While some may recall Fahim Anwar from his small roles in Tina Fey’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and Jerrod Carmichael’s self-titled NBC sitcom, the stand-up comedian is about to strike out on his own with his first taped special, There’s No Business Like Show Business. In the first of what will be several new original stand-up hours distributed by NBC’s streaming service Seeso, Anwar — a former aerospace engineer who quit his daytime job to pursue comedy full time — spends most of his time introducing himself to the audience at home. Since most viewers probably aren’t familiar with Anwar’s comedy, it’s a smart move.
It also informs his material, which hops between the current (and undeniably Islamophobic) political climate in the United States, hipster pigeons, and fooling his father with scripted television and NBA Jam. As random as this may seem, however, Anwar’s quips about everything from Uber drivers to his father’s struggle to accept his comedy career validate his decision to leave behind a steady job building airplanes. Even if, as Anwar tells us, his dad “has a Scarface concept for what a successful stand-up comic or entertainer is supposed to be.”
I loved your Snoop Dogg impression. It was quite good.
Really? I mean, I thought it was serviceable.
I thought it was fantastic.
That’s funny. Maybe it’s in my arsenal now.
Have you seen his show with Martha Stewart, Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party?
The one with Martha Stewart? I’ve seen clips here and there, but I haven’t sat down to watch a full episode. It feels so shticky, and I just don’t know if could ever be as good as it seems. Like on paper, putting Snoop and Martha together for a show makes sense. I get it.
When did you put There’s No Business Like Show Business together?
Not that long ago, actually. Right after Trump won — yeah, we taped on November 16. The comic in me was like, “Do I really have to talk about this?” It was all so divisive, and there wasn’t nearly enough time to talk about it. There was no perspective. And I couldn’t change what I already had for the special. I mean, I had some Trump stuff already but I couldn’t change what I already had. I figured I’d save whatever the election was brewing for the next special. It was just too fresh. The wounds were too fresh.
It’s still divisive, obviously.
Definitely. I just didn’t know if I wanted to do that in the special.
How did Seeso enter the picture?
I’d been trying to find a home for this for a while. Not that I’d already shot it, that is, but I already had the hour and the main concepts behind it developed and ready to go. For the last two years, at least, the bulk of it was ready to go. I was just trying to find an outlet, and I was in this weird place where I’d done some late night stuff, but no one was willing to greenlight it. Every artist has their own struggle, especially comedians. Especially younger comedians, yet while a lot of them have been progressing, I’ve still been hitting walls. I had this hour and everyone was saying no, and I kept struggling with whether they were saying no to me or the idea of me. Maybe they didn’t know what it even was.
So we decided to film the hour while I was headlining the Comedy Store in La Jolla, California. A few buddies of mine came in and helped out with the recording, manning the soundboard for audio, and we put together a proof of concept for what the hour would be. We sent that out, and I decided if they said no, I’d figure they didn’t like the hour — as opposed to me — and it would give me piece of mind. But Seeso loved it, so it all worked out in the end. They were my last ditch effort before I was going to go ahead and shoot it on my own.
They’ve been putting out a lot of great stand-up specials and comedy shows — Janeane Garofalo, Cameron Esposito, Wyatt Cenac.
It’s been great. I love Laurie Kilmartin’s special, as well as my buddy Brent Weinbach. He taped his special last month and I’m so stoked about seeing it come out. He hasn’t done a special in forever and he’s one of my favorites. I like what they’re doing over there, and of course they’re bringing in bigger talents like Doug Stanhope to draw more traffic. But it’s a nice mix of people you should see and people you already know.
I’ve seen your routine on Conan and elsewhere, but you’ve also had several acting gigs as of late. Films like Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and shows like The Carmichael Show. Do you have a preference for either?
I love stand-up the most. All of it’s great, but stand-up is where I started. I’ve been doing it for 14 years no, it’s just what I do well and it’s nice to have a calling. I can have an idea today, and then later tonight I can just talk about it and get that immediate gratification. Plus it’s my own thing. I’m constantly tweaking it and making it better. It’s my own project. When I act in something, however, I’m doing someone else’s stuff.
