Ottawa·Creator Network

From Pakistan to Canada and back: How this comic learned to make audiences of all kinds laugh

In this video created with CBC Ottawa’s Creator Network, 26-year-old Abdullah Usman explains why he wants to push past the ‘brown comedian’ label and how, by embracing all parts of his identity, he created his own unique brand of comedy.

Abdullah Usman jokes about bringing his whole identity to the stage in this Creator Network piece

Inside Comedy with Abdullah Usman

3 months ago
Duration 9:17
In this video filmed by Mehrad Ardalan and produced by CBC Ottawa’s Creator Network, Abdullah Usman takes us behind the scenes of his joke writing process, and shows us how he builds material that embraces all parts of his identity.

CBC Ottawa's Creator Network is a place where young digital storytellers from diverse backgrounds can produce original video content to air on CBC and tell stories through their own lens.

Get in touch to pitch your idea, or check out our other Creator Network stories at

It all started with a dare. 

Heart pounding and stomach turning, Abudullah Usman stepped nervously on stage and looked out at the open mic night audience. 

His best friend had challenged him to do a stand-up comedy set. The prize: $20. 

Usman grabbed the microphone and tried out his best George Carlin impression. Unfortunately his set did not land with the audience, and two people in the front row heckled him. 

Portrait of Abdullah Usman
Abdullah Usman, 26, has been making audiences laugh since 2018. (Mehrad Ardalan)

Usman says that's when he began to realize he couldn't copy the speech of others, he had to find his own voice.

But it was still a work in progress, to bring all of himself to the stage, and in particular, to find a way to share his unique story without becoming stereotyped as a "brown comedian."

"I step on stage — people see a 'brown' comic (insert round flat breads joke). I can't talk about brushing my teeth before I address who I am," explained Usman, who is Pakistani-Canadian.

His goal, as he began performing on stages across Ottawa and the country, was to find a way to make everyone laugh.

"I want my humour to work on all audiences, especially the two communities which formed me: the Desi community and the broader Canadian community," he said. 

Abdullah Usman on stage doing comedy.
Abdullah Usman has entertained audiences across North America. In 2019 he won Ottawa's 'Prove You're a Comic' competition. (Abdullah Usman)

Punjabi sarcasm 

Usman says his sense of humour was forged in Pakistan, where his family is from and where he lived on and off throughout his childhood.

"The culture is strict and the religion is strict, but the people are easy-going and everybody cracks jokes. Punjabi people are some of the funniest people you can encounter. Everything's sarcasm, everything's in jest," he said.

Old photo of Abudullah Usman with his family.
Abudullah Usman, left, pictured with his family in Montreal in the early 2000s. 'My heroes are my parents. You know what’s harder than doing open-mic? Coming to a new country and raising four kids in a tiny apartment,' said Usman. (Abdullah Usman)

Usman's family moved back and forth between Pakistan and Canada several times during his childhood. 

"I was always the different one, who didn't quite fit in," he said, explaining that led him to being the shy kid in school.

Going from an all boys school in Pakistan to high school in Canada didn't help, as the culture shock was intense.

But when he got to university, he decided to reinvent himself as a confident wisecracking guy like his father and relatives, which led to finally taking the stage.

Graphic of man explaining how to write a joke
"Structure your chaos. Develop a premise that ends with a punchline," said Usman, explaining the process for writing comedy. "Shatter an expectation, give the audience a surprise." (Mehrad Ardalan )

Find his voice in front of an audience

Thinking back to that open mic, Usman recalled how he continued uncomfortably with his set. 

But then he heard it. 

A giggle. 

Someone had laughed at one of his jokes, and that spark was enough to ignite a newfound passion for Usman, who went home that night with $20 in his pocket, and the drive to build a career as a comic.

Abdullah Usman drinking juice box
Going from an all boys school in Pakistan to a Canadian school was a big culture shock for Usman. (Mehrad Ardalan)

Five years later, Usman says he's found a sort of home on the stage.

"I don't know if I fit in here or fit in there, but through comedy you learn that the only place you fit in is the stage,'' he said.

It was only when he started talking about all parts of himself that he felt he found his voice.

Abdullah Usman standing on large stage doing comedy.
Usman seen on stage at the Algonquin Commons theatre at Algonquin College in Ottawa. (Mehrad Ardalan)

"As hellishly corny as this sounds," he said with a sigh, "What makes you different makes you stand out on stage. I'm a little bit of everything and I make jokes about this eclectic identity," he said. 

His advice to aspiring comedians: don't look for approval from others and understand the audience can sense when you're not yourself.

"So love your upbringing, love your circumstances," he said, adding, "I just talk about my life and sometimes I'm brown, sometimes I'm just a bloke." 

Abdullah Usman and Mehrad Ardalan
Behind the scenes with Abdullah Usman and 25-year-old Mehrad Ardalan. Ardalan worked with CBC Ottawa’s Creator Network to film Usman's story. He is a filmmaker, photographer, and creative producer living in Ottawa. “Eight years ago, I discovered my passion for cinematography and in 2018 I established my freelance media production business, RADSEN Media,” said Ardalan. (Merad Ardalan)


Ash Abraham

CBC Ottawa Cross-Platform Producer and Reporter

Ash Abraham is a producer and reporter with CBC's Creator Network and Content Diversification project. She also contributes to Ottawa Morning and All in a Day.