Ahmed Bharoocha knows how to clean up onstage

Chad White

There comes a time in many comedian’s careers when they are able to realize several of their dreams. Some want to play in huge venues like Madison Square Gardens. Others want to star in TV series or movies like their predecessors. Many enjoy intimate stages where just a few dozen people can focus on them. But rarely do these dreams all happen at once.

Ahmed Bharoocha must’ve found a lucky penny because that’s exactly what happened to him. After twelve years of onstage grinding, the comedian made an album, -- Almond Badoody -- took on a Comedy Central Half Hour, and plays a part in the upcoming Adult Swim series, Dream Corp LLC. He’s one of the few comedians who can claim they’ve gone from the dish room of a comedy club to featured on television, twice, in a matter of two weeks. I had a conversation with Bharoocha about all of his success.

You have a new album coming out. You have a special coming out. And they’re coming out the same day. That’s the coolest thing to ever happen to a comedian.

Ahmed Bharoocha: Yeah! I’m excited. Both of them are something I’ve wanted for my entire comedy career. And now they’re [happening] at the same time.

How long had you been doing comedy? I know you started as a dishwasher at a club. How long did it take for you to go from washing dishes to going up on stage?

Bharoocha: I worked in the club for about a year before I got the courage to go up. That was 12 years ago so I’ve been doing comedy for 12 years now.

What gave you the courage to actually step up there?

Bharoocha: Actually, it was funny, I’d see people come through the club and watching [them] bond helped me. Not because I didn’t think they were funny but because I was actually impressed. Even after they bombed, the next week they’d be back and doing it again. So it showed me that it didn’t matter if it went well or not; it was just one show. It showed me that you can overcome a bad set, which is the thing you fear the most before you do it.

When did you find yourself on stage? After you saw these people were strong enough to bomb and then come back, and you decided to go up there, how long did it take you to find your voice?

Bharoocha: Sometimes I think I’m still searching for it. I’d say at least three years before you’re yourself up onstage. I still get nervous and I’m kind of a shy person normally so sometimes it is a harsh switch from being a regular person to being on stage and talking to everyone. What’s sometimes more comfortable is doing [stand up] than talking to people in real life. [laughs]

I hope this conversation doesn’t make you too nervous.

Bharoocha: No, no this is great. We’re on the phone so I don’t have to make eye contact or anything.

I saw you performed on Conan almost a year ago. Generally, if you don’t follow these things like I do because I’m a loser, on Conan’s videos for stand up, people usually downvote a lot of them. But you, people seem to love your set. I guess it’s since you have such a great personality on stage.

Bharoocha: Oh thanks! I felt pretty good about my set. It does seem to be getting nice reactions. I definitely planned for it a long time. I watched a bunch of Conan sets to see how it would translate. It’s very hard as a comic. That was about 11 years in. You’re doing comedy in a very different setting. You’re performing in a studio after interviews and video segments as opposed to what we normally do as comedians, performing in live places with bars and they’re all up against you. With Conan, you’re in the corner of a huge set. It’s a very different venue than you’re used to as a comedian. I think sometimes that can throw you off. Just preparing for it, that’s something you have to keep in mind.

What was it like to graduate from doing Adam Devine’s House Party, regular onstage stuff, Conan, and go into your own thirty-minute special and your own album?

Bharoocha: That’s amazing. Those were the specials I watched when I was a kid – on Comedy Central – the half hours. It’s pretty much why I got into comedy because those were on TV all the time. It was a great introduction into comedy as a kid. It was really surreal to get my own half hour that I’ve wanted forever. It finally happened so that was cool.

How long had you been working on that half hour?

Bharoocha: There’s jokes in there from early on in my career. Pretty much the whole 11 or 12 years it took to do that. The specific order of those – I’d submitted a half hour maybe two years ago that was similar. I submitted another one this year; that’s the one that got the taping. Maybe about two eyars when I was trying hard to get the half hour.

I’ve talked to a lot of comedians and I’ve always wanted to ask this. Is it easy picking out the jokes you want to do? Since you’ve been doing this for some twelve odd years, is it easy to pick out your favorite bits? To leave some on the floor? Because you only have a certain amount of time to do it?

Bharoocha: That’s actually really hard for me. Sometimes there’s jokes that you love but might not be the most consistent joke versus the joke that everyone’s going to like and that you’re not as into anymore. It’s pretty hard to decide what’s right to keep in. I try to keep a little bit of both. A joke that’s a big crowd pleaser and some of the weirder stuff so that everyone can take a little bit from your set depending on what kind of comedy they like.

Is the album any part of the special or are they two separate entities?

Bharoocha: There’s some crossover material on there but there’s definitely some different stuff. The half hour ends up only being 22 minutes on Comedy Central. The album itself is about an hour. There’s a couple of crossover jokes but different stuff on both of them.

Where did you record your album?

I recorded it at Comedy On State in Madison, Wisconsin. I’d never been there before but it was the best club I’ve ever performed at. That was a really great place to record an album. They were already set up for it. They love when comics come to record. There’s been a lot of albums recorded there before [so] they really know what they’re doing.

Going from doing stand up to acting. You’re on Dream Corp LLC, that’s Stephen Merchant and John Krasinski’s new show. You’re going to be a recurring character I read. What’s it like working on an Adult Swim show on the weirdest semi-network in the world?

Bharoocha: It’s pretty bizarre. I love the show and am excited to be on it. It’s intimidating to go from stand up (where you’re in control of everything) to acting (where you have a script). My character doesn’t have a lot of [scripted] lines; most of my stuff is improvised. It’s kind of intimidating when there’s a shot set up by the DP and the lighting guys and the script and you’re expected to maybe improvise something funny but if it doesn’t work they’re like “No, stop doing that.” It’s very different from stand up. I love it. It’s just playing with your friends but then you record it and get to wear costumes and there’s make up and lighting. This show is really insane. There’s a lot of crazy and fun things this episode.

When you were shooting, did you get a chance to see any rotoscope effects or cartoon segments?

Bharoocha: I’ve seen some of it. It’s really beautiful and psychedelic. The way that it’s shot is hilarious. They actually film the actors so they don’t need to wear costumes or anything because they’re eventually going to get painted over. They kind of wear a little costume. The way it’s filmed, it looks pretty bad because there’s no setting, it’s in a warehouse; it looks very bland. But then you see the finished product and it’s this beautiful animation. It’s really cool to see both sides.

Were Krasinski, Merchant and Allyson Seeger ever son set? Did they ever give you pointers or anything?

Bharoocha: Once in a while, they would drop by set but they would keep away from giving advice or anything. They’d let the director do his thing. I do think the director worked a lot with them off [camera] and behind the scenes. I think there were notes for him but they wouldn’t give the actors too many notes.

Follow Ahmed Bharoocha on Twitter, buy his album, and watch the premiere of Dream Corp LLC on Adult Swim Sunday, October 23.