Interview with Stand-Up Comedian Danish Anwar
How could a comedian named after a foreign flaky pastry, not be funny? At least in an oddball, peculiar way? But any bizarre or strange aspects of Danish Anwar just adds to his comic diversity, his political truisms and many cultural flavours. He doesn’t mind the audience’s confusion, if anything it piques people’s interests, because they can’t quite peg him.
Anwar was born in Russia and lived there until the 1990’s, where his mom studied political science. He says, by comparison, that’s like studying fashion design in Vietnam or ethics in Quebec. Too close? But Danish isn’t a Russian name, and during our interview he explains the roots of his moniker relates to the Farsi language, yet he’s not Iranian. He resembles an East Indian, has a beigy-brown complexion and is a Canadian citizen. All of these factors make travelling through Canadian customs a nightmare. “They think my passport is made on counterfeit paper,” he quipped. In his standup routine, he discusses his east-west diversity and being mistaken for both a super-terrorist and a communist. He is detained at airports about 19 out of 20 times makes racial profiling an ongoing talking point.
Anwar just finished a string of comedy clubs throughout Toronto performing to a very localized audience, where he pits comedians from the east and west of Toronto together, battling with barbs and wit to capture the “hood” in neighborhood. A monitor or scorekeeper declares a winner from the audience’s applause. Titled “Your Hood’s A Joke,” the event and similar showdowns are meant to showcase the comedic talent in Toronto. It’s scary. They could be coming to a neighborhood near you!
According to Anwar, the shows are unique and requires a “niche” standup technique to attract and relate to certain communities. After performing all across Canada, he sees the potential for this type of entertainment, as comedians have to be aware and have insight into their communities. Anwar appears to have a pulse on the changes in Toronto, and notes that his community is undergoing a gentrification process. On occasion, he still sees the odd drug addict on the street corner, which he says he can deal with, but not the C.E.O. of a bank. Boring!
He said he relates best to audiences in Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg areas. The diversity in Toronto is vast, and most people are accustomed to the racial differences and are “very cool” about it, he noted. “Comedy is a reflection of the tension people experience.” Despite what people presume about Vancouver, Anwar believes several districts are trying too hard to be inclusive, which doesn’t work if one draw attention to the differences and not the similarities between people. He applies that philosophy to his comedy, as well.
The media makes appearances deceiving. Anwar said when he lived in Russia, the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s was trying to compete with the U.S. culturally, which was particularly evident in Moscow. He recalls the economic situation being satisfactory, but things quickly changed with the collapse of the empire. Anwar has fond memories of Russia, especially their ice cream and borsch soup. He laughed saying the Russians viewed the Americans as “vampires,” and while he may, or may not hold that same opinion, he did say Halloween was his favorite holiday.
With the American presidential election in the offing, material for comedians is ridiculously plentiful. In fact, “it’s too easy,” he opined, adding: “There are so many problems in the U.S., and no one really wants to hear the truth.” He pondered aloud the possibility of Trump getting elected as president, and said it could be beneficial, if the U.S. imploded. Otherwise, “the slow decline is like death by a thousand paper cuts.”
Political humour and thought-provoking social commentary is what Anwar is all about. He enjoys the challenge, and likens himself to other British political humorists, Steve Hughes and Stewart Lee. His standup routine often involves facts, polls and history, which is challenging and illuminating. The difficulty is taking a serious or controversial topic and “boiling it down, but not oversimplifying it, or compromising my own philosophy in any way.”
DATES, DVD’S AND 2016
Anwar is performing at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on January 9 and May 6, under his company’s banner Comedy All-Stars. The shows will likely be recorded. He is scheduled to release a comedy DVD in the spring, which will be a compilation of his many standup shows. He hasn’t decided what to call it yet, although he likes the words: cliche’ and political poop a little too much.
How about a political comedy show like Comedy Central’s famed satirist, Jon Stewart’s, The Daily Show, or the old sketch comedy: Kids in the Hall? He said Canadian television producers are trying to appeal to the next generation of viewers, which may stymie these ideas. Nonetheless, Anwar maintains an entrepreneurial spirit.
When asked about New Year’s resolutions? He definitively answered: “No way.” He would procrastinate on the very thing he was trying to change.
2015 has been a good year for Anwar with many television appearances, festivals and club dates. While he has a few Ace’s up his sleeve, he hopes next year will be an amped-up version of this year with more shows on the calendar.
Every Tuesday, he is at Lansdowne BrewHaHa, where he performs along with other local comedians. It’s a fun, free show. As an alumni of Second City, Anwar is always ready to get his laugh on. With a name like Danish, the show’s got to be sweet and fattening for the funny-bone.