Ahmed Al-kadri is a comedian, writer and actor with a vibrant career in stand up comedy, and now he’s coming to Richmond to showcase his talent in a stacked show at presented by Traverse Comedy at Strangeways Brewing with fellow comedian Randolph Washington Jr., and hosted by DeVon Simmons. In the lead up to this spectacle of awesome comedic talent, RVA Mag’s Gabriel Santamaria sat down with Al-kadri to discuss his early influences and what it’s like performing comedy to international audiences with different senses of humor. Get your tickets here and read on for our interview.
GABRIEL SANTAMARIA: I was just checking out your Instagram. Have you ever been to Richmond before?
AHMED AL-KADRI: Have I been to Richmond before? Yes, I have… this will be my second time performing in Richmond. Last time I performed was exactly a year ago actually in the first weekend of November.
GS: Cool. How’d you like it?
AA: I enjoyed it because I got to Richmond early and, and I was like, let me go see a movie, so I went to go see Wakanda Forever and I ended up… it was just me and some random dude. I was waiting in line when I was buying snacks, it was like this guy who was on a business trip and he and I watched the movie together. We even cried together.
GS: Oh, it was like, you crying with a stranger?
AA: Yeah. Yeah. We sat next to each other. We cried together in the movie. It was so romantic. And then he ended up coming to my show. He ended up coming to the show after in Richmond. And he was like a musician. He was a musician now, now has a full time career, wife and kids. And then he bought shirts from me. He’s like, “dude, best of luck on your journey.”
GS: That’s awesome. So you’re doing a little east coast run.
AA: Yeah. Yeah. So I’m doing Richmond DC and New York.
GS: That’s gonna be cool. So, when did you first get into comedy? Did you grow up in LA or did you move out there?
AA: I moved here five years ago. So I grew up in Dallas Texas. I started getting into comedy when I was 21 years old. I started taking improv classes at Dallas Comedy House. Oh, no, I was 22 years old. I was doing improv and sketch for a full year, did some stand up here and there. But I didn’t really take stand up seriously until, like, I was 23 years old. I wanna say, November of 2016 is when I started doing stand up.
GS: So you’ve probably seen stand up, kind of like evolve I suppose.
AA: Oh, a lot, a lot, a lot. Yeah, I was kinda seeing it evolve throughout my career. So I was like seeing it from the progressive of like get a Conan [O’brien] taping, lots of people were getting Conan tapings, and then like the next year or two the next big Netflix boom happened.
AA: So everyone had Netflix specials, and then all of a sudden after the Netflix era, the YouTube era, like Andrew Schultz started the whole clipping game.
GS: It’s huge now, I mean, I just feel like there’s so many more stand ups and specials out now.
AA: Yeah, and then after Andrew, well, now it’s like TikTok TikTok is like the new avenue where everyone just posts stand up on TikTok.
GS: The clips are huge now. What would you say to people who only check out clips? They like clips but they don’t go to shows. What would you say to those folks?
AA: Oh, my God. I tell them that you’re missing out. I mean, the clips don’t give it justice. I mean, even sometimes, you’ll see a clip that did ok, you hear audience laughter, but then you go on stage and then, and it’s like you have to… sorry, I had like seven answers all bundled up in one in my brain. But I’m saying you need to see a live show. A clip just won’t do it justice. It’s kind of like when you see a clip of a comedy show, like, when you see a clip of The Office. It’s like, yeah, that’s a funny moment, but you get more out of it when you watch a full episode. So, it’s like now that times 10, when you see a clip of stand up you’re like, yeah, that’s a cool funny moment, but then you go see an actual hour show – honestly it could be a good or a bad thing. You’ll probably see a comic that you like, you saw clips of him and then you come in and then you see a full hour set, then you like him even more. You’re like, wow, I see where he got to that joke. You know what I mean?
GS: Or you could see the truth, you know, you get to see the truth on stage.
AA: Yeah, or you could see the truth of that bit or you could see… like lots of clips can be hit or miss with editing, and what makes the video so good is how how clear it was, or the captions that pop out.
GS: Do you think like some comics do almost like the sitcom fucking laugh track bit? Has that ever happened? Do you know any comics that have done that?
AA: I don’t wanna say any names, but I do know some quote unquote comics – comedians – who just put laugh tracks, and I’ll tell you this bor, they don’t last long. At first it used to bother me, but they don’t last long because they’re not actually funny. If you have to put laugh tracks in your stand up clips, then you’re not a funny comic and you’re not gonna be working in this industry. It’s all about longevity. Longevity is being funny.
GS: Yes, you got that right. So, when you were coming up what, or who, made you laugh, like comics or movies?
AA: Oh my God. Where do I begin? I like to say my first introduction to comedy was probably Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber. That was probably… well, before that I’ll go even further back. I’d say my first introduction was Mr Bean and Charlie Chaplin and I Love Lucy, because my mom and dad, they’re immigrants from Yemen, so when they first came to this country, they wanted to only see things they were comfortable with, but it was only super old American TV shows. Oh, well, Mr Bean was British but it was very physical. And it’s influenced me a lot because I’m very physical on stage. Like funny faces, funny.
GS: I’ve seen you. You have a great bit about your friend hugging your sister or something like that.
AA: And then I do the robot.
GS: You do the robot. Yeah.
AA: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s a very silly joke. Yeah, it’s one of my favorite jokes to do. Thank you. I really appreciate that.
GS: Your physicality is what really brings it to life though, you know?
