Fahim Anwar: The Engineer of Jokes
Writing lessons I learned from my favorite comedian
Slightly uncomfortable, I'm seated elbow-to-elbow in the dark, divey pit of the Hollywood Comedy Store. A guy walks onto the small stage and starts riffing on his "Afghan Jerry Seinfeld" look. I chuckle a little. Attention grabbed.
Then, continuing his set, he pulls me deeper into his hysterical observations and crazy-funny anecdotes. By the end of his 15-minute set, I can't sit still anymore. I'm having a full-on laughgasm. Stomach clenched, body shaking, I throw my head back, gasping for air. Ah, I needed that.
This guy is the standup comedian Fahim Anwar.
Later that night, I see him standing outside of the venue, talking to other comics. I want to let him know how much I enjoyed his set but instead, I walk back inside.
I still feel a kick of regret for not saying anything, so let's squash the regret right now.
Seeing Fahim perform is like watching your favorite young quarterback clinch his first Super Bowl title. Fun to root for as he ascends to greatness. He's closing the chasm between being an underdog and a household name.
Fahim's unconventional path distinguishes him from other comics. After graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, he worked at Boeing as an aerospace engineer to establish financial stability while pursuing comedy. He built airplanes by day and worked the audience by night.
To be a great comedian is to be a great writer. Fahim is brilliant at both. He makes me laugh, but I've also learned writing lessons from watching him perform and listening to him speak on podcasts.
Here are some of my favorite works of his and the lessons I've learned along the way:
Start with No Business Like Show Business
You learn a lot about Fahim in his first special—from his love of old-school hip-hop to growing up with overprotective parents from Afghanistan.
He hooks you in with charming dance moves and lighthearted riffs. Yet he prompts you to stop and think when he hits you with bits of vulnerability:
"Being a minority is like having an away [team's] jersey you can never take off."
Being vulnerable builds trust. And when your audience trusts you, they'll grasp on to your story. They'll stick with you to the end.
In Between: Fahim Works on Stuff
I can see Fahim's engineering mind at work when he tests out new bits with his audience. He identifies unexpected patterns and logic flaws hidden in modern life's tropes.
The audience's laughter is his feedback, and he embraces it all. Using it to iterate and structure his jokes with ease while on stage.
In his words: "The audience knowing that you're comfortable onstage is almost 90 or 95% of standup. One of my big [lessons] is 'be comfortable being observed.'"
Writing online is like standing up on stage in front of an audience. When you write without confidence, you will sound timid and clumsy.
And if you can't shake your self-doubt, get up on stage anyways and take in the feedback. You'll learn to channel the angst in your gut into a rush of clear thinking, a writer's high.
End with Hat Trick (2022)
By this point in his career, Fahim is known as a favorite of the Hollywood Comedy Store. When I watch this special, it's clear he's in his element – every joke hits.
Unlike many comedians who've shot a glossy, high-budget special for HBO or Netflix in a swanky theater, Fahim uses a skeleton crew to film Hat Trick at the Comedy Store. And with minimal editing, he posts it directly to YouTube.
This process allows him to capture the raw energy of the live audience and freely distribute the video to an Internet audience. Although I wasn't lucky enough to be at the taping, I can imagine sitting in the crowd and feeling the electrifying buzz of laughter in the air.
Fahim, on distribution: "I valued exposure over everything else. Especially when you're not a household name or nobody knows who you are. You gotta just put it out there, and hopefully, people just gravitate towards it. That's the only shot you got at breaking through. If you're trying to make money and be protective of your content…if there's friction between you and the content nowadays as an unknown [creator], you're clipping your own wings. No one's gonna see it."
When you own your distribution, you can make what you want. Writing online is entrepreneurship for your thoughts. When you write online, you build and own the business of you.
Fahim Anwar has a unique perspective of the world around him. As a practitioner of the craft, he refines his observations into brilliant jokes of art. He brings it all to life by enjoying the moments onstage just as much as his audience.
He inspires me to always be authentic in my writing, embrace feedback, and enjoy my creative hustle every step of the way.
Check out Fahim and let me know what you think. You and I can have a laughgasm together.
Definitely gonna make time to check out some of his stuff. Bring on the laughgasm. Great issue, Rachael!