Interviewed by Andrew Buss
Last year, Ali Siddiq released his special The Domino Effect. Siddiq has long been a favorite of comics and underground comedy fans, who had perhaps seen his story Mexican’s Got On Boots on This Is Not Happening or saw his first Comedy Central special where Siddiq returned to prison to talk to inmates in It’s Bigger Than These Bars. Or maybe you saw him on Bring The Funny on NBC.
But last year, Siddiq decided to go the self distribution route for his special The Domino Effect. And it worked. To date, that first special has 9.2 million views. Siddiq knew he had more to add, so last month, he released which may be the first literal sequel to a stand-up special that we’re aware of, titled The Domino Effect Part 2: Loss. Siddiq uses a similar storytelling structure to keep telling the story. And in just over a month, he’s already gotten more than 2 million views.
We recently spoke to Siddiq about the new special, what made him want to follow up The Domino Effect, what he has planned for parts three and four, whether we’ll ever get a film adaptation of Mexicans Got On Boots, and more!
The first time I ever saw you was Bigger Than These Bars in 2018. And I immediately knew that you were someone we had to look out for and I couldn’t wait to see where you took things next.
The first one, I thought it was a great piece of work. And from the response that I got, it prompted me to do The Domino Effect and go a little deeper into the story and how I got to Bigger Than These Bars, how I got incarcerated. So that's how the sequel started. And I think that it's even a better piece of work than the first one.
I just wanna throw out there, I think you might be the first comedian to ever have a part two to a standup special. I'm not sure that's ever been done.
I don't think it has. But, you know, hopefully it's one of the, one of the first of many.
Absolutely. Because that's such an interesting concept, taking something and breaking it down even further. Because of how well the first one did, did you have pressure when you were working on the part two?
Actually, it would seem like I would, but I didn't. It's like, how do you have pressure from another part of your life? Well, maybe this part of life wasn't as interesting as the first part. I don't know. But it was like, we were going from 10 to 15 and now we're going from 16 to 19. And I think that part was a little more interesting because it shows the different dynamics of how I became the person that I was and how I dealt with what would be coming in The Domino Effect three and four, and how I dealt with being incarcerated.
Wow. I love that you’re going to keep going with this concept, because it’s so fascinating to me. When you first started this journey last year, did you always know there would be follow-ups?
No, it actually wasn't. I did a special on Epix maybe two weeks between me doing Domino Effect. So I thought I was just going to do another special based on something else because I already have two albums, The Missing Piece and Dope Without Association. So there was no intention of doing a sequel. It just came about. People would ask me what happened after that. I was like “What?” “I want to hear the rest of the story.” So then it just prompted me to say, "You know something, let's do from 16 to 19.” And then in the midst of me doing that, I was thinking like, "Then they are going to want know the first years of being incarcerated. How I dealt with that.” So I started working on that in the course of working on part two.
Tell me a bit about your writing process. Do you have structure or a story flow in mind before you get onstage, or does it take shape in front of the audience?
Most of it takes the shape in front of the audience. But it's already shaped because it's a life experience. It's just based upon me. And what I have to figure out is what story I'm going to tell. Because several things happened to you in a year. But on this particular storyline, it is what took place in those instances outside of what else was going on that had me structure how an hour or an hour and a half is going to go.
The story meets the criteria once I can close with the story. If I'm on the road and I can just close with this, where I've done other material, and then I just decide “Let me tell y'all a story about this.” And once I can close with it and I feel like it's there, that's when it gets in the lineup for being a part of the special.
Absolutely. And are there certain stories that you have struggled to find how it could work its way into your act?
I don't think it's stories that I'm not comfortable telling. It's about how I'm feeling at the time. Like some stories come out of the way that I’m feeling. And then I'm like, “Oh man. I remember this feeling, and the last time I felt like this, this was happening. So I start to tell that story.
I don't have a lot of, “Oh. This is going to be the funny part of the story.” I'm just telling the story and. In the course of how I'm telling the story, people laugh at whatever part that's funny to them, you know? And that's how, when I listen to a story, I don't laugh at the parts that everybody else laughs at. Sometimes it's just me, by myself like, "Wait a minute, what'd you say happened?”That's the part that I keyed in on. So, you know, that's how I tell a story, the same way I listen.
