Read an interview with Maqbool here, from our Arts & Entertainment section.
At 6:30 on a cloudy Friday night, students poured into the lecture hall in Wilson. The crowd was buzzing with anticipation to watch comedian and actor Danish Maqbool take the stage in a stand-up comedy event organized by the Muslim Student Association and University Programs Council.
One student took the stage in a short but funny improvised bit to open up the show as the comedian was running late due to traffic. He cracked a few jokes before Maqbool rushed into the room to a crowd of roughly 200 cheering students and jumped right into his performance.
MSA and UPC collaborated on bringing comedian Danish Maqbool to the University for a special stand-up performance for students. MSA is a student-led organization on Grounds designed to provide a supportive community for Muslim students at the University and to help them overcome the challenges of navigating a predominantly white university. The group often hosts its own cultural, religious, career-oriented and social gatherings for Muslim students to enjoy.
Muaaz Luqman, third-year Commerce student and outreach chair for MSA, spearheaded the effort to make the event happen after Maqbool reached out to MSA.
“I've always thought it would be cool to bring in a comedian over here. Danish, and some of the work that he's done, I'm a fan of,” Luqman said. “And so I just thought that this would be a great step for us towards maybe building off of this, and it's something that I think a lot of our community would enjoy. We felt that opening up to UPC and the wider U.Va. community was a good idea just because he's relatively well-known.”
Maqbool is a 33-year-old comedian from New Jersey whose parents immigrated from Pakistan. He has been doing stand-up for the last nine years and plays a supporting role as a 7-11 cashier in the Hulu comedy-drama “Ramy”. He started out his career playing and broadcasting video games professionally before he found his calling in comedy. Currently, he has been performing stand-ups at colleges around the U.S. by simply reaching out to their Muslim organizations via e-mail and arranging a performance.
Maqbool’s material during the show ranged from relating how it was growing up Muslim in the U.S. — especially after 9/11 — mixed in with some crowd work, as he interacted with audience members. Maqbool asked questions and improvised jokes, creating a personal one-of-a-kind performance. The comedian teased students in the audience, establishing memories for the entire crowd.
“I'm sure they bonded over this now because a lot of them were called out,” Ali said. “That was an experience too and I think this will be something to look back on and laugh and enjoy overall, and to bring up to their friends and just get tighter overall by coming to events like these.”
First-year College student Mahdi Alidina attended the event and found the stand-up to be enjoyable. Even though he admitted he hadn’t initially planned to come, he was glad he decided to attend.
“A lot of his jokes were based on race and his religion which I did not expect, which I find to be pretty funny.” Alidina said.
As a Pakistani Muslim, Maqbool acknowledged how his identity plays a role the way he approaches comedy. He emphasized the importance of intersectionality and proving that there’s more to him besides his ethnicity and religion.
“I'm not just a Muslim man,” Maqbool said. “I'm not just a Pakistani man. Just showing people that there's more to us than just that, because we're so proud. Pakistani people, Muslim people. Anybody coming from anywhere, should be proud of where they're from.”
While Maqbool said he is glad for being promoted by people from his community, he is well aware it isn't a coincidence that other Brown comedians are the only people that are sustaining and promoting his career.
“You get boxed in because other people don't give you opportunities, like they give everybody else,” Maqbool said. “And then, it's like the opportunities you're getting are from Brown people mostly.”
Shahira Ali, fourth-year College student and president of MSA as well as UPC cultural connections committee director, helped make the Maqbool’s performance possible. Through her connections in both UPC and MSA, she acted as a key facilitator in coordinating the event.
Ali emphasized that she wanted to create a sense of representation and open students’ eyes to more possibilities in their careers.
“That's why we bring in speakers we bring in, comedian, or lecturers … doctors and professions where we can just get exposure to different Muslims in different fields so that we can have Muslim students just look at them and be like, ‘Oh, is that like, you know, do I see myself in them?’ Or, ‘Do I want to pursue that or just a different thing I can do stuff like that?’” Ali said.
Maqbool echoed this sentiment. With a lack of Brown representation in the field of comedy, Maqbool looks to be the change he wants to see and encourage others to follow their passions in comedy.
“I did have that fleeting thought of, I'm sure there's gonna be another Brown kid that comes in representing me,” Maqbool said. “And there wasn't — there was no Pakistani kid that came… So you have to make a mark in the world. And there is a space for you to do it — and you gotta take that space.”
After the stand-up performance’s success, Ali hopes to do more events like these and has big ambitions for MSA’s future. She was encouraged by the large attendance, so she desires to keep up the pace and bring in more influential figures.
“But hopefully in the near future, we can probably get Hasan Minhaj over here. So that's the long-term goal or even short-term if that happens,” Ali said.
Regardless of future performances, Ali gave Maqbool the stage to address and relate the realities of being a minority in America for the young students. Maqbool wrapped up his stand-up by expressing that he thinks that the country may not be heading in the right direction. The audience often chuckled and murmured in agreement with this idea. However, Maqbool also made sure to affirm that the future generation themselves have potential to impart change.
“That even though America is f—ked, you should believe in yourself — because you're not. So I would say we definitely gonna talk about how we are just screwed right now. But, that doesn't mean that you're screwed. And I think that's very important.”