Virtual laughs: Comedian Ali Sultan keeps comedy alive from a safe distance

Ali Sultan

Ali Sultan Dena Denny

A group of approximately 60 or so comedy fans got together a few Tuesdays ago for a night of standup comedy. At the helm was Ali Sultan, one of the funniest and most enterprising comedians in the Twin Cities. 

But fear not, germ police! The entire show was online as part of Sultan’s regular (for now) Virtual Distancing Live Open Mic on Instagram.

It’s been pretty tough to find anything funny about the last couple of weeks. In addition to restaurants, concert venues, and movie theaters, standup comedy was basically leveled overnight because of the coronavirus and social distancing.

“I was terrified that I was going to lose work,” says Sultan, who makes his living exclusively from comedy. “Then I was just terrified of the bigger problem, and losing gigs became irrelevant.”

Still, Sultan refused to allow comedy to take a sick day. Instead, he got to work using his network of comics from other corners of the world to find a new solution.

“I am from a third-world country, so I am naturally adaptive and resourceful,” says the Yemeni American. “I wanted to find a way to talk with other comics and goof around with an audience.”

So Virtual Distancing Live Open Mic was born. Hosted by Sultan on his own Instagram (@alisultancomedy), shows feature comics from all over the country performing for a live audience from their homes. After several successful shows this past week featuring locals like Greg Coleman and Tommy Bayer, as well as comics from New York and LA like Usama Siddiquee and Atheer Yacoub, Sultan has committed to hosting a show every Monday night at 8:30 p.m.

“It’s like workshopping a bit with another comic, except there are other people watching and commenting,” Sultan says of the open mics. “It’s not standup. It’s a new thing with limitations and some advantages. But overall, it’s fun.”

In addition to Sultan’s show on Mondays, other comics have begun following his lead, creating virtual shows of their own. Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., comedian Elizabeth Ess hosts Slay Virtual Open Mic, and at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Shyloh Blake has created This Sucks! A Comedy Hour for the Pandemic. Meanwhile the Midway Mic open mic with Derek Meyers will continue to take place every Friday night at 9 p.m. until this shit is under control.

As for Sultan, he is also beginning to organize themed shows through Zoom to help earn some money for his comedy, and details can be found on his Instagram.

For now, however, Sultan says that he is less worried about stage time, and just doing his part to get through this incredibly fucked up situation.

“Standup will be back to normal. It’s just a matter of when,” he says. “It can take months or more. I’m not certain about it, but I’m focused on much more serious things.”

Virtual Distancing Live Open Mic
8:30 p.m. Mondays
Watch on Instagram live at@alisultancomedy