Comedian Ali Siddiq knows about waiting.
After the Houston native quit his day job in 2000 to go pro full-time, honing his act, playing small venues, living on the road, he’s finally getting some of the big breaks he deserves.
In September on NBC’s new comedy competition series “Bring the Funny,” Saturday Night Live fixture and show judge Kenan Thompson selected Siddiq to advance to the finals.
“Every piece of material you’ve ever performed I’ve never heard before and I listen to a lot of comedy,” Thompson told Siddiq. “You come up with some brilliant material that is untouched by anybody I’ve ever seen.”
Siddiq has a method.
“I live 24 hours a day and I write about the 20 minutes I find funny,” he tells Raleigh Magazine. “I read the paper, talk to people. As long as I’m living life, I’ll have material. Everything is day to day, I don’t stick to one subject. I don’t write for the moment. I might not feel the same at 7:30 as I do at 10:30. Things involving my children, my family, my friends. They give me a lot of things to talk about. My perspective on comedy is how to give perspective on things that happen to people, whether good or bad.”
And Siddiq has experienced his share of both.
Performances on HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam” and BET’s “One Night Stand” led Comedy Central to name Siddiq the No. 1 Comic to Watch in 2013. In 2015, the network booked him for the first season of the standup show “This is Not Happening” and Comedy Central Presents produced Siddiq’s first half-hour special in 2016, as well as his first full-hour special “It’s Bigger Than These Bars” in 2018.
“It’s Bigger Than These Bars” was filmed in the Texas prison where Siddiq served six years for a drug offense. His audience was comprised solely of inmates. Siddiq is happy to offer his opinions about prison reform—he says societies should work to address issues that send people to prison in the first place—but he doesn’t want to dwell on how being incarcerated has affected his comedy.
“For 17 years prior [to doing “It’s Bigger Than These Bars”], I never spoke about it,” Siddiq says. “That was by design because once you do one thing, people try to make you a one-trick pony. I was doing comedy prior to doing any prison stories and I have only been doing prison stories for the past three years. It’s never been a big part of my show. Since I’ve done it the last three years, that’s all people want to talk about.”
Indeed, it would be unfortunate to pigeonhole Siddiq as an ex-con comic. In segments of his special, he has conversations with small groups of prisoners that come across more as documentary than comedy. He is thoughtful and, as Thompson notes, wholly original, funny in a time when the stakes are high, the future uncertain and the reality absurd.
Ali Siddiq performs at the Goodnights Comedy Club November 29 and 30, with shows at 7:30 and 10:00