AA: Yeah. And I really like being, I’ve always been since I was a kid, just being physical, or doing funny faces because it was like Charlie Chaplin, Mr Bean. I love Lucy. Physical comedy is very strong to me because it breaks language barriers. Even when I do shows overseas, like when I’m doing shows in Dubai or in Turkey throughout this year, I noticed what helped a lot was my physicality, you know. So, even if you didn’t 100% understand English, you were able to understand what I was trying to say because of my physicality.
GS: My, my parents are immigrants from El Salvador, So I thinK sometimes being a first generation American with immigrant parents, you’re constantly switching what culture you’re in when you leave your house and you get back home or whatever.
AA: Yeah. Yeah. Code switching
GS: I think, you know, you try to describe the other culture to the other person or whatever, and I think sometimes the only way they can understand it is if you physically change your face, you stand a certain way, you walk a certain way. It’s the only way to sell that sometimes.
AA: Yeah. And, also a big physical comedy, I love Tommy Boy with Chris Farley. He was a big influence.
GS: He’s the best.
AA: With stand up… it’s funny because I remember when we were kids, we got a Chris Rock special – it was the one of him in the brown suit – and my mom immediately turned it off because of all the cursing. And then we couldn’t watch stand up, but then stand up was like a thing that my mom – literally, my mom hates stand up because she hates cursing.
AA: I know what a fucking nerd. But anyways, she didn’t like cursing. But for me, stand up was this entertainment of like, oh I’m not allowed to watch it. So 2005, when YouTube came to be, and someone put Russell Peters special out there… I think it was like every brown person’s dream come true whether you’re Hispanic brown, Indian Brown Arab brown…
GS: It was like Aladdin, like it was like all the brown people were down with it.
AA: Yeah, everyone loved Russell Peters. So Russell Peters was one, and then axis of evil. It was uh Ahmed Ahmed, Maz Jobrani, Dean Obeidallah and Aron Kader. They were like big influences, and then later on, obviously as I grew up there were more and more influences. But definitely my stand up derives from this, a lot of this physical personal stuff like that.
GS: When you do have to go to a different country, especially if you go to Turkey or somewhere like that, how would you describe that humor over there as opposed to just in America?
AA: America… we’re really big on sarcasm and satire.
AA: Yes, nuance, so we tend to go deeper. Stand up comedy is a very old art form in America, but it’s very new around the rest of the world.
GS: That’s what I hear a lot.
AA: Yeah. So now, when you go overseas and you’re doing stand up, now it’s popular and people wanna see you do stand up. But, for me, I try to be as personal as possible, and to try to get them on my side, and be more understanding of who I am. You know what I mean?
GS: Well, yeah, also you don’t wanna be fake up there. You just wanna give them the real deal, but you want them to laugh too.
AA: Right. Exactly. So, that’s just up to you as a comedian to be as funny as you can.
GS: Hell, yeah. I wanna ask you about this; so I think your show is gonna be at Strange Ways?
GS: Around the corner there’s actually a Shawarma spot.
GS: Which I really like andI eat there quite a bit, but one time I had an Uber driver and he’s Turkish, and he’s telling me about Shawarma, I was, “yeah, I go to this one spot,” and he just goes, “Trash.” He just starts trashing the place in front of me.
AA: That’s hilarious. You know what’s funny; every ethnicity does that? Italians think they know the best Italian spot, Arabs think they know the best Arab spot, and they swear by it too. If you’re not going to their restaurant…
GS: He used to own his own restaurant. He was telling me.
AA: Of course! I have my own. It’s better.
GS: I think my wife is kind of the same way. She’s PuertO Rican. There’s not a lot of places to get Puerto Rican food in Richmond, and there’s only one spot she’ll go to because otherwise she’s like, we could just make this at home.
AA: That’s awesome.
GS: But give a shout out to the people. Who else is on the show? Like, let’s give a shout out to Randolph [Washington Jr.]
AA: Yeah, let’s definitely. So, Randolph, I’m very excited to have him on the show. He opened for me last time. He was the one that got me on the show last year. He was following me for quite some time, he was always a big fan of mine, and then he ended up opening for me and I thought he was so funny. I’m a fan of his too.
GS: I’ve seen him perform a couple times. He’s good.
AA: Yeah, he’s very funny. He’s actually gonna be opening for me in DC as well.
GS: Oh, that’s awesome.
AA: So Randolph is super funny – definitely give him a shout out. DeVon Simmons is hosting, and I haven’t seen him yet, but I’m excited to see his act. We were talking about stand up, and there’s a lot of nuance to stand up. That’s what I’m learning too. I initially got a following from posting sketches and stuff, and the cool thing with sketches is it’s to understand with an international audience. But, when I post stand up, a lot of my international audience don’t really understand it as well. Which is fine to me, it’s not a big deal, but it’s just me up, my job as a comedian is to build this perfect hour, and then when I clip up everything, to make sure everyone understands it no matter what. But, that’s hard because stand up comedy itself, a lot of people don’t understand it.
GS: Ok. I have one more question before we get out of here: top three breads?
AA: Oh, that’s a good one. OK. So right now number one: Hawaiian rolls. I could eat Hawaiian rolls all day. Number two: I’ve been digging sourdough bread, especially if you’re making vegan grilled cheese sandwiches. Sourdough is the beast. You just get vegan cheese – you could get it anywhere pretty much. Well, I live in L A, so you can kind of get it at most grocery stores. And then last, but certainly not least I would say, honestly it’s gonna sound boring but just some good whole wheat bread. It’s good for your heart.
GS: You got that right.
AA: Or multi grain.
You can buy tickets here to see Al-kadri at Strangeways Brewing on November 9th from 7:00 – 9:00 pm.
Photos courtesy of Ahmed Al-kadri