WORDS BY PATRICK STRAIT
When Abzi—who performs under his mononym—started performing at open mics last summer, he fell in love with comedy right away. While he would hit up five or six stages each week, he also noticed that there weren’t many Somali faces in the crowd, and decided to begin plotting a way to share his love with his community.
“I noticed a gap right away,” he says. “The first thing I noticed was that all of the open mics served alcohol, which deters Somali people right away. I needed to find somewhere that didn’t serve alcohol. I wanted to have a show where comedy was the main focus.”
This past March, Abzi hosted his first comedy night at the Soomaal House of Art, located in a densely populated Somali community.
“I wanted to have a show that would be consumable and digestible for a Somali crowd,” he continues. “And the feedback was 100 percent excitement. We had a larger crowd than I expected, they enjoyed my comedy, and they enjoyed the comics I brought in who I thought people would like.”
Since then, Abzi has continued promoting shows with an Eid edition of his monthly showcase at Prince Music Company at the Mall of America, though he plans to head back to the Soomaal House of Art and other venues in the coming months.
“I want to do something once a month, and I want people to know that no matter where it is, that they can trust me to put together a really good show,” he continues.
Beyond the venue, Abzi also recognized that the Somali audience can be very different than your standard comedy crowd, and is doing his best to tailor the shows to meet them where they are.
“Your average Wednesday night bar shows are comedy fans,” he explains. “Comedy fans are desensitized to a lot of stuff that Somali people aren’t used to. Like, if you make a vulgar joke in front of a comedy fan, they can ignore the vulgar stuff and laugh at what’s funny. If you make a vulgar joke in front of a Somali person, they’re just going to hear the vulgar part.”
That’s not to say Abzi hasn’t booked an incredible eclectic mix of comics for his shows, with all sorts of background and comedy sensibilities, including the likes of Ahmed Khalaf, Randall Reid, and Gabby OK.
“The lineups are just people who I find funny,” he says. “The audience I’m looking for are people like me. I have a very high bar for what I think is funny. As a Somali person, if I find them funny, I think other Somali people will find them funny too.”
Abzi is also quick to point out that he isn’t one to censor comics or set strict guidelines for what they can talk about onstage—for the most part.
“I just want them to be funny and not disgust people,” he says, laughing.
As for his own comedy career, Abzi says he plans to keep performing on his own shows as well as other shows at clubs and venues in town and hopes to start applying for comedy festivals later this year. But whether he gets picked up by a certain festival or club, Abzi has no plans of waiting for the right opportunity to knock on his door.
“I think stand-up is about finding your people,” he says. “As in, people who like you and your jokes. That’s what I’ve been doing with these shows that I produce.”