Ali Sultan Q&A

September 21, 2020
Ali Sultan is a ground-breaking Yemeni-American comedian.

“Meeting Kevin Hart was surreal and exactly how I imagined it. He was bigger than life but also very down to earth and kind. He put me at ease because he was a comic before he was anything else. He cracked jokes and made us laugh. I love Kevin. I was a fan of his before he was a star and it meant the world that my first TV credit was from him.”

How was it breaking in on Minnesota stages?

I think Minnesota is a great scene to start comedy. When I started it was a predominantly white scene but now there is a lot more diversity. Stand-up is uncomfortable by nature so it is nice to not feel unwelcome because you don’t fit in. I kept my eye on the ball and kept grinding and overcame jealousy, implicit bias and myself. I did my best to make the scene less segregated and I think it is a lot better now.

You were the first Yemeni-American comedian to be featured on TV when Kevin Hart selected to you to be on Comedy Central’s “Hart of the City.” What was that moment like you when you met him?

It was surreal and exactly how I imagined it. He was bigger than life but also very down to earth and kind. He put me at ease because he was a comic before he was anything else. He cracked jokes and made us laugh. I love Kevin. I was a fan of his before he was a star and it meant the world that my first TV credit was from him.

Your mother has a remarkable immigrant story—arriving here years before she was able to send for you—and you two have such great chemistry in your podcast “Stories With My Muslim Mom.” Is it safe to say you got your comedy gene from her?

I definitely get my charm from her but the funniest guy was my uncle Khaled. He is probably is where I learned funny.

Your comedy comes from stories and not the cadence of set-up and punch lines. It reminds me of Chapelle. Who are some of your favorite comedians who are also storytellers?

I love Dave Chappelle, Kevin Hart, Patrice O’Neal, Wanda Sykes and Norm Macdonald.

A while ago you launched the showcase “People of Comedy” as a way to empower young POC comics. Is it frustrating not to be able to put these on now after George Floyd because of Covid?

I am just happy there is comedy at Sisyphus Brewing and Acme. We will get back to it when it is possible.

What was it like performing in Dubai for Comedy Central Arabia?

It was dream-like. I got the news out of nowhere and had to do the special two weeks later. Felt movie like. Very exciting and life changing. It made me quit my day job.

You launched a comedy-and-salsa-dancing night a while back. Where did that idea come from?

I used to take salsa lessons and I loved the dancing community. I knew that they would be great audiences and I knew comics can use that fun atmosphere as well.

You’ve mentioned that you have an idea for a cooking show called “Home Spice.” Can you find good Yemen dishes in Minnesota?

I can find them at my mom’s house for now. I would have been a chef if I did not find comedy. Cooking feels like self-love and feeding people feels great. The idea is very much alive and I am partnering with my girlfriend Kelsey, we are in the process of making it happen.

How’s your character Joe Freedom doing these days?

He is retired for now. I only did that character twice and wrote a pilot for a TV series and I am waiting to find someone willing to make it.

What’s next for you?

I have a new podcast that is available on both video and audio called Does This Age Well? I have guests on and we determine if their favorite movie growing up aged well in a fun and humorous way. I am also working on a book, “Home Spice” and a new pilot for TV. I am still doing as much stand-up as possible as well.