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Comedian Ali Hassan poses for a photograph at The Corner Comedy Club in Toronto on Friday, December 16, 2016. Hassan said he feels "a little lucky" that his cross-Canada tour gets underway just as Donald Trump takes office. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
TORONTO — Ali Hassan feels "a little lucky" that his cross-Canada tour gets underway just as Donald Trump takes office.
The Canadian comedian had the chance to test-drive his solo show "Muslim, Interrupted" during a month-long run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year.
But Hassan said Trump's historic U.S. presidential win marks a "whole new ball game" with the addition of fresh material to his act, while also sharing personal experiences about his relationship with Islam.
"Especially in this time of Trump, it's important to show people something different than what they're seeing in the media: that not all Muslims are fire-breathing dragons or whatever people think they are," Hassan said ahead of his tour launch in Edmonton on Jan. 19.
"Within the first few months of doing comedy I realized: 'Oh, this is an opportunity to do some positive PR for Pakistanis.' Pakistan (was) much-maligned in the news, but if somebody sees me and goes, 'Oh, I saw a Pakistani the other day: pretty relaxed guy, funny, was able to make fun of himself.'
"I'm not winning a Nobel Peace Prize or anything, but I'm doing what I can as a person who's onstage, and I've always liked that role."
While Trump was campaigning to become the Republican presidential nominee, he called for a "total and complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the U.S. — a move that was decried by members of both major political parties.
"It was frightening to hear," recalled Hassan, who worked as an IT consultant in Chicago prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.
During the U.S. general election, Trump later focused on temporarily halting immigration from an unspecified list of countries with ties to terrorism, but did not disavow the Muslim ban, which is still prominently displayed on his campaign website.
"In the Trump era, I have to take a good close look at everything that I'm doing and make sure that at no point does it seem like I'm piling on or selling out my community that is being regarded as public enemy No. 1. That is a fine line that I have to walk," said Hassan during an interview at the Corner Comedy Club in downtown Toronto.
Hassan described "Muslim, Interrupted" as an exploration of the "ins and outs" and "stops and starts" with Islam. The father of four said the backdrop of the show centres around questions fielded from his kids that he was incapable of answering because he isn't connected to the religious element of the Islamic community.
"I'm challenging people's notions of what a Muslim should be because I don't practise Islam but I still consider myself a Muslim — a cultural Muslim. So, people can't handle that," said Hassan, noting that a total of eight people walked out during his run of 26 shows in Edinburgh.
"They can't handle the fact that I'll eat pork, or I'll not send my kids to a mosque, or struggle with certain things that are basic tenets of the faith. I mean, this is what life is: exploring who you are and trying to understand where you fit in and how to be a better person.
"So if they leave, I'm like: 'Great! Can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.' It made me feel good to challenge people a little bit, because that's what comedy should do as well."
The "Muslim, Interrupted" tour will include stops in Calgary on Jan. 20, Saskatoon on Jan. 21, Regina on Jan. 22, Moncton, N.B., on Feb. 11 and Vancouver on Feb. 24.
- With files from The Associated Press
— Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.
Lauren La Rose, The Canadian Press