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 pre­mière name. Despite Dewji’s insis­tence that they built it too big”, with an 80-per­son black­box and 250-per­son the­atre, it was that ear­ly naïve 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:

  • Head­lin­ing The Creek and the Cave on Sun­day Octo­ber 17, 2021 — click for tick­ets
  • 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