In “Muslim, Interrupted,” Toronto comedian Ali Hassan tells the story of how he re-discovered his Pakistani Muslim roots. While his success as a stand-up comic comes naturally, his ambiguous connection to his faith is way more complicated— but equally funny. Hassan’s admissions are deeply personal, but audiences of every ethnicity will identify with his wit and wisdom on the road to self-acceptance. The show, which runs from July 21 to 23 at Montreal Improv, will be presented at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in August.
The catalysts for Hassan’s journey were his four children. “The public school they attend happens to be about 85 percent Muslim. The older three started coming home and asking me questions about eating pork and going to the Mosque. I felt like, ‘You’re asking the wrong guy.’ I suddenly realized I didn’t have those answers… Having a family made it real.”
Hassan grew up in Montreal, as the child of immigrants in a non-traditional Muslim household. “My parents were non-practicing, although my extended family was more religious.” While he never thought of himself as observant, the events of September 11, 2001 impacted the world’s perceptions of Muslims. Hassan, who began his career a chef, reacted by suppressing his conflicted feelings. “At one point, I was thinking of changing my name. I was trying to figure out, ‘Who am I?’”
One day, a friend who worked at McGill University’s CKUT radio, asked Hassan to help him out. “He was hosting a show called ‘Caravan,’ reading letters from people living in war zones like Iraq. He asked if I would share a recipe, at the end of each show. I figured it was my chance to give back.” Around the same time, Hassan, who’d begun performing stand-up comedy, found the courage to speak more openly about his culture. “My joke was, ‘I’m half-Pakistani— and half-frightened to admit it.’”
Though Hassan is not traditionally observant, he now embraces his religion and his heritage, a richness he shares with his young family. “There is more than one way to be a proud Muslim… We are not a Monolithic group.” Hassan has also learned the remarkable power of humour, in challenging stereotypes and misconceptions—even with oneself.
“Ali Hassan: Muslim, Interrupted”
Just for Laughs Montreal: Off-JFL
July 21-23, 7:30 p.m.