Shereen Kassam is a comedian and host of the podcast Creative Breakthrough… And she’s also my guest this week. The reason I wanted to talk to her is not only that I love her podcast – although that probably played a part in it – but more that I find her story quite inspiring. Last week, I talked about how I found my passion and how naturally it happened, without me having to force it or anything… It just “came to me”. Well Shereen has quite a unique story.
Her first contact with comedy was when she went to watch a show, and did NOT appreciate it. I mean, she didn’t like the show but fell in love with the world of comedy, and stand-up in particular. What amazed her was comedians’ ability to talk about what they were feeling and express themselves with complete freedom. As a muslim in the post 9/11 United States, she explained that she had started to feel like she wasn’t represented anymore… As if she didn’t have a voice. But comedy provided a new way to express herself.
I want my money back
Paragraph title directly taken from Margareth Thatcher’s anti-EU speech in the British parliament, even if we’re now a month away from a Brexit that will most likely cause a crisis in the United Kingdom… I know it looks bad but let me explain.
First, this is a reference to the fact that Shereen grew up partly in the UK. Second, that’s basically what she told the manager of the venue in which this show she hadn’t enjoyed had taken place. She wanted a refund because the show was just not funny enough… Bold move, right? Well wait for the even more bold answer from that guy, who told her “Well I’ll give you your money back if you go on stage and give it a try. It’s not as easy as it looks.” … And there you have it. All the ingredients needed for someone to switch from a corporate-career-driven Shereen to completely change the course of her life.
She went on stage and the way she describes her experience is so perfect I actually have to quote her. “You’ve ever tried sky-diving? No? Well compared to stand-up, sky-diving is pretty boring. It’s fun for the first few seconds when you’re falling but then there’s the parachute and it’s just you waiting to finally land. But stand-up is pure thrill. It’s exhilarating.”
So yeah, I learnt a new word: exhilarating. And I also got the confirmation that I might be interested in trying stand-up. But other than that, I was amazed by how beautiful this story was and how perfectly timed everything was. I mean, Shereen had this need to express herself but wasn’t really aware of it. She had never gotten even close to arts or acting… Let alone comedy! In fact, when her parents later found out about her new passion via a video of hers someone forwarded them… They didn’t understand. Her mom even thought she was stripping so… Needless to say they didn’t really love the idea that their daughter was going on stage to tell jokes and make people laugh.
Nobody ever told her “oh you’re funny, you should be a comedian“. All she was meant to do was study, get a good job and make money… Which I’m sure is the case of many of you. I mean at least I’m assuming so because I was in a very similar situation. Get good grades, be a lawyer, don’t study art, don’t do art, just work and make money. That doesn’t mean that our parents didn’t want us to be happy of course, but it was just not a viable option in their mind. It was not something that was worth working hard in the hope of maybe turning it into a job. But guess what? She did it anyway.
I just learnt how to make it work
This necessity to express herself, this love for comedy and the chance that was offered to her… It certainly did fuel her imagination and she soon started to think about making jokes as job and not a hobby.
Now keep in mind, I keep describing this story as “natural” because of how perfectly it happened, almost as if it was written by someone somewhere. It wasn’t the result of her trying hard to find a passion or anything, it came to her more than anything else. BUT, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t difficult, obviously. From dealing with shady promoters to making fun of hecklers while making sure you’re not being too harsh and they’re not going to wait for you outside after the show… It wasn’t easy either.
In fact this paragraph title is directly taken from our conversation, as Shereen said: “If you really want to do something you make it work. So I just learnt how to make it work”. She had to find time to write, to study, to practice and to perform comedy WHILE having a full-time job. That doesn’t sound easy now, does it? But whenever you feel that passion, that “burning desire” to do it, as Nate Rose puts it, you just find a way. Not because you want to, but because you NEED to. Because Shereen had something to say, because she wanted people to hear it, and because she simply found comedy f*cking cool.
What about the podcast?
Yeah, I know. That’s how rich this episode is: I’ve written a whole article based on barely a half of all Shereen and I talked about. The other half was basically me asking her about how she started the podcast and her telling me how much she prepared for it, and yet how surprised she was by the reaction she got. Cause yes, Creative Breakthrough is a very successful podcast and there’s a reason for it. It is interesting, motivating and inspiring as Shereen shares her personal knowledge and stories to help us grow as creatives. Plus every other week she talks to a creative person who’s “winning” as she says, from renowned TV writers to shoe-makers/sellers… This podcast simply has it all.
Oh and the host is pretty funny too, in fact why don’t you go ahead and meet her? You just need to listen to this episode of Waves Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, iHeartRadio , YouTube and all the other podcast platforms… And don’t forget to leave a review on Apple Podcasts/iTunes too!