Vancouver Writers Festival welcomes true multi-hyphenate Ali Hassan – Vancouver Sun

Vancouver Writers Festival welcomes true multi-hyphenate Ali Hassan – Vancouver Sun

Close to 120 authors set to talk it up at 35th annual literary event on at Granville Island.
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Vancouver Writers Festival: Ali Hassan

When: Oct. 18, 8:30 p.m.
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Where: Revue Stage, Granville Island

Tickets and info:

Ali Hassan says having a lot on his plate is what fuels him.

That’s a good thing because the Toronto father of four’s CV includes comedian, actor, broadcaster, host, podcaster, teacher and now author.

“It’s good. It matches my personality, my undiagnosed ADHD, that I most likely have,” said Hassan about his multi-hyphenate life during a recent phone conversation.

Hassan says he is constantly bouncing back and forth between projects and jobs that include hosting CBC Radio shows, acting in the TV series Run the Burbs, teaching at Queen’s University and touring as a standup comedian.

However, he will have to sit still for a bit of time when he lands in Vancouver to talk about his new memoir, Is There Bacon in Heaven, at the Vancouver Writers Festival (VWF) on Oct. 17 to 23 at Granville Island.

Hassan will be in conversation with fellow comedian and actor Brent Butt, he of Corner Gas fame, on Oct. 18 at the Revue Stage at 8:30 p.m.

“If there was going to be any trepidation or nerves at all they were all wiped out immediately when I was told I would be in conversation with Brent Butt,” said Hassan, who has moderated events but never been the subject of one himself. “Who better to be in conversation with then another comedian?

“I’m very, very excited. No nerves at all. I will just have to remember he is supposed to be in conversation with me not me in conversation with him.”

Either way, the conversation will of course turn to standup comedy, something that sits at the core of both Hassan’s and Butt’s creative lives.

“I always say standup first,” said Hassan when asked about how he introduces himself. “The standup informs so much. My writing, well, you’re not going to see a work of fiction or horror from me. It’s always going to be informed by comedy. My acting is often comedic work and if it’s not it’s just a small detour for a little while. So, comedy is the bread and butter. Comedy is No. 1.”

CBC Radio listeners will know Hassan well as he hosts the shows Canada Reads and Laugh Out Loud, and is a regular guest host on Q, and As It Happens.

Is There Bacon in Heaven begins with a kid in a Muslim Pakistani family trying to figure out who he is and what his culture means. Where he fits in is front and centre, as a teen Hassan knows the words to 10 Blue Rodeo songs but not much about being Muslim. With laugh-out loud stories, Hassan has a nice ability to settle in on serious topics like code switching and parenting with a wink. Being uncomfortable in cottage country and a strip club become funny stories about character.

“People don’t know you so you should give them something to like about you before you start saying something serious, before you have an opinion,” said Hassan about warming up a reader and a crowd. “Start with a little honey, then bring in the vinegar. I think this probably comes to me instinctively from being a comedian onstage. Let me earn their trust with a couple of tried-and-true jokes and then I will try this new joke that I am not sure works or not. So, the writing probably modelled that.”

Hassan, 50, has four kids aged 19, 17, 11 and seven and says he still can make the younger ones laugh because they still think their parents are “cool.” As for the teenagers, well, you know, teenagers.

“My eldest read the book in the summer when she was home, and my wife said: ‘What did you think?’ And she went: ‘Ahh, there’s probably a few things that I shouldn’t have read. But it was good,’ ” said Hassan. “What more can you ask for from a teen then, it was good?”

Hassan is one of almost 120 authors taking part in the 35th annual Vancouver Writers Festival.

“There is a general balance. We try to program one-third local authors, one-third from across Canada and then a third international,” said VWF artistic director Leslie Hurtig. “The events we curate for the festival are meant to entertain for certain, but more than that they are meant to spark new ideas and understanding about this world we live in and the issues we face today.”

This year’s festival, which also includes robust programming aimed at youth, is guest-curated by 2021 Giller Prize winner Omar El Akkad.

“My process is to start each year finding the perfect guest curator to work with me. I like to choose somebody new each year that has a different voice than my own, that can bring new perspectives,” said Hurtig.

This year El Akkad has curated six events.

The 80 events on offer at the VWF include conversations with bold-type authors like Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart and Canadian literary heavyweights Heather O’Neill, Lisa Moore, Billy-Ray Belcourt and Wayne Johnston. Wide ranging topics include human rights, family, turning a hit novel into a hit movie, managing unexpected combinations, how to be thrilling, the culture, climate, the news of the day, and what the heck is happening to it.

“We pay close attention to what is happening in the news and what is happening around us,” said Hurtig about her and her staff’s programming plan. “My first year here coincided with the #MeToo movement being brought to the front of all of our minds and that had an impact on how I was thinking about programming and who I wanted to represent here at the festival. (Now) certainly all that is happening south of the border with far-right extremism and what’s happening to journalists today and how they are portrayed on social media, we want to address this.

“We want to hear from some of the world’s best thinkers about how to address these really serious issues that a lot of us are thinking about.”

To help you form a festival plan go to your local bookstore and pick up a VWF program or check out the schedule on the VWF website.     

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