Stand Up & Deliver: Becoming The Comic
Photo: Steven Padilla
When you’re around as many comics as I am, you get used to hearing the younger comics talk about the greats, but it’s something completely different to hear most comics—rookies and veterans alike—discuss their adoration for one comic. It is rarer, still, for that one comic to be a newbie. Jaffer Khan is the only Houston comic for whom pretty much every Houston comedian will sing the utmost praise. The only Houston comic that I’m aware of to be punched by an audience member, Khan takes the long route when he makes you laugh about hot topics like the sexes and religion. FPH caught up with him to find out what makes Houston comedy’s most promising up and comer tick.
FPH: How long have you been doing stand up?
JK:Well, I started my last year of college, in College Station. There was a weekly open mic there at a bar called Schotzi’s that’s still going on today. I didn’t start pursuing it seriously until I moved to Houston, about two years ago. That’s a total of about three years.
FPH: What made you get into stand up?
JK:It was nothing about the craft in particular, except that I loved it. I’ve loved stand-up most of my life and got particularly into it in high school and college, to the point where I had my own ideas for bits and jokes that I would have in my head, fantasizing like I’m performing them on stage. Eventually, a guy I worked with in school told me he did stand-up at a local bar, so I thought that I should go up and try. I pretty much completely bombed my first two times, then something clicked, and on my third time up I had a new set of jokes that actually worked.
FPH: You might have the most long form jokes, in that you go far out there to get to the punchline; isn’t that an insane risk to take?
JK: Haha, I wouldn’t say it’s an “insane” risk to take. Although I have longer bits, I’m still conscious about the amount of laughter I need from my material. I’m comfortable having a long moment of explanation because I know when I get to the funny, I have a lot of funny planned. Plus I like talking about things that are interesting to me and sometimes that just takes some explaining. I’m also not the only one like this, some of my favorite comics are totally fine with longer periods of setup.
FPH: You’re always, always working on new material, no matter where you’re at, be it an open mic or a regular show. Is there a typical Jaffer Khan set, or is it always evolving?
JK:I guess it’s always evolving. I have my 30 minute feature set that I’d perform as a middle act in a comedy club and that’s the product I’m always working on. At the regular open mics is when I try out new bits or hone works-in-progress. I do write a lot, so I always have something to work on.
FPH: Every Comic that I’ve interviewed brought you up. “He’s so killer,” “He’s the most amazing joke writer,” “He’s got the mechanics to be the biggest comic to come outta’ Houston ever.” Who are your influences, both past and present?
JK:It’s hard to say which famous comics have actually influenced my own comedy. I started by writing the only jokes I could think of, and now I’m at a point where I write what’s personal or interesting to me. My favorite comics are Patrice O’Neal, Doug Stanhope, Dave Chappelle, Louis CK, Bill Burr, and Stewart Lee, so that does say something about the style I prefer. The one guy I’d say who has directly influenced me is Ali Siddiq, a Houston comic who is immensely talented. He’s the one who pushed me to start becoming “real” on stage, to start becoming the comic I didn’t think I was ready to be yet. I owe a lot to Ali for the inspiration, which came from many conversations I’ve had with him about the craft and from simply watching him perform.
FPH: Chris Rock said once that “the ability to talk to a room full of people and make them laugh while holding their attention is freakish.” Do you feel that way about stand up?
JK:Yes. Like I mentioned before, I started out at a bar in College Station. Being a bar in College Station, it was usually a little to very rowdy and not the most ideal place for a comedy show. But I remember the first time I was on stage there and everyone was actually listening. Everyone. Meaning, in between every sentence I spoke there was complete silence in the room. They were actually hanging on to every word I was saying, and when I got to a punchline, they laughed and wanted more. I’m used to that feeling now, but at the time it was exhilarating. Then again, right now I’m used to the feeling with a room of 200 people. Doing it in front of 2,000 people would probably give me the same feeling as it did that night in College Station.
FPH: What’s a misconception people have about you?
JK:Probably that I’m so killer, the most amazing joke writer, and have the mechanics to be the biggest comic to come outta Houston ever.
Jaffer Khan is capable of making his audience think as much as he makes them laugh. You can catch him working new material at most of the open mics around town, and look for his Podcast in a Car online. You can also catch him on September 20th, when he performs on the Oddball Comedy Festival at the Woodlands Pavilion.