• By: Luke Barry

Living through it by laughing at it

Photo: Luke Barry

The future of events and performance series: Abdullah Usman 

Some say laughter is the best medicine.

Many might heed this advice in the throws of an anxiety-provoking state of emergency.

Abdullah Usman respectfully disagrees.

“I always say laughter is the second best medicine, Xanax is the first best medicine for sure,” the comic quipped. “It’s up there though, laughter is up there I’d say.”

As a performer sidelined by the COVID-19 lockdown, Usman is one of the many creatives in Ottawa-Gatineau patiently waiting for live venues to reopen.

But he’s not sitting idly by.

Usman has been motivated to diversify in the face of adversity and work on his craft.

“I’ve just been treating it like a full-time job,” he said. “You give yourself a schedule, don’t be too hard on yourself, but go sit at your desk, try to write something, try to make something.

“I’ve stayed with headliners, they don’t just sit around and sleep all day, they’re at their desk, sitting for four, five hours during the day writing and then they go up and perform at night. So just treat it like that, pretend you’re a full-time comic now.”

Prior to the pandemic, Usman had been kept busy with weekly duties hosting and participating in comedy nights at Pour Boy in Centretown alongside his own regular weekend gigs and events around the city.

One of the 23-year-old’s most successful events of 2020, The Two Abduls’ Show, featured ethnic comedians in the capital and sold out Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club in late February.

His comedic outlet has now shifted from the stage to the digital space.

“Obviously you can’t do stand-up, so I’m sharpening my knives in the other ends of comedy, so I’m doing videos,” Usman said. “I’m trying to push out a couple videos every week, that also helps your writing. I write my videos, I have multiple characters, so I’m also practicing my script writing, practicing my video editing.

“A lot of comedians nowadays, up-and-coming comics, are boosted from their social media. If you have a few thousand followers, you might get an opening gig for some big name comedian just because you can draw in more people, so I’m focusing on that aspect of it.”

He admits the past few months have been trying, but at the same time is finding the positives in things.

“Recently it’s been hitting me extra hard not being able to get up on stage, but then again our government is great, we got at least financial support coming in,” he said. “I’ve just been trying to write in the meantime, but it’s tough when you write and you can’t test your material out. Usually I write some material the night of a gig and go test it out, okay, it’s a bad joke, move on, or it’s a good joke, keep it, but you can’t do that anymore.”

And while he acknowledges his return to a live audience is a moving target at this stage, the comedian hopes his perseverance will pay off in the long run.

“I’m doing (all the videos) so I can get more recognition for my stand-up,” Usman said. “I love, more than anything, getting up on stage, there’s nothing like that feeling.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and keep my muscles active, I mean it’s what they say the cowards never start and the weak die along the way, so I’m just trying to not be one of the weak ones and just keep at it.”