Stand Up & Deliver: Sleeping Under The Desk
Photo: Anthony Colicci
Right now in the Houston comedy scene, there’s a whole new crop of comics who are hitting stages like a thunderous rumble from the skies. This new class of comics all have their web presence in order, they perform relentlessly, and they’re climbing the ranks of the comedy world quicker than many before them. While Houston has always been known for a strong comedy scene, no Houston comic has popped in as quickly as newer comedian Zahid Dewji. Zahid seems to find his pace later in a set than most, but once he’s going, his shows are heavier in laughs than many comics with ten times the experience. FPH caught up with him to attempt to figure out how he’s gotten so strong so fast.
FPH: I know you’re not from Houston originally, where are you from and how long have you been doing stand up?
ZAHID DEWJI: I was born and raised in Queens, NY, where my parents immigrated from Tanzania (East Africa), before moving to Long Island, and later Houston. I have been doing stand up for a little over a year now.
FPH: You seemed to have really turned a corner set-wise, which all culminated last year when you and some other comics went to NYC. What about that trip do you think made things start going stronger for you?
ZAHID DEWJI: Not really sure if it was one thing; maybe a 100 different small things. Perhaps, feeling some confidence from trying your set in a new city so early on in comedy; doing the trip with friends and comics who are stronger than myself; having honest conversations during that time about what I, we, were bringing to the table and the shortcomings as well. Just the idea of traveling for comedy, something other than leisure, was new and cool.
FPH: Aziz Ansari recently said, “Comics are lazy about stupid things. Like, being a comedian is one of the hardest and most time consuming professions a person can do, but even though I tour kind of non-stop; I won’t fill out a form for the doctor fully.” Do you feel like you can echo that sentiment? That you’ll work tirelessly on a set but you’ll do a bunch of other things half-heartedly?
ZAHID DEWJI: Maybe to some degree, everyone is like that, but, honestly, no. Somewhere over the last couple of years, I rediscovered a work ethic I lost in my early twenties. I knew comedy wouldn’t be easy; that’s probably what I found and still find attractive. My aim is to work on everything I pursue with full commitment, and yet I constantly feel like I should be doing more. But, yeah, I hate filling out forms.
FPH: Favorite comics of the past? Favorite current comics?
ZAHID DEWJI: I more interested in now so currently Dave Ross, Tom Segura, Daniel Simonsen (a comic we encountered in NYC out of Norway), Hannibal Buress, Myq Kaplan, Maria Bamford, Norm MacDonald, Megan Amram, Aaron Barrett, Sean Patton, Louis CK, the list goes on. Past, um.. Patrice O’neal, Mitch Hedberg, Joan Rivers, Harris Wittels.
FPH: You seem to really stretch your legs in a set, where your jokes hit like a ton of bricks stronger in a ten minute set than they would in a five minute set. Is that just your style or where you’re at currently as a comic?
ZAHID DEWJI: Not really sure - but, one time, Victor Tran told me, “You do good, but it takes you like 20 minutes to get a rhythm.” I think there’s truth to that. Anyways, we’re not friends anymore.
FPH: What about stand-up comedy made you want to become a comic?
ZAHID DEWJI: I like the idea of writing and performance as a combination. And like anything, you see people do something and you go: I can do that. And you find out no, no you can’t. I like the challenge.
FPH: You’ve had a really strong year as a comic, yet I think people would be shocked that in that time you’ve worked on a film, you helped illustrate a book, and you have a pretty strong day job at an app development company. Have you ever had a really crappy job, or are you just a super creative guy who happens to have awesome jobs and is also a comic?
ZAHID DEWJI: Thank you. I’ve had a fuck ton of crappy jobs: I got fired from my first job at a hot dog stand on my first day when I was 15; I worked at a shoe store; sold knives door-to-door; worked at the NYU library where I used to take naps under the desks for hours on end ala George Costanza; I once made myself throw up to get out of my job teaching soccer to three-year-olds in college. The stuff I do now, I enjoy, and I like staying busy.
FPH: You get a lot of shows at various venues around town, which is impressive for a newer comic. Is there ever a show you’ll turn down, or have you had to turn down a show because you have so many things happening?
ZAHID DEWJI: Again, thank you. No, I’ll pretty much do anything anywhere. It’s too early to be picky. I once did a senior citizen birthday party with Andy Huggins, where he made fun of me for saying ‘balls’ on stage. If anything, I would like get more shows and as much stage time as possible.
FPH: You’re part of this newer group of Houston comics like Dale Cheesman, Jaffer Khan, and Gabe Bravo. Is it weird to be part of such a strong class of comics?
ZAHID DEWJI: In some ways, yes, because I remember watching them in admiration when I first started. I still do, of course, but now I count them as my friends. Honestly, I’ve learned as much from them off stage through long conversations and quick bits of advice as I have while performing. I don’t think I’d have any success without the people in the scene.
FPH: What’s your idea of a successful comedy career?
ZAHID DEWJI: Steady bookings, personal happiness, and the respect of other comics.
There’s definitely a humble and honest nature to how Zahid does things. While he waits for the respect of other comics, you can catch Dewji on the Stalk Show this Friday at Beta Theater, the monthly Triple Header shows at Beta Theater, The Hell Yes! Comedy Fest in New Orleans in October, Houston Whatever Fest on November 21st & 22nd, as well as varying shows around town.