This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Read about Maqbool's comedy event here, from our Life section.
Organized by the University Programs Council and Muslim Students Association, New Jersey-based stand-up comedian Danish Maqbool performed at Wilson Hall last Friday.
The professional gamer-turned-comedian and actor has been making his name by headlining over 80 colleges and appearing in New York City and Washington, D.C. comedy clubs. His most noticeable feature was his part in season two of the Hulu original “Ramy.” The Emmy nominated series gives a first-person narrative on the modern Muslim experience, which is very prevalent in the stand-up of Maqbool.
The night was a hilarious success, filled with interactive comedy and relatable jokes for the Brown and Asian audience members. Coming from a community which is culturally suppressed by limited representation in the arts and entertainment industries, Maqbool showed it is possible to excel in unfamiliar territory. For those seeking inspiration in the same field of stand-up comedy, Maqbool spoke on his upbringing in an interview with The Cavalier Daily, as well as the challenges he faced along the way.
The Cavalier Daily: I know that you were previously a professional gamer, so what made you want to shift from that environment to becoming a comedian? And were there any certain figures that inspired you to make that change?
Danish Maqbool: Yeah, I mean, I was always a funny guy. Even in high school, I was a class clown. And I fell in love with stand-up when my brother brought home a Def Jam comedy DVD, and it had all these great comedians, especially Chris Tucker. Before puberty, I could get an exact impression of Chris Tucker, it was actually amazing. Post-puberty, it wasn’t the same.
But I always reference this story, because there was a clear point for me. There was one night where I had two of the best gamers in the world at my crib, right, and they're staying over. And we're playing this game on a Nintendo DS, which is called “Whac-A-Mole.” And so you're whacking a mole — we all know what whack-a-mole is. And we were playing for three hours — I went to bed at like 2 a.m., “I'm like yo ima head out.” And I woke up, eight hours later, and these guys are still playing. And at that point, I was like, dude, I don't love it like that.
I don't think you should be in something like this if you don't completely love it. Because work is so passion-driven, that the people who do really love it, they're gonna completely outwork you and you'll never really be able to make a mark, just kind of meandering through life at that point. And I just felt limited talking about video games. I would love to talk about my own perspective. So I gave everything up and just started doing stand-up. And I gave the excuse of going back to school to my mom and that was the focus from [age 23 onwards]. And I just had my life flipped, and I'm 33 now, so that was it.
Do you remember how your first stand-up act went?
Yeah, it went good. It went pretty good.
It was at some bookstore down in south Jersey. I had been writing for two years. I knew a few comedians because one of the kids that was a local comedian, who's still one of my great friends, Jordan. So I reached out to him. And then he came over and he looked at my jokes. He's like, “These are great.” And he was so encouraging. And so that was big, just early on, encouraged.
Nobody really told me to go do stand-up. And I was really funny, too. And nobody said it. You know what I mean? I look back at that now. I'm like, “Why didn't anybody tell me to go do this?” And I think that was probably the best thing that ever happened to me, just the lack of encouragement. It really pushed me.
I guess you could say that encouragement from friends and peers is what drives you as a comedian? Or is it deeper than that?
Yeah, I mean, you all always need driving factors that are new and challenging and exciting. And then there's obviously real layers from trying to make my family name proud. Of course, that's the biggest thing in my life, the lack of encouragement from the people around me really put a chip on my shoulder on some, "You'll see one day" energy. That still drives me — I think that's healthy. I don't change my attitude towards my friends too much, and I've maintained all my friendships. You start to see a lot of these attitudes change towards you because whenever you chase your dream, there's always gonna be some people who are not chasing. Who are just going to put their limitations on you. That's their whole goal because they just need to feel better about themselves when they go to sleep. And I learned that pretty quickly. And yeah, you just learned how to deal with that. And it drives me for sure. It has driven me way more than it does now.
Specifically, at this moment in your career, what do your parents think of you being a full-time comedian?
I think they're waiting for me to sell a TV show. Get a big gig. I've been so close so many times. And I think they all haven't worked out for the right reasons, I think that's what they're waiting for. They're waiting for their kid to have a steady paycheck, so they can relax. Because even though I can pay my bills, and that's an “alhamdulillah,” you know — God is great for that. I think, when you're a parent, you just want a steady paycheck. I'm married. Even my wife has a steady paycheck. And when it's dry months for me, she's what keeps us going. Without her, I would not be able to do stand-up at the level that I've been able to do it. It takes a village, so I think that's what she would say.
What's the process for you when you write down your jokes?
When I'm most disciplined, I'm waking up at 4 or 5 a.m. and write for a few hours, before the sun even comes up. There's that mode, and then there's a lackadaisical mode, which is cruise control, and I've done both, so obviously, the former is way more productive. So I try to stick to a schedule as much as I can.
My one good doctor friend is always telling me about the “circadian rhythm.” I do try to apply all that. When you're operating around people at such a high level, even if it's not in your complete nature to do so, you have to push yourself and I failed a lot at that. I've seen people around me outwork me a lot. And it's been humbling, to say the least. I have a lot of wins too, but when you're operating just around kings and queens, people just really just dominating. You have to learn from that.
What do you hope for the future generations of comedians?
You always see a kid in a comedy show, and you could kind of tell they want to be a comedian. You always see it, I would say about 30 to 40 percent of the time. So it's pretty common. I was doing the same thing and there were people that were really nice to me along the way. And comedy, you want, I want somebody that I consider way doper than me, like a Pakistani to come along. You know, I think it'd be dope if it was a woman, because they're so underrepresented, especially in our culture. That's what I desperately want. I want for comedy to grow. And I know that there's enough room for me. I think that because a lane was created because people grew up, you saw a lot of opportunists come where they weren't students. They just wanted to make some money, or they wanted fame. And yeah, every industry is poisoned by these people. This is nothing new. As a purist, you get a little bit upset with that when you first start out, and then you learn. That's really it. You learn.
After concluding the interview and watching him speak to countless students after the event, it was warming to witness a humble and grateful celebrity. Maqbool may be naturally funny, but he understands that the work ethic in the stand-up industry is not an inherited trait. He has put in the hours, made connections, performed across the country and kept his true friends close.
In an industry that is contaminated by envy and competition, Maqbool supports other comedians — such as Ramy Youssef and Nataly Aukar. He is a strong believer of pursuing dreams, regardless of outside criticism. At the forefront of everything Maqbool does is passion. He is constantly creating on all social media platforms — Spotify, Tiktok, Youtube and more — where comedy lovers can listen to more of his content.