Rush Kazi is about to achieve the comedy dream: an album and a special coming out on the same day
Kazi is ready to be your new favourite non-binary, pansexual, South Asian, Muslim comedian
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
On April 29th, Rush Kazi will simultaneously achieve both of the ultimate goals for a comedian: their TV special and album will both be released the same day. This also almost certainly makes them the first non-binary, pansexual, South Asian, Muslim comedian to achieve either feat in Canada, let alone both at the same time.
While Kazi is very proud of each and every one of their identities, it's important for them to stress that they're also not solely these identities.
"I'm me," Kazi says. "I'm clumsy, I'm a procrastinator, I can be a conman. There were times I have been treated like I'm not Muslim, queer or South Asian enough to be allowed on certain stages, because people didn't know what to make of me. They aren't used to the notion that you can be all of these things at once."
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"Now all of my comedy is de facto Muslim, queer and South Asian, because that is who I am. Everything that leads me to where I'm going is because of where I'm from — my parents being Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants, me spending my late teen years at queer clubs drinking shots with drag queens..."
The first time Kazi told a joke on stage, they were seven years old. They had just moved from Montreal to Toronto when their family took them to their new city's CHIN picnic.
"For those who don't know what that is, it's one of the biggest multicultural annual events in Toronto," Kazi says. "I was sitting in the Bangladesh section and my parents pushed me onto the stage to do literally anything. So I told a really convoluted joke about how I was fishing and some stranger walked by and asked if I was fishing and I responded with, 'No, I'm teaching my pet worm how to swim.' This joke got some polite applause, but mostly it got quizzical looks from the audience — I think they assumed I would sing a song or something."
Fast forward to Kazi's teens, and they were daydreaming about pursuing comedy. But whenever they told that to their parents, they were told, "We don't do that."
"We — being Muslim Bangladeshis — are doctors, lawyers, engineers or accountants," Kazi says. "But then I started seeing comics like Russell Peters (he performed at my high school!), Ali Badshah and Sugar Sammy and was like, 'Wait, did my parents lie to me? These are brown comedians!' To which my parents responded, 'They aren't Bangladeshi; also, they are all men!' So I put my entertainment dreams on the back burner to go get a very practical paralegal licence so I could practise law and keep my parents off of my back."
The comedy dreams kept gnawing at Kazi, though, and by the age of 27 they decided to make their stand-up debut.
"I was wearing a business dress and blazer while I had a cast on my ankle," they say. "The video of this performance is on YouTube if you search hard enough. Within a year, I started a weekly open mic called Laughter Luau that kept going even when the pandemic started (we had virtual versions of it on Facebook Live) and eventually produced a multitude of different comedy shows."
These include Asian Comedy All-Stars (which showcases Pan-Asian comedic talent), MuJew (a Muslim and Jewish comedy showcase), Gaysian Comedy All-Stars (the world's first all queer, all-Asian comedy show) and Comedy Mixtape (a musical comedy show). And now, Kazi is adding to the lineup a special (airing on OUTtv as part of Out For Laughs) and an album (titled About Time and released by Howl and Roar Records).
"Both the Out For Laughs episode and About Time are me, displaying different facets of myself," Kazi says. "About Time was edited by me and the Howl & Roar team working in tandem and is more than double the length of the TV special, so you will see more of me raw and unadulterated. The OUTtv special has been edited down for time and is a lot more queer-focused because, I'm queer, obviously. But what you should expect from both is the raw, vulnerable, confessional, storytelling style of comedy that I'm now known for."
Kazi says that a lot has changed in terms of what they've come to expect from being a comedian with their multitude of identities.
"I know in the earlier days, well-meaning male comics would advise that I do not do jokes regarding things that were overly-femme or too 'complicated' in terms of gender and sexuality so I could be perceived as approachable by cis comics and audience members and be 'one of the boys.' But we have transcended that."
"Audiences have changed and adapted. You don't have to explain terms like 'pansexual' or 'polyamory' or 'bigender.' The audience gets it; they appreciate it. My biggest fans are queer kids and Asian kids who relate to the things I'm saying. And it's really great to see yourself being reflected back at you."
Rush Kazi's OUTtv special and album will be both be released on April 29th. More info here.