Egyptian-American actor, comedian, producer, and director Ahmed Ahmed is one of the most diverse, multi-faceted talents in the entertainment industry today.
He was most recently seen starring as “Ahmed” on TBS’ hit comedy series “Sullivan & Son.” Executive Produced by Vince Vaughn “Sullivan & Son” aired for three seasons and is the only series to star an Arab-American actor in a non-stereotypical role on a comedy sitcom to date. Ahmed did a national tour with the cast in 2014, selling out comedy venues across the country.
Born in Helwan, Egypt and raised in Riverside, California Ahmed immigrated to the US when he was one month old with his family. When he was 19 years old he made the move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. His first big break was in the suspense, action film EXECUTIVE DECISION alongside Kurt Russell, Steven Segal, and Halle Berry in 1996. Ahmed went on to appear in a handful of blockbuster and cult hit features including SWINGERS, IRON MAN, and YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN. On the television front, Ahmed has appeared on top series such as “Tracy Takes On,” “Weeds,” and “Roseanne.”
Into the movies field!
In 2011, Ahmed made his directorial debut with his groundbreaking documentary JUST LIKE US. The film premiered at Tribeca Film Festival, and went on to be selected at 30 international film festivals, winning several “Best Director” and “Best Documentary” awards. The documentary, a celebration of culture and comedy, follows Ahmed and ten American comedians through Dubai, Egypt, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, performing in front of over 20,000 Arabs and Muslims across the region. JUST LIKE US garnered Ahmed attention on the political front, and he was invited to The White House to have dinner with President Obama, and was also invited to The State Department to have dinner with Hilary Clinton as they commended him on creating a project that made an effort to break down barriers and encourage cross-cultural dialogue. Ahmed is currently in post-production on JUST LIKE US TOO, which takes place in Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Oman.
In 2005 Ahmed cofounded and performed in the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour which aired on Comedy Central as the first ever Middle Eastern standup comedy special. Ahmed is also the winner of the first annual Richard Pryor Award for Ethnic Comedy at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival in Scotland. After being handpicked by Vince Vaughn for his Wild West Comedy Tour [2005-present] Vaughn named Ahmed the Comedy Ambassador for the first ever Wild West comedy festival in Nashville, TN in 2014 and invited him back to perform at the festival 2015. Ahmed continues to perform standup across the country and will take off for another tour in the Middle East later this year. Performing comedy in places of conflict is not foreign to Ahmed. Ahmed is a true believer that laughter heals, and that comedy can bridge the gap between communities across the world.
Ahmed seeks to bring the negative reputation and portrayal of Arab-American actors in Hollywood to the public consciousness through a television series he is developing based on his childhood and upbringing as well as a film, titled “A Comedy of Arabs,” that touches on current events, terrorism, and Islamophobia in an ironic and comedic way. With speaking engagements on Middle East representations in the media at prestigious universities like Pepperdine and Harvard Ahmed is engaging with students, fans, and the public at large on these often controversial topics. He plans to release his first book, “Ahmedica,” later this year. With the creation of his production companies Bonus Features Productions and Cross-Cultural Entertainment Ahmed is determined to create roles and story lines for Arab-American actors that break the mold.
Enjoy reading an exclusive interview with him, below.
How did you make up your mind at 19 that you wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
I always loved movies and TV shows as a child and dreamed of being in the big screen. My parents had other plans for me though and wanted me to be a doctor, lawyer or architect. Typical career choice for Arabs. At age 19 I moved to Hollywood against my parents will and began the journey.
Do you think the skill of making people laugh can be taught?
I don’t think you can teach funny. It’s a gift you are born with then you hone the craft in comedy clubs as you go. You have to fail several times at first until you find your voice and point of view.
In what ways did your experience on TV differ from the one on stage?
In TV you get to do take after take. You also read other people’s lines that you exchange with other actors and have a director, producer and editor. On stage you get one shot and you are the writer, director, producer and editor. It’s a one man show and a lot more risky.
Having received the ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Documentary’ awards at the Tribeca Film Festival, what was the drive behind this documentary?
I wanted to show the world that Arabs and Muslims laugh “Just Like Us” in America. Hence the title of the documentary.
Do you think a cross-cultural dialogue is the world today? What would be its ultimate components?
Cross-Cultural dialogue is very important and can be achieved with food, music and especially laughter.
What is the best memory you can share about the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour?
My best memory of the Axis Of Evil Comedy Tour was performing 27 sold out shows in 30 days in Dubai, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan and Lebanon for over 20,000 people. It was mind blowing!
You’re planning to release your first book, ‘Ahmedica.’ What is it about?
Ahmedica is an biographical book about my life and how I helped introduce American standup comedy to the Middle East.
What would your advice to stage performers be?
Write as much as possible and get on stage as much as possible. Once you have a act then you have to sell it. That’s why it’s called show “business”. So online presence is important when selling yourself.
*Interview conducted by Marie-Christine Tayah, Editor in Chief