When giving comedy a crack finally pays off
It’s not often a snap decision 2
made in the bathroom can change your life. But that appears to be the case for Vancouver standup comic Fatima Dhowre.
The 32-year-old, who moved here from Toronto at the age of 15, spent her youth devouring all forms of comedy.
“I was the weird kid growing up that would go to the library and take out a bunch of comedy records and movies and watch them obsessively at home,” she tells the Straight at a Broadway café. “Comedy’s always been a huge part of my life. Somali people in general are constantly roasting each other. I love being around my family for that reason. I was raised with humour all around me.”
She took the plunge and started performing standup five years ago and has been honing her craft at clubs and small rooms around the city since then. She has branched out from standup and is performing sketches as a member of The Lady Show, along with Morgan Brayton, Katie-ellen Humphries, and Diana Bang.
She says the four-year-old show has inspired her to “think more outside the box and not be held down to a notepad and a mike. It brings me joy every time we get to do a show.”
She says standup is still number one, but her experience with The Lady Show will stand her in good stead. Which brings us to the aforementioned loo.
Seeing her fellow comics get festival spots across the country, Dhowre had doubts she was ready for bigger stages but finally decided to send a tape to the Winnipeg Comedy Festival anyway, figuring she’d never be selected.
“I applied on the last day while I was in the washroom,” she says. She didn’t think anything of it.
Then came the news that she was accepted, and all she could think was “Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit!” It would be her first TV spot. “The whole experience was so surreal,” she says. “I stepped on the stage, my name’s on the big screen behind me, there’s a crowd, people were laughing, and I honestly can’t remember the actual set itself. I was so nervous. Right as I was going on the stage, I felt dual drips of sweat going down my neck.”
The crowd loved her. She felt satisfied. Then she had to wait for a year for it to air on CBC, which it did in April. And then things got really sur- real. “For whatever reason, it just blew up on the Internet,” she says. “When it first started to happen, I was like, ‘What is going on?! Why is this going viral? It’s just my stupid jokes!’ ”
She has received messages from all over the world. But even better, she inked a deal with 604 Records and got offers for road work, writing gigs, and auditions for leading roles on American networks. And she signed with her sister Sabrina’s old acting agent. Sabrina, who recently got engaged to superstar Idris Alba, no longer acts.
Things are happening for Dhowre. Maybe not yet to the point that Sabrina will be green with envy, but close.
“I don’t think she’s jealous at all,” Dhowre says. “She’s riding first-class planes and going to Ibiza every weekend, so I think she’s doing okay.”
> GUY MACPHERSON CHRIS GRIFFIN
Chris Griffin knows what it 2
means to sacrifice for his art. The 37-year-old Albertan was living large in his 20s. With jobs at a newspaper and an academic publishing company, he was able to save up and buy a condo, which led to a house. He eventually started his own company. But he just wasn’t fulfilled.
“There was a feedback element missing,” he says now, sipping beer at the Vancouver Art Gallery Café. “And it was a bit lonely. It was just hours and hours alone in front of the computer.”
Griffin would take his computer to the bar to edit just to feel people around him.
While taking time away from his job to drive a van following the tour bus of Tucker Max, the infamous author of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, Griffin was inspired by L.A.– based comedian Bill Dawes, who was hosting the tour’s Q&A.
On his return to Calgary, he gave standup a try. He was 29.
That was it. “I was like, ‘Holy shit!’” he says. “You get the feedback immediately and you still have an opportunity to put a bit of a message across and also be funny. And it’s the best thing in the world when you get laughs.”
He was getting them, too. A selfstarter, he wasn’t afraid of putting in the work, saying he’d practise his five minutes for eight hours on the day of a show. After three years of hitting open mikes and touring around the province, he sold the house, left his company, and moved to Vancouver.
He didn’t realize just how expensive a proposition that was. He lost all his money chasing his dream here and went into crippling debt. “I couldn’t even take the bus,” he says. “Couldn’t even afford two dollars.”
But his talents on-stage, and his resolve off it, helped ease the pain. In 2016, he made it to the finals of the prestigious San Francisco Comedy Festival, finishing fifth overall, and taking home US$1,400. The grind of that festival helped him tighten up his already compelling storytelling and helped propel his win in Yuk Yuk’s Yuk Off competition back in Vancouver.
“When I did the Yuk’s finals, it was the only time where I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve won,’” he says. “I felt like Mike Tyson. ‘Nobody is going to beat me. I’m going to go out guns blazing.’ I’d been doing pressure sets. It sounds arrogant, but I really just felt it.”
Griffin’s talents will be on full display as he shoots a comedy special over two shows at the Biltmore Cabaret on October 18. He could have recorded an album, but is going all-in with a 4K camera shoot.
“There are so many times I’d listen to great comedy albums but then I’d see the video and I just love it so much more,” he says.
Griffin doesn’t own his own home here yet. He’s got no regrets, though.
“It would have been paid off when I was 33,” he says. “I think about it every single day. And I think about it in a positive way. If I have a good show, I think, ‘Thank God you did that to get to this.’ ”
> GUY MACPHERSON