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Chanel Ali is a standup comedian who started out in Philadelphia and moved to New York City in 2015. That same year, she interviewed Philadelphia citizens about cannabis legalization for Ladybud Magazine with Philadelphia-based comedian, Alyssa Al-Dookhi. She’s the kind of performer who is easy to like immediately with her casual and intellectual storytelling style. Her podcast ‘Daddyless Issues‘ with fellow comedian Amber Rollo interviews those who grew up as orphans and serves as a cathartic approach to an oft-times painful subject in a loving way. She was recently featured on an episode of ‘Night Train with Wyatt Cenac’ and has performed at Caroline’s on Broadway and New York Comedy Club regularly and has opened for nationally touring comedians like Rachel Feinstein, Anna Drezen and Michael Che. Having been featured at the Women in Comedy Festival, Skankfest and many others, we were excited to interview our friend for Ladybud Magazine’s ‘Lady Business’ feature.
Feature photo credit: Alexandra Genova
LADYBUD: When did you realize you wanted to perform comedy?
Chanel Ali: I always thought I was a comedian but I never dared to say it out loud. When I graduated college and went into the workforce, I had a hard time assimilating. I showed up and watched people at desks and didn’t think I could do that indefinitely, I had such an attraction to making art. I built up courage, told myself I wasn’t going to be able to swallow the “what if I had tried comedy” pill forever. I was gonna give comedy a try so if I didn’t succeed, I would know I gave it my all. I performed once and it felt like the strongest drug I’ve ever tried. “This is where I belong,” I thought and everything was safe under the light. I decided to commit to it for a year, give it my all and do whatever job I needed to do during the day so I could chase stages at night.
LADYBUD: Your podcast, Daddyless Issues with fellow comedian, Amber Rollo, talks about growing up parent-less. When you were younger, you were in state custody while Amber lost her parents in her early teens. How do you approach the subject matter with guests who’ve been through so much and what kind of impact does the show have on you?
Chanel Ali: We met in New York City and had performed together a few times. Then I appeared in a short film she produced and she overheard me make a joke about being an orphan. It started an interesting conversation about characters like Harry Potter, Batman, Annie. These strong individuals who had to motivate themselves without parental direction. We decided to start a podcast to make these conversations more common, so that people like us don’t feel like we have to hide our history.
Amber lost her parents later than I did so our perspectives are a little different. I am more familiar with not having parents because I don’t know the difference really, it’s something I’ve never experienced. But she had her early life with her parents and then had to transition into being an orphan. On the show, we empower successful comedians on Daddyless Issues to tell their stories, to have the emotional moments and people grow right in front of us. They realize their own strength.
LADYBUD: Having known quite a few comedians, one thing I’ve noticed is many struggle with depression and can perceive the depth of humor as well as depravity while observing humans; what do you feel is your vibe as a comedian and how you approach your sets?
Chanel Ali: Comedians are very diverse, but most have explored the depths of depression at some point in their lives. You have to overcome something, whether is a mental block or an actual physical block, to be able to get through the trial and error that comes along with a comedy career. Stand-up comedy is an art form that forces you to expose yourself to people and sometimes you get rejected. If you haven’t experienced a severe depression and arose from it, one bad set can scare you away from the stage forever.
I’m a storyteller so all of my comedy is based in real life. I talk about things I’ve seen, thought, or experienced. I get a lot of compliments about my stage presence and how confidently I present myself. I honestly don’t do that on purpose. I have confidence in my comedy but way before I started stand-up I was just confident that I could talk to people, get them to listen and relate. I bring crowds together.
LADYBUD: We met in Philly when you were just starting out in comedy but you moved to NYC in 2015 — how is the comedy scene different?
Chanel Ali: New York City is the comedy capital of the entire world. There’s no other city that offers as many shows, as many comedians or as much opportunity. It’s also a well-read city so the crowds can often be extremely well-informed. Moving into a scene where audiences have a higher standard forced me to write more intellectually and also more personally.
LADYBUD: You’re big on self care as it’s so important especially these days with all the national chaos, what are some ways you assert that your health comes before anything else?
Chanel Ali: Self care as a host and as a person is so important, and sometimes live shows and the podcast happen periodically. Depending on our guests and how we the hosts are feeling emotionally, sometimes we have to reschedule and that’s important to recognize. Recounting traumatic things can send you into a spiral if you’re not cautious.
I want to be a performer who gets booked and can be trusted to get there on time but I won’t sacrifice my sanity for it, which is something we see in entertainment all the time. I feel a sincere obligation to pay attention to the comedians who came before me, some of whom are no longer living, and acknowledge the trials and tribulations they experienced. I don’t want to fall into the same trap. I don’t let people use me, I stand up for myself, and if I need to take a day to focus on breath, I do it.
LADYBUD: Who are some of your comedic inspirations from childhood and early adulthood?
Chanel Ali: I love Wanda Sykes, she’s a real comedian’s comedian. She was a writer on the ‘Chris Rock Show’ and toured with him. Steve Martin’s ‘The Jerk’ is an absurd comedy film and I couldn’t believe people could make money being that absurd! In high school, I really, really loved ‘Chappelle Show’ — I was always so excited to go to school and discuss the last episode.
In Philadelphia back in the day, Bill Bellamy gave me my first spot at the comedy Helium Club. I was riding my bike past the club and my friend who worked security called out to me to go in and meet Bill Bellamy. As soon as we were introduced, he offered me a spot on his next show. That was 2012-13ish and I did a set, learned from him on his tour, watched him work on new material show after show. It helped me understand the process of being on tour, having multiple shows and how to develop material.
LADYBUD: What are your favorite clubs at which you’ve performed thus far?
Chanel Ali: I love the Curious Comedy Theater in Portland Oregon, Punchline Comedy Club in Philadelphia and the Comedy Bar in Toronto.
LADYBUD: Have you had any hecklers that you’ve had to shut down?
Chanel Ali: I rarely get hecklers but things happen. One time I was heckled by two gay guys at a packed show in NYC but they were heckling me with compliments. “YAS BITCH! I LOVE THIS GIRL! YOU BETTER TELL THEM!”
It’s awkward when I have to remind people that they are not actively helping me out right now. Generally I don’t invite the crowd to speak much but if they have something to say, you have to decide if you want to waste time addressing them. We only get so many minutes on stage.
LADYBUD: What are some upcoming performances and events in which you will be participating?
Chanel Ali: I perform about 5-8 times a week in New York City so I try to promote those shows on my social media and on my website.
CHECK IT OUT: chanelali.com and find her on Twitter and Instagram: @chanel_ali