On Oct. 21, Shazeb Fahim, ‘20, became the first winner of Lehigh’s Got Talent with his stand-up comedy routine. The Brown and White sat down with Fahim to talk comedy, his charity of choice and life after Lehigh.
Q: What made you decide to join the Lehigh’s Got Talent competition?
A: Well I knew I wanted to do comedy before college, so it wasn’t the (Lehigh’s) Got Talent competition that prompted me to do it. I signed up before even having done stand up once because I tend to do a lot better at something when I’m under pressure, like writing an essay. If I write it the night before, it will be a lot better than if I write it ahead of time. I’m not even prone to procrastination, it’s just how my mind works. The competition forced me to write a certain amount of stand up before the competition. I had to act like a comedian even though it takes 10 years to become a comedian.
Q: How was the experience overall and what was it like competing as a first-year?
A: Overall it was nice because I feel like I got a lot of experience in just a few weeks. The rounds were every other week, so in between those weeks, I was doing open mics. I was even in New York one weekend and did an open mic so it was such an interesting experience. It really gave me a starting point on how I’m going to approach comedy. I didn’t really look at it as competing. I really didn’t think I would win at all. Even in the first round, I didn’t think I would make it to the next one. In the last round, I thought I lost before I even went on stage. The guy before me sang this Kanye West song and he was so charismatic and funny. He was singing this song and I was just telling jokes. But it’s exciting and it definitely made me more confident.
Q: What was your favorite part of the competition? Was there a particularly memorable moment?
A: I guess each time was memorable because I’ve only done it a handful of times now. If you decide you want to be a comedian, you have to be comfortable on stage at the very least. Every time I went on stage I was surprised at how comfortable I was and the comfort I felt in the silence before I told the joke. That’s a scary thing because you’re always striving for a laugh, but there’s a level of comfort I was surprised to find that I had. I guess the final round was pretty memorable for a lot of reasons. I thought I lost and I didn’t really perform anything the way I wanted to perform it. I was just telling the jokes in my normal tone of voice, and people liked it a lot more. I was being a lot more genuine because before, I think I was performing them in a much more theatrical way. But since I thought I already lost, I was just telling the jokes how I would say them in normal conversation. I was surprised because people really liked it, but I still thought I lost. I actually saw the slip of paper before he announced the winner so I was happy for a couple seconds before the official announcement.
Q: What was your favorite joke?
A: It think it was the first joke I told. I said, “This is my first time doing stand up and it takes 10 years to become a comedian, so I figure if my jokes aren’t funny, people will still laugh because I look like a tall, 14-year-old refugee.” The crowd didn’t expect it at all. They just saw this lanky, brown kid go up on the stage in a button-down and say he looked like a refugee. Then after that, you just keep going. Some jokes don’t go well, but you keep going because you know that there are certain jokes that people will laugh at.
Q: What’s the charity you were competing for, and why did you choose it?
A: I was competing for a charity called Pratham USA, and they are a charity focused on education development for girls in India. I lived in Boston in high school and they had a big organization there, so my family was involved in that charity. A lot of people and a lot of the friends we had were involved in that charity so I did some work with them. I just really like that cause and then I also thought it would just be hilarious if they saw my name on some donation list. I just know they would be like, ‘Where the hell did he find the money to donate this?’ So that’s going to be the best joke out of all this. Next year, when they see my name on the fundraiser list they’ll be like, ‘No that’s a mistake.’ I’ll be like, ‘Nope, I make good money.’
Q: Do you plan on continuing to perform comedy at Lehigh?
A: Yeah. I decided I wanted to pursue comedy before college so I was writing for a while in high school, and I decided I would start performing when I got to college, both on-campus and in New York. My sister lives in New York, so I go there on the weekends and do open mics. So I’m pursuing it at Lehigh, around Bethlehem and in New York. People assume it’s just a hobby of mine, but this is what I want to do. It’s the only thing I can see myself doing. (Comedy) is my primary goal, and everything else I’m doing and studying is to get me through while I pursue it. It’s crazy to say you want to be a comedian or actor, but I’ve grown to be comfortable saying it. People don’t really believe it. They still tell me that I should have a plan B.
Q: So what are you studying? What would be that plan B if comedy didn’t work out?
A: I think I’m going to do computer science, but my plan to come to Lehigh was very intentional. It’s worked out so far, and (Lehigh’s) Got Talent was definitely a huge help. If I went somewhere else, they might not have had that competition. If I was in New York at another school, there would probably be hundreds of other kids who want to be comedians. Then you have to deal with all that bullshit of competing with people. But here, I’m the only kid doing this and I have all these resources. I just feel very lucky and very privileged that it’s worked out so far.
Q: So who are your favorite comedians?
A: There are too many but Aziz Ansari was the first person who I said, ‘That’s my favorite comedian,’ so he’s definitely been a huge influence. I also really like John Mulaney and Jerry Seinfeld. Larry David is also huge for me. He did stand up very early in his career you don’t even have footage of it anymore, but just his comedic writing and his work on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, that’s been huge. Also Woody Allen and his stand up work and film work. There are too many really.
Q: What do you think about the artistic community on Lehigh’s campus? In your experience so far, have you found that there are a lot of opportunities to participate in the arts?
A: When I went to the first open mic, which was a week before (Lehigh’s) Got Talent, that was where I first did stand up and I was just so shocked because I think I was like the 13th person. There were all these musicians and all different types of bands that were just so talented. I’m just amazed that anyone could have any musical ability because I’ve tried to play guitar for the past 15 years and I can’t do anything with the guitar. It’s terrible for my mom and all the lessons she paid for.
It’s crazy how talented the kids are and with the Lehigh Music Box Club, that’s been really great to know those people. I mean it makes sense the people who are smarter can definitely pick up on different abilities, so I’m not really that surprised that people have such great musical ability. The opportunities have been great as well, you know, because I can see myself as having opportunities for stand up in some capacity at least once a week on campus.
Q: Besides comedy, what do you like to do for fun?
A: Comedy has taken so much of my time now writing and practicing, but I really like to read. I really like english so I really love writing and reading. That kind of translated to writing comedy now as opposed to what I used to write before. I really love film, that was a huge passion of mine for a long time and it still is so writing and directing I’m really interested in that and that’s something I’d like to pursue at Lehigh in some capacity as well.
Q: Last question, what other clubs or competitions do you see yourself participating in in the future?
A: I’m part of the improv club and that’s been really great because I’ve found like-minded people who love comedy. That’s really cool because improv is all about the group, you’re always trying to make the other person in the scene look good or set them up for a laugh. There’s no room to be selfish in that. Stand up is completely different because you have to get the laugh. There’s no one else on the stage but you, so if something fails it’s your fault, but if it goes well you get all the credit. I think that’s been a really good balance for me. I get to do stand up which is all myself, but I get to go to improv which has a great group mentality, so it’s definitely a good balance.