The Next Maz Jobrani? LA’s Ali Malik
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
If you're expecting terrorist jokes from the 28-year-old Pakistani American, the joke's on you. He's got real laughs up his sleeve.
By Liam Jamieson
- Others might sing in the shower. Ali Malik grew up imagining performing standup comedy.
- Now the Pakistani American comedian is rapidly emerging as a performer in Los Angeles comedy clubs, marking a dramatic journey from a conservative upbringing and a past life as an Uber driver.
Showing up at North Hollywood’s Ha Ha Comedy Club with friends late on Monday night, we were struck that the venue was packed. But then again, what better way to cap off a Monday than with a drink and a barrel of laughs. And after all, this iconic Los Angeles venue has been home to rising stars and big names such as Maz Jobrani.
One such rising star is 28-year-old comedian and host for the night Ali Malik, who I’d come to meet. Malik warmed up the crowd with a bevy of jokes mostly at the audience’s expense. Then, stepping up to the mic in between performances, Malik, who’s been in comedy for just three years, maintained the crowd’s energy even as the show crept into the early hours and some patrons ducked out to head for bed.
So who is Ali Malik and why should we care? To start, his path so far has been one of battling against the odds. He describes himself as the poorest kid in the wealthy LA suburb of Chino Hills in his youth. “I grew up with a very conservative family,” the comic recalls.
Ever since I was a kid, I would be in the shower, imagining myself performing.
Comedian Ali Malik
While some sing as a child, “ever since I was a kid, I would be in the shower, imagining myself performing [standup],” he says. “Sometimes I didn’t even have jokes! … I just had the feeling that I wanted to entertain.”
As dreams of performing onstage continued to exist only in his mind, a teenage Malik attended California State University to study business management. But one night, while Uber driving as a side hustle, a pivotal moment came to pass while dropping off a passenger at the aforementioned Ha Ha Comedy Club. “Immediately, my whole childhood flashed through my eyes,” Malik recalls. “’Oh, my God! This is something people actually do!?‘” he thought to himself. A light went off in his head.
It was time to make the jump from the shower to the stage. “I don’t even remember what I said. It was probably really stupid,” he recalls of his first performance in 2017. “But I did it.” Comedian Justin Hires happened to be in the audience that night and encouraged him to keep getting up onstage to find his comedic voice. After that, Malik dropped out of school.
When he broke the news to his Pakistani British mother and Pakistani father, “I mean, they weren’t necessarily happy that I dropped out of college. But for some reason, they were way more supportive than I thought they would be,” he says. Malik’s mother works as a grade school assistant teacher. His father, an accountant, “always wanted to pursue something in theater, drama, improv or impersonation,” Malik recalls. “But he never could have in Pakistan.”
Surprisingly, the pandemic hasn’t spelled complete disaster for his budding career. When it comes to comics who are new to the scene such as himself, comedy clubs have not been taking a cut of gate receipts. What’s more, because big-name comedians have had their own gigs canceled due to health restrictions, they’re instead spending their free time attending shows by new performers such as Malik. (He credits South Asian comics Neel Nanda, Hasan Minhaj and Aziz Ansari for paving the way for him and others.)
Still, being a comic of color is no easy task. “I could talk about terrorist jokes all day long. And yeah, it’ll get laughs. But it’s also been said so many times,” he says. “Sometimes you just want to be known for being a funny comedian.” With his Pakistani American identity, “there’s this balance of knowing how to use it to your advantage and knowing when not to use it,” he says.
But Malik’s identity is something he enjoys featuring in his content. His shows in Chicago, where there’s a large Indian and Pakistani population, are some of the most fun he’s had. “I get to do material that really hits with my people. My ethnicity and culture, people would recognize those things; they’d be able to relate a little bit more.”
So what’s next? Though he’s been auditioning for TV and comedy acting roles recently, his sights remain firmly set on standup. He hopes to film full performance sets at some point, though that’s a process that can take years to see through.
It may sound cliché, but the reason we’re likely to see Malik on a TV screen in the near future is simple: It’s because he’s only in it for the giggles.
“It’s the idea of making people laugh and be happy” that fuels him, he says. “Even if just for a second.”
- Liam Jamieson, OZY Author Contact Liam Jamieson