A few acting jobs are more in line with what I do, whereas others are just jobs. And you’re always serving someone else’s work in those instances. Though sometimes it’s fantastic, especially when you’re collaborating with fantastic people — like Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which put me in a room with Tina Fey, Margot Robbie and all these other great performers. That’s very exciting. But then other times I’m doing Disney shows. [Laughs.] It’s still a cool job, but it’s not that fulfilling.
What about when you’re performing others’ work that is fulfilling? We’re big fans of The Carmichael Show, and while your part was more of a comedy straight man, it appeared in one of the second season’s most topical episodes.
That was so weird, doing drama on something that’s more of a comedy. Though it was a pretty cool because I knew Jerrod before he made it. That’s the thing with stand-up comedy — you know just about everybody before they manage to climb the ladder, or if they ever do. I remember seeing him at the Comedy Store, and I knew [Carmichael Show producer and writer] Willie Hunter, [fellow writer and Meltdown co-creator] Emily Gordon and all these other people.
Doing that show was great because all my friends were there, and it was a good experience getting that part. I mean, I’ve done dramatic roles before so it’s not too crazy of a leap for me. I’m fortunate enough to be a stand-up who can do drama, and I actually like doing drama too. It’s not necessarily easier, but it isn’t too much of a stretch for me. It’s fun to do.
You mentioned you’d been doing stand-up for 14 years. Does that start with you quitting your engineering job, or earlier?
No, after high school. I did stand-up all through college but it was never really a stable job then. It was all very premeditated. I was getting a degree in something else, something “practical” so I could support myself while I pursued this other thing. Three and a half years into building airplanes, I decided I had enough to make the jump. It’s not like it was easy money once I quit the other job, but it just felt like the right time to do it.
It’s just seems so unique, since the stereotypical entertainer either doesn’t have a backup plan at all or supports themselves with random odd jobs, usually in the service industry. Meanwhile, you were building airplanes.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I had a very concrete gig. The trick is stand-up is a night game. Bartenders, waitstaff and so forth need to be super flexible so they can work at the drop of a hat. Sometimes its daytime, sometimes it’s at night. At least with engineering, it was nine to five. Comedy shows would usually start around eight or 10 at night, so I’d drive up to Hollywood to do that. It was totally doable.
Sure, but those sound like really long days with long hours.
Oh yeah. I was burning the candle at both ends. Plus, I told nobody at work because I didn’t want them to think my performance was being affected by me doing stand-up every night. And I’m a very normal person, so I’m not going for jokes all the time when I’m not on stage. Sometimes when people hear you’re a comedian, they have this perception of who and what you are, and they want zingers all the time. So I decided to keep the two worlds separate and never told anyone at work I was also doing stand-up on the side.
Based on your bits about them, your parents sound equally wonderful and hilarious. What do they think now that you’re doing stand-up on late night and acting professionally?
I was talking to my mom on the phone last night, and she told me my dad was worried about me. “What are you going to do?” I’ve given up on my dad. I mean, I love him and everything, but until I pull up in a Maserati, I don’t think it registers for him. I just need a crazy house, a big car and all this other stuff for him to realize it’s okay. My mom is cool. My brother’s cool.
I’m picturing you taking a page from Eddie Murphy’s Delirious and showing up in a ridiculous sports car while wearing a leather outfit. Then your dad will finally be okay with it.
Totally. He has a Scarface concept for what a successful stand-up comic or entertainer is supposed to be.
How does your family feel about being a part of There’s No Business Like Show Business?
I don’t think they’ve ever seen some of the bits I included in the special, like when my dad was fooled by the Independence Day promo on television. They definitely will when it comes out, but I don’t think they’ve ever seen that or other bits whenever they came to my shows. Besides, that’s more of a storytelling bit and I don’t always tell those when I’m doing shorter sets. But for the special, it just felt like a nice home for them, because it’s towards the end and by that point everyone watching has already heard me discuss my dad. They already know him through the other material. So he’ll definitely be seeing it soon. It should be interesting. I wonder if he’ll remember that story.
Fahim Anwar: There’s No Business Like Show Business streams Thursday, March 9th exclusively on Seeso.