Seven years ago, Mohtasham (Moe) Yaqub didn’t speak English. Now he’s the Funniest Person with a Day Job.
Last night, Yaqub took home the title along with the $1,000 grand prize at House of Comedy, as the club capped off its 10th year of the contest. While the judges table wasn’t short on star power, the evening belonged to Yaqub (though today still belongs to his employer; Yaqub is an accountant by day and comedy wunderkind by night).
Born and raised in Pakistan, Yaqub moved to America just seven years ago to attend college. However, that doesn’t mean he was new to performing.
“I was a TV actor back in Pakistan,” he explains. “I used to do sitcoms and stuff back when I was a kid for like, five or six years. When I graduated from college, I wanted to get back into acting. I didn’t know how to start, so I looked up the only other brown person on TV, who was Aziz Ansari. It said that he had gotten his start as a standup so I figured that’s what I’d do.”
With no prior experience and almost no exposure to standup growing up (“I think I saw a Russell Peters special in Pakistan when I was a kid and I didn’t understand it at all”), he looked up comedy clubs in the area, called Acme, and came down for their open mic night. That was roughly three years ago, and he hasn’t looked back.
“The biggest part of being successful is just showing up and being there,” he says of his quick rise through the comedy ranks. “People think they should get stuff, but when they ask me about how to get further I just tell them that the only way to get better is to do more comedy. Even if I’m not performing, I show up and watch and support people. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
That marathon has led Yaqub to the finals of multiple comedy contests in town, but his victory last night was the first time he’s managed to take home the big prize.
As for where his career goes from here, Yaqub is staying humble in his comedy goals.
“I just want to get funnier and write better jokes,” he says. “As for my goals as a standup, I’m an immigrant from Pakistan and I’m also Muslim, so I want to change people’s perspectives on what that means. I want people to see a Pakistani comedian and be like, ‘We know Moe is Pakistani, so everyone in Pakistan must be very funny and kind and dress well.’”
And as for his newfound wealth?
“I’m very spiritual, so I told God that if I won I would give half of the money away,” he says. “So I’m going to donate half to the ACLU, and use the other half to buy new shoes or a jacket because those are things I really enjoy buying.”
The Funniest Person with a Day Job competition started back in April with 84 funny (or at least trying their best to be funny) people, performing for crowds as well as a rotating cast of celebrity judges. Last night’s finale judging panel featured comedians Jeff Pfoser and Randy Ankarlo (last year’s winner), as well as Mystery Science Theater 3000 alum Mary Jo Pehl and legendary pro wrestler Baron Von Raschke.