Comedian Azhar Usman delivers jokes, philosophy and advice at McSA event


Henry Roach/The Daily Northwestern

Azhar Usman. The comedian performed in Harris Hall Thursday night as part of McSA’s Fall Entertainment Event.

Henry Roach, Reporter

Azhar Usman, a stand-up comedian of Indian descent and a Skokie native, performed Thursday at the Muslim-cultural Students Association Fall Entertainment Event in Harris Hall.

Two students opened the evening with a recitation and translation of a passage from the Quran, which Usman joked about as he began his set.

“I’ve gone to so many comedy events, and every (Muslim student association event) is always great,” Usman said, proceeding to imitate an announcer. “‘We’ve got a great comedy show for you. Before we get started, here’s some verses to remind us of the hellfire.’”

Usman delivered an animated set, exploring topics like the pandemic, cryptocurrency, cultural appropriation and media corporations.

Weinberg junior Hisham Ahmad, McSA executive vice president, recruited Usman to speak for the event after seeing him perform in Chicago. He contacted Usman through MUSE Bookings, a booking agency for Muslim speakers run by Northwestern alumni.

Ahmad said Usman accepted McSA’s payment offer for his time despite it being lower than his normal speaking fee. The comedian went on to perform an extended set.

“He really, really delivered and went above and beyond,” Ahmad said.

In a Q&A following the set, Ahmad asked Usman about his career change from law to comedy. Usman shared the best advice he learned as he shifted his career: Instead of asking what you want to do with your life, ask how you want to spend your days.

The comedian also spoke about Muslim stereotypes in television, especially on the show “Ramy,” for which he is a staff writer and co-executive producer. A lot of content on the show is controversial, Usman said, but at the end of the day, it’s about “personal taste.”

“Would I rather live in a world where ‘Ramy’ on Hulu exists, or would I rather live in a world where ‘Ramy’ on Hulu does not exist?” he asked. “I would rather live in a world where ‘Ramy’ on Hulu exists. So I take the good with the bad and I pray that God forgives us and guides us to get better.”

Usman told The Daily he enjoys speaking at colleges, especially when he spends time with young Muslim people. He said he feels like an uncle sharing his experiences with listeners who might benefit from hearing his mistakes.

McCormick junior Fardeem Munir said he enjoyed the event. Munir was one of the audience members Usman called on, leading the comedian to riff about his name, which the student said was “an honor.”

Munir said the combination of funny and serious topics during the comedy set and Q&A was perfect for the student audience.

“It was very funny, but also very deep,” Munir said. “As he said, Northwestern’s full of a bunch of nerds — but we also want to have fun.”

Ultimately, Usman talked about creating art, and specifically stand-up, that will appeal to all audiences and stay relevant.

“The goal is to make art that will last and will stand the test of time, and the way to do that is to make things that are timely, but also timeless,” Usman said. “One of the great paradoxes of stand-up comedy is the more hyper-specific the comedian makes their act, somehow, miraculously, the more universal.”

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