2020. Applying is within your control, even if the outcome of getting in is not. Repeated failure is just part of the game and it’s better to get comfortable with it sooner rather than later.