Chris Halef ‘s developing comedy career was born of a need to find his own place when growing up
Chris Halef, an Assyrian-Canandian comedian and journalist, is hoping to take his comedy career to the next level.
Halef, the son of two Assyrian immigrants from Turkey, says growing up in Bedford he would often feel isolated from the other kids. Like most immigrant families, going between school and home life often felt like traveling between countries.
“When you go back to your house, you’re basically going back to the country your parents came from,” Halef says. “The food is different, the taste was different, the rug was different…it took me a while to be able to relate to anyone.”
Comedy played a big role in helping him feel less isolated. He recalls watching Russel Peters’ specials as a kid and the sense that he wasn’t alone in what he was experiencing. “At school, I felt like I couldn’t relate to anybody,” Halef says, “so being able to see somebody like Russel Peters say something like that…it brought me comfort.”
From a young age, Halef knew he wanted to pursue comedy, but it wasn’t until he received an Radio Television Digital News Association award in 2018 that he decided to try stand-up.
“I remember that was the highest point of my journalism career. I remember I felt great about it. But I remember I went home and something was missing,” Halef says. He decided to go down to The Oasis, a Halifax bar that does open mic nights, and give stand-up a try. “I was terrible,” he says.
It took a long time for Halef to adjust to being funny off-stage and on-stage. He credits the late comedian Andrew Vaughan as a big source of encouragement. After his second set went poorly, Vaughan messaged him advice on his jokes and where he could improve.
“It meant the world to me…If he hadn’t sent that message, there’s a good chance I might have quit early on, but he did. And five years later, here I am,” he says.
He says his identity as an Assyrian-Canadian is something he wants to explore more through his comedy. “I’ve made it a goal this year to really focus on writing more about my background and how it was growing up,” he says.
Halef will be performing at the Apr. 26 Oh Canada! Comedy Show. The show features both up-and-coming and established comedians that “have direct connections to the Canadian immigration experience.” The event is being put on as a part of the Halifax Comedy Fest in partnership with the Canadian Immigration Museum at Pier 21 and aims to explore immigration in a new way.
“There’s something about laughing really hard together that breaks down barriers and makes us realize how universal our thoughts and experiences are,” says Cerri-Ann Smith, vice-president of the museum, in an email statement.
This is a sentiment Halef echoes. “If I do a joke about my background or something that is unique to my background, [sometimes I] then find [out] it’s not unique. There’ll be times where somebody from South Asia or somebody else that’s Middle Eastern comes up to me after and are like, ‘Oh, my God, man, like, you know, my dad said the same thing.’ That to me is my favourite type of feedback, which is like, okay, so I’m not crazy. You know, we’re all in this together,” Halef says.
These days, Halef is balancing being a comedian and an award winning-journalist. Despite having a successful career in broadcast radio, eventually Halef wants to transition to full-time comedian. He views the comedy fest as the beginning of his career.
“This is the biggest thing that’s happened for me in the four or five years I’ve been doing
comedy…To me this is the beginning of something.”