The Success to Zahid Dewji's Secret

September 9, 2021

Photo Credit

Zahid Dewji

Interview by

Valerie Lopez

Article by

Richard Goodwin

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2021 Summer Vacation Series - The Finale

Destination - Houston, Texas

The world is in the midst of a host of debuts, including the blinding sight of faces that haven’t seen true sunlight for many months, poking out of doors and taking the cautious first steps back into the great outside.
It’s only fitting that we conclude our 2021 Summer Vacation Series by coming closer to home. While we were in no way on vacation, our theme spoke to more to that most summer-y of concepts, traveling to new places near and far. Many of our guests are local to Austin, but during the pandemic we had the honor of “hosting” comics from around the world on our Isolation Comedy series, and the Vacation Series was our way of bringing them back for the full Comedy Wham interview treatment.

We'll be taking a break while we prepare for the Moontower Comedy Festival! Stay tuned!

In video games, it’s practically traditional for the “last boss” to appear when a journey is nearing completion. You can almost feel their presence as you ford the secret path to their signature lair, and you know you’re nigh unto an emotional experience.

Given that this week’s episode is the last of our Summer Series, it’s fitting that our guest, Zahid Dewj, consistently appeared on our Isolation Comedy series from his very own boss lair: the edge of his bedroom mattress. It’s like that old standby riff, where everything is “better if you end it with ‘in bed’”, but Dewji just bookends the whole thing by starting there as well.

Clad in his baseball cap du jour, as is often the case on stage, Dewji immediately grabs your attention with his rumbling baritone pitch. It’s a tone that lends itself to an expectation for either a session of dry wit, or sharp jibes, and it’s oh-so-pleasing when that’s exactly what he often delivers.

“The only part about comedy that I don't like is that an audience is there,” Dewji jokes.“I would love to do a set ‘John Lennon’-style: I sit in bed and people come into my room. I tell jokes and much like a king...then I motion for them for them to go away.” (At least we think he’s joking, mostly.)

The only part about comedy that I don't like is that an audience is there,” Dewji jokes.“I would love to do a set ‘John Lennon’-style: I sit in bed and people come into my room. I tell jokes and much like a king...then I motion for them for them to go away.
Zahid Dewji

It’s a refrain Dewji has turned to before, and while it seems farcical, he feels there’s something to it, even pitching a “one on one” show: one comedian, one audience member, rotated in on 15 minute slots. As Valerie notes, there are quite a few of us that would buy that ticket every time with Dewji.

With Dewji’s official background in music, writing and playing piano and guitar, he’s long had a feel for performing, with formal schooling in acting as well. The yearning for comedy goes all the way back to a childhood where he fell in love with legends like John Leguizamo’s Freak (who he calls a genius). Dewji even still holds onto one of his earliest jokes, promising to close a show with it someday. (I won’t spoil it here, but it has to do with yellow traffic lights, and--as he admits--has zero payoff.)

The combination of theories has enabled Dewji to deliver a unique variety of performance styles, like the video monologue/send-up “Comedian Shuts Down the Re-Opening of Texas During COVID-19”. With voiceover-perfect pacing over innumerable video clips, he smoothly pivots from earnest sounding pleas to achingly perfect social and political satire; it’s hardly a surprise, then, to learn that he worked with friend and music producer Ed Gardner to tune tempo.

The sense of holistically forming a comedic concept--perhaps born of the musical training--is core to Dewji’s view of performing. Likening the process to finding the perfect melody, he doesn’t hold back on the opinion that it’s not something every comedian gets right. “At a baseline level...some people I watch and I'm like, sure you can construct a joke,” he says, but feels that it’s obvious when a comic doesn’t “feel it in their bones”.

Currently based in Houston, Dewji doesn’t hesitate to affectionately poke fun at “liberal, hippy” Austin and our comedy scene, while readily admitting that it was the welcoming culture and comics that helped him get through the rough early days. Every 6 to 8 weeks he’d descend on our berg, performing (and eventually hosting) at mainstays like The Velv, and getting pointers from local favorites like (the also very musical) Avery Moore.

It was like, ‘we’re trying to save the Rec Center’, from one of those movies
Zahid Dewji (on undertaking building The Secret Group)

As Dewji built on the basics, 3 years into his comedy career, a chance conversation with friend Steven Brandeau birthed the idea of starting their own club in Houston. While it seemed a joke at the time, Dewji’s passing agreement to join the endeavor turned into reality barely a year later, and he’s frank about just how unprepared they felt. “It was like, ‘we’re trying to save the Rec Center’, from one of those movies,” he laughs, recalling how he didn’t yet have the skills to design the posters, much less run an entire business. “It was like comedy bootcamp,” he says of the experience, accelerating years of industry learnings into one-quarter of the normal timeline.

The club the team built, Houston’s The Secret Group, has quickly become a premiere name. Despite Dewji’s insistence that they “built it too big”, with an 80-person blackbox and 250-person theatre, it was that early naive enthusiasm that positioned the club as a crucial venue for performers and festival circuits. When we expanded our comedy event calendar to Houston, The Secret Group rapidly became a mainstay, and shows no signs of slowing.

Part of the success has to be attributed to Dewji’s devotion to growing the Houston comedy scene, and he effortly calls up multiple handfuls of talented names when Valerie asks who we should be watching in that area. Just a few of the many talents he calls out: Andrew Youngblood, Radu Bondar, Dusti Rhodes, Andy Huggins and recent Austin transplant from Houston, Mykal Dédé.

For a self-described “really mean person”, Dewji has a seemingly singular focus on making people laugh, and making it possible for others to do the same. When describing his future as “loaded” ( he jokes it’s either “bullshit” or “possibilities”), I think it aptly captures the core talents that brought him this far: certainty in his capabilities, and readiness to admit that he might well also be clueless, or in over his head.

It’s the pairing of the two that makes for many a success story, and, for Zahid Dewji, it seems the secret is out.

Want to know more about comedy in Houston, TX?

Zahid's recommendations for comics to check out from Houston include: Andrew Youngblood, Tre Tutson, Victor Tran, Grady Pruitt, Radu Bondar, Mykal Dédé, Dusti Rhodes, Bob Morrissey, Jeff Joe, Bob Biggerstaff, Tess Vergault, Kaylee White, Royce Moore, and the Houston list isn't completely with GOAT Andy Huggins. (He apologizes in advance for all the people he forgot and vows to never name people on the spot ever again.)

If you're in Houston, Zahid says be prepared for a different type of comedy than what you may be used to in Austin. Let's just say that Houston comics like a good fight. It's best heard in Zahid's words

Follow Zahid


Follow the Secret Group:

Zahid can be seen and heard:

  • Bad Idea (Host) - The Secret Group Fridays 8pm
  • Trash Flavored Trash (co-host with Andrew Youngblood) - The Secret Group Tuesdays at 10pm
  • Comedian Shuts Down the Re-Opening of Texas During COVID-19

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Zahid Dewji