Staying true to himself, Ahmed Ahmed finds comedy doesn’t discriminate
Actor, comedian, producer, and director Ahmed Ahmed is on top of his game, starring as “Ahmed” on TBS’ hit comedy series “Sullivan & Son” and touring the U.S. this summer performing a sellout stand-up show with three of his costars.
But the road to success wasn’t without more than his share of speed bumps.
An Arab-American (he was born in Egypt and brought to The U.S. when he was a month old), Ahmed was raised in Riverside, California, moving to Los Angeles at the age of 19 after deciding to try his hand at acting.
Being an ethnically Arab actor was a bit of an anomaly in Hollywood, by that didn’t stop him. “I had lots of opportunities,” he says, “playing terrorists and cab drivers.”
“What I really wanted to do was play the guy next door. But I never got called in for those types of roles.” Eventually, he told his agent to only call him with offers for mainstream roles. So he didn’t hear from her again.
Ahmed ran out of money and ended up sleeping on the couch of one of the first friends he made in Hollywood: Vince Vaughn. He worked waiting tables and discovered he had a talent for stand-up. “The food was horrible,” he says. “I had to compensate with service and laughter.” This was in the 1990’s, when a lot of stand-up comedians were breaking into acting with their own shows, Ahmed noticed.
That’s not to say that Ahmed’s heritage never came up in his stage shows: he did take an occasional self-deprecating shot at his Middle Eastern background. But after September 11, 2001, he had to be very sensitive to what audiences were interested in laughing at, and to this day his humor tends more towards more universal issues of life as a 40-something single guy. It’s gone well — after all, as Ahmed says, “funny is funny.”
In its third season, executive produced by Vaughn, “Sullivan & Son” follows Steve Sullivan (Steve Byrne), a corporate lawyer who surprises his parents when he leaves his job to take over a bar owned by his father in Pittsburgh. Ahmed made his first appearance as unlucky in love, tow-truck driver (and best friend to Steve) “Ahmed” in season one, and joined the cast as a series regular in season two.
Ahmed and four of his costars are keeping their stand-up muscles toned (and promoting their show) in comedy clubs across the U.S. this summer. You can see Ahmed along with Owen Benjamin, Roy Wood Jr., and Steve Byrne at the Comedy Connection in East Providence this Friday at 8 p.m.
Currently the only Arab-American actor playing a non-stereotypical role on a comedy sitcom, Ahmed couldn’t be happier. “I’m paid to laugh,” he says. “It’s the best job in the world.”
WHERE: Comedy Connection, 39 Warren Ave., East Providence
WHEN: Friday, August 15; 8 p.m.
MORE INFO: ricomedyconnection.com