Brandon Ash-Mohammed releases Canada's first ever queer Black comedy album
Recorded in Toronto this past fall, Brandon Ash-Mohammed is set to release a groundbreaking new album on label Howl & Roar entitled Capricornication, and the comedian is dedicating the first month of sales to charities Black Lives Matter Toronto, SOY Toronto and 2 Spirits.
Ash-Mohammed also appears as part of the lineup of the 19th annual We're Funny That Way live special, premiering on CBC Gem on Friday, June 26th at 8 p.m. ET. The one-hour event celebrating the LGBTQ2+ community includes a lineup of comedy and music from Martha Chaves, Gavin Crawford, Lea DeLaria, Andrea Martin, Lucas Silveira, Deb McGrath, Colin Mochrie, Katie Rigg, Carolyn Taylor, Shawnee, Karen Williams and more.
We asked TallBoyz star Guled Abdi to chat with Ash-Mohammed about his work writing for the first season of TallBoyz, Ash-Mohammed's grandmother, and what it's like to be the first queer Black comedian to release a comedy album in Canada.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Guled Abdi: For the record, it's hard to be impartial for this interview, because I have so much love for you. Congratulations first of all, how did you feel when you first listened to your album?
Brandon Ash-Mohammed: I really only started listening to it last month, at the end of March. And I was so nervous, I had all this anxiety about listening to myself and remembering these recordings. Listening to it made me very proud of myself. I was like "Damn, I actually am talented." I have a really nice speaking voice.
Abdi: That was one of the things I noticed, is that you do have such a great voice. It's like the perfect voice for listening to an album. I could be lying in bed and still enjoying it.
Ash-Mohammed: Very soothing. Shout out to whoever did that, my mom, my dad, whoever. I used to not want my voice to change, when I was 11, I would swallow anti-aging cream so I would not age.
Abdi: Oh my gosh.
Ash-Mohammed: It didn't work.
Abdi: So I've known you for some time, it's been about four years.
Ash-Mohammed: It feels like I've known you for a lot longer.
Abdi: Where does your inspiration come from?
Ash-Mohammed: I don't know where it comes from, it comes from some weird galaxy, far far away, and I'll say things, or I see it this way. It's really weird. It's its own galaxy… weird shit like that.
Abdi: That same energy, you brought when you helped write on the first season of TallBoyz. I loved having you in the room. One of the things that I loved, was you wrote this line, in "Ghost Tour," where a character references Whoopi Goldberg in the movie Ghost. Like, what a deep cut.
Ash-Mohammed: I think part of what makes my comedy special, is that I'm very much aware of the history of certain things in pop culture and its connotation in the zeitgeist. Like a lot of my inspiration comes from Whoopi Goldberg. I really love the work of Norman Lear, with his sitcoms like All in the Family, Maud. At the same time I like weird shit like The Sarah Silverman Program.
Abdi: It's fair to say that your pop culture knowledge is off the charts, and you seem to have such a strong grasp of the history. If I were to ask you about Lady Gaga, you could probably give me the whole chronological history.
Ash-Mohammed: Yeah, I could! Do you want it?
[Note: Brandon gives an exhaustive run down of Lady Gaga's career, which has been cut here for length.]
Abdi: Coming back to your album, I listened to it twice. What I enjoyed most about the album, was that it was clear you were having a blast being your true, unadulterated self. Like, have you always felt this comfortable in your skin and on stage?
Ash-Mohammed: Um, no. A lot of the time I'm very, very anxious. But I remember with that performance, in particular, my dog had died just a couple hours before the recording. Whatever grief I was going through in that moment helped turn off all of my anxieties, like whenever I'm very distraught, or tired, my anxiety turns off, and I'm very, very funny. When I have the most energy, I'm very anxious, I guess. It's toxic, it's not a sustainable way of doing things. I'm learning how to do it in a different way now.
Abdi: Your voice, on the album... you have such a great voice. And sometimes you even sing. Have you ever thought about pursuing a musical career?
Ash-Mohammed: Honestly, that's my secret fantasy, to have a little Donald Glover music career. But I want to do it in the vein of one of those blonde female pop stars, like Gwen Stefani or Lady Gaga. That's my dream, to have this alter ego. My first love was music, and I always wanted to be a singer and I felt like it could never happen for me.
Abdi: On the album, you talk about your grandmother a few times, and I sense that you have a close relationship. How does your grandmother feel about your comedy? Has she seen you perform?
Ash-Mohammed: I don't think my grandmother would get my comedy, because my grandmother has told me she doesn't like comedy, she likes musicals. She doesn't fully understand what I do. Like one time she asked me if I was a drag queen. I don't know what would happen if she saw me perform. But she's a very important part of my comedy. She is very, very funny and funnier than I will ever be. But the thing with her comedy is that she doesn't know she's funny. She's always so stern and frank with everything. But she'll be saying the craziest things while being 100% serious. That's her charm.
Abdi: Now that your album is about to hit the shelves, what are your plans going forward? What's the next thing you're looking forward to?
Ash-Mohammed: I don't even know! This is going to be the first album from a gay Black Canadian, right? And I hope it doesn't only unlock doors for me, but for other people who may want to do comedy. I think right now, what I'm going to start doing is actually more advocacy work. I feel like so much of the history of this country of systemic racism is brushed under the rug, and I really want to start focusing on that and these issues. I'm going to be a lot more outspoken than I have been in the past.
Ash-Mohammed: Well there's me, there's Brandon Hackett, Ajahnis Charley and Kevin Vidal. But to me, I feel that I am underestimated. I'm mostly tokenized and my worth is never seen as what I can do. My work is constantly seen as who I am, and what that means for them. If we need your type of voice for something, we're going to use you for that. But we're not going to use you for your other talents. It's a lot of constantly feeling like I'm crazy because I know that I'm good, but the industry is telling me that I'm not good enough… yet. And I'll watch my peers acknowledge that I'm just as good as them, I'll watch them continue to achieve things and stuff, while I'm pushed back. And that's probably why I'm going to start being more outspoken. I'm also probably going to leave Canada soon.
Abdi: Honestly, I think that's amazing that you're going to be focusing on advocacy. I'm sad that you'll be leaving the country, but I know that will be for the best. Thank you Brandon for sitting down with me, and talking to me about your album. I'm excited for people to listen to it and experience what an amazing talent you are.
Ash-Mohammed: Thank you Guled!