Tastemaker: Danish Anwar

Sometimes it takes a painfully demanding or unfulfiling job to incite us once and for all to finally follow our dreams. For Toronto-based stand-up comic Danish Anwar, it was selling online advertising to escorts that gave the final push he needed to make the jump into comedy. These days, as the founder of Toronto Comedy All-Stars, Anwar not only performs stand-up regularly, he puts on some of the funniest, side-splitting comedy shows in the city as a producer. One of Toronto Comedy All-Star’s hottest tickets is “Your Hood’s A Joke,” a comedy series featuring comedians from two different Toronto neighbourhoods that face off only to have one neighbourhood named the superior in the funny department at the end of the night. We caught up with Anwar to find out more about what makes him laugh, life on the comedy circuit, and why he thinks the Your Hood’s A Joke series is “as 416 as it gets.”

1-hi Res

Tell us a bit about yourself. What should people know?
It’s a pretty standard story so tell me if you’ve heard this one before. I was born and raised in Moscow to parents of Indian and Bangladeshi descent, spent 19 years bouncing around the world before arriving in Toronto in ’04. After dropping out of university, working in a call center selling cellphones to retirees and then a search engine selling online advertising to escorts (100 percent true and legal), I finally made the leap to stand up comedy.

I’ve loved stand up for most of my adult life (favourites include George Carlin, Stewart Lee, Mitch Hedberg, and Louis C.K.) so it was only a matter of time till I hit the stage. I love smart, political, and progressive comedy – so people can expect the same from my material.

You’re the founder of Toronto Comedy All-Stars. Tell us about it. What’s it all about?
I used to throw dorm parties when I lived on campus at York University, and used that experience to start producing comedy shows. I’m a comedian first and foremost, but being a producer pays the bills. I started the label to present the most progressive, intelligent, and talented stand ups in North America. That is no exaggeration, and our track record of sold out shows is proof positive of my claim.

It’s known in the comedy world that Toronto is an incubator of white hot talent. After all, Canada is renowned for producing some of the best comedians the world has seen. Stars such as Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, and Russell Peters honed their craft right here in TO prior to hitting the big time. International comics often point out that the quality of Toronto’s local scene is above and beyond most cities in North America, including powerhouses such as NYC and LA. Chances are you’ll see the next Jim Carrey at a Toronto Comedy All Stars show.

You’re hosting the upcoming Your Hood’s A Joke series. Sounds edgy! What can audiences expect?
Audiences can expect the time of their lives! Since Canada’s best comedians – by extension some of the best in the world – live right here in Toronto, we’re talking about literally hundreds of supremely talented jokesters crammed into the GTA just itching to prove themselves. They are your neighbours. They’ve been on HBO, MTV, Just For Laughs, and also at your local No Frills. You just don’t know it.

Each show features two ‘hoods repped by three comedians each (an opener, a middler, and a headliner), and they are scored by three civilian judges on a scale of 1-5 (judges cannot reside in the ‘hoods competing that night). Winners are decided by total points. We also have some giveaways for audience members, sponsored by local Toronto businesses. This show is as 416 as it gets.

It doesn’t matter if you live in Scarborough, Leslieville, Downtown, Roncy, Etobicoke, Liberty Village, or anywhere in the GTA. You name a ‘hood, and we can assemble a comedy squad that’ll do your block proud.

When did you first know you were funny? Was there a moment?
Third grade, bored out of my mind, I picked up a couple rulers and pretended to be a dancing ninja. Two girls laughed and I was hooked.

Name three things that always make you laugh.
The Second City Toronto – hands down the best live comedy in the GTA and one of my inspirations. Go catch a show… now.
– Rush hour on public transit. A million Torontonians wearing their 50 Cent face while listening to the Lumineers and passive-aggressively jostling for elbow room – priceless.
– My dog Spidey. Animals are ridiculous.

Who do you think are some of the most underrated – even if they’re already famous – comedians of our time?
There are plenty who are overrated-and-famous. It’s a very Canadian thing to be underrated, even if you’re the most talented act on the bill. Comics like DeAnne Smith, K Trevor Wilson, and Mike Forward deserve way more attention, and readers would do very well to Google them right now.

What’s the big dream for you? What do you hope to do in the next, let’s say, 10 to 20 years?
Very few people get to make a living doing what they love, and I’m very fortunate that with some luck and a lot of hard work I’m already living the dream as a professional comedian.

In 20 years, I’d love to be doing the same thing, while being a whole lot better at it. Nothing beats a live performance, so bigger venues, larger audiences, funnier jokes. I can live with that.

What’s your favourite restaurant and why?
Get Melted Café at 600 Church St. in Toronto. Four words: Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. It’s a stoner’s paradise.

Let’s get social for a mo’. How can people stay up-to-date with your busy life?
My Twitter (it was gov’t issued, just came with my passport) is where you can get updates about my dog Spidey, upcoming shows, and thinly veiled political rants. Also, Toronto Comedy All Stars’ Facebook page, danishanwar.com, torontocomedyallstars.com.

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