Right. Where everyone can have their own interpretation of a story.
Yeah. And you you isolate it to you. Everything that happens can, you can look in your life and be like, "Ah, I remember when this happened.” It may not have been the same person, but it's the same thing that happened. And then if it's not, it's something that you've heard about before, like, "Oh, that's how that happens?” I try to be more in touch with just the human nature of how you laugh at things and how you listen to things.
I‘m curious. We’ve talked before about taking creative risks. What is the biggest or your favorite creative risk you’ve taken that’s paid off?
Not moving to LA and New York. You know, people used to tell me that's the only way to make it in comedy is to move to LA and New York. And I disagreed strongly. I just felt like I had to show that I could make it from Houston, and give the people that's around me hope. And if you move away and you make it, they don't ever see the process of what it took. They just see the end result. So I kind of wanted people to see the process of what it was going to take in order to make it, the ups and downs. So that was definitely, not even just a creative risk, it was a career risk.
I feel like the idea that you need to be in LA or NY is a bit of an outdated model. Yes it helps, but with self-releasing and streaming and social media, you can make it from anywhere now.
Yeah. When I started, you know, that was the thing 25 years ago, you know, it was either LA or New York before the streaming. So I go back to the early successes of being on Def Jam and being on Comedy Central. Because 2013, the internet really wasn't as prevalent as it is now.
And what do you consider like your first big break where you feel like you really onto something and that you made the right creative and career risk or choice?
Ali: I don't even know if it's one thing. Because in this business a lot of people wait on that one thing, but it's so many things that happen in the course of your career. It is, it's elevated steps. You get from being on Comic View to being on Who’s Got Jokes to being on Comedy Central and even after being on Comedy Central multiple times, I still feel like NBC Bring the Funny was another creative risk for me to go on, being an established comedian going on a basically game show. Doing stand up and being judged. Luckily we had some great judges that understood comedy. My material being a storyteller was holding up on that, not thinking I was gonna make it to the finals, as it was up against a lot of different things. Sketch groups and all sorts of other entertaining things. But going on there was a, a big risk and a big step that brought in a different audience. And then me self-releasing The Domino Effect was another, was another milestone. Even though the success was coming off of Comedy Central with the prison riot story, which was a real big success. So it's just been a lot of stepping stones that have helped the rise of me being in the position I'm in now.
Speaking of which, I saw you at the premiere of The Machine. And I’m wondering, will we ever get a film adaptation of Mexican’s Got On Boots?
(Laughs). Man, that's a thing that we've been thinking about. Before we saw the success of The Machine for a while we were thinking, “Should we do a full movie on how that happened?” But there’s also another movie I was thinking about before that, you know, that I'm gonna tell for Domino Effect Three, which is another great story. Obviously the goal was always to become a comedian, but in the back of your mind, were you thinking, "Man, I'd like to turn something into a movie”? Or did that come outta being a comedian.
Because my whole goal was always just to be a stand-up. Never wanted to be in a sitcom, never wanted to be in a movie. That was never my goal. And that's another thing that drives me, that people think that because they label people great comedians if they have a sitcom or a movie, it's not just based upon them being a stand-up, which is kinda like cheapening the craft. You know, just because you go to the movies and you are funny in a movie that somebody else wrote or you are in a sitcom that other writers are involved in, it has nothing to do with the craft of being a comic, writing your material and working it out and being known as a great standup. And that's what I think that I'm all about.
Are you thinking about what’s next?
I'm in the present for right now, but my long-term goal is to turn one of my Domino Effects is probably gonna be a play. That is what I'm shooting for. I'm shooting to restructure it as a play and going to Broadway and creating another avenue for comics other than just movies and sitcoms. Some of these great stories can be turned into plays. Especially with Domino Effect too, being what it is, you know, it is a tragedy. It is a comedy and a tragedy just like most plays. So I think that's the angle that I'm going for is to turn Domino Effect one and two into a play.