Cooking and comedy: Ali Hassan set to take Esplanade stage

Ali Hassan will be performing his show Does This Taste Funny at the Esplanade on March 16.

Hassan’s interest in food started at a young age. With a working mother, his lunches weren’t as varied or as interesting as his friends. This led him to challenge his mother on her sandwich-making abilities and ended with him having to make his own lunches.

Figuring out what to put in those sandwiches started Hassan down a path. A few years later his father developed heart disease and the food in his house became less flavourful and he wanted to go in the opposite direction.

“Which is good and bad,” he said. “Now I find myself with my own health problems and probably should have peeled back and had respect for my own body sooner.”

Does This Taste Funny is a journey through food and of watching his father’s health deteriorate, and a reckoning with his own health. His wife had two daughters from her first marriage and together they had two more children. Trying to feed children is something Hassan had never done and the struggles around that are also part of the show.

In his 20s and 30s, Hassan failed at many things while attempting to figure out what he wanted to do. From working at Future Shop and a bank to completing a master’s degree. In the end, he moved to Chicago to do IT consulting.

“I looked at some of my friends and thought some of these guys aren’t very smart and they are all IT consultants so maybe that’s what I can do,” said Hassan. “That’s not how brains work. That’s not how the world works. I found out I was actually dumber than a lot of my friends in some regards. I was really a very bad consultant.”

He got laid off just before 9/11 and came back to Canada. At that point he decided to do things for himself and started a catering company, working for music video productions and low budget indie movies.

His goal became to be a chef on television after watching cooking shows and deciding he could do a better job.

“That was very naïve, they are very skilled at what they are doing,” he said. “When you are sitting at home doing nothing in your basement, you really have some wide eyes and think very highly of yourself.”

Stand-up comedy became a launching pad to help Hassan gain confidence. He immediately fell in love with comedy and realized he could make much more money doing less work than in catering, so he stuck with it.

“The dream never happened of getting that cooking show,” he said. “Lots of flirting with lots of production companies over the years. You just have to figure out what you are. Are you a comedian who is also a chef, or a chef who is also a comedian? I don’t know. I’m just a guy who would love to be on television. Production companies must have everything very clearly figured out and it just never happened. But, as my wife always says, I created a pretty good life for us chasing a dream that never happened.”

Hassan has been to Medicine Hat before and enjoyed the couple of nights he spent here.

“This show is about our openness to food but also about our openness to one another,” said Hassan. “Food is very interesting, it challenges our notions of what is normal, what is right, what is allowed and the show touches on that. It’s a comedic journey on how we all look at food and how we experience food.”

Tickets cost $35 and are available from the Esplanade website. Ali Hassan will take the stage on March 16 at 7:30 p.m.

SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News