Rounding up laughs: Retired detective relishes 2nd career as stand-up comic

 By Sheila Pursglove 

Legal News
 
When retired Ann Arbor cop Khurum Sheikh waves a pair of diamond encrusted handcuffs in the air, no one is getting arrested — but audiences are collared by this stand-up comedian’s hilarious stage routine.
Sheikh is living out his career dream from childhood, when he was enthralled by Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”      
“As one of my jokes goes, being a stand-up comedian seemed too scary so I played it safe and became a police officer instead,” he says with a smile.
A graduate of Fraser High School in Macomb County, Sheikh’s path to stage success started with an undergrad degree in psychology from the University of Michigan.       
“I’ve always been fascinated by our minds and although it certainly helps to know psychology when reaching out to an audience, I think all good comedians are psychologists whether they have formal training or not,” he says.
After graduating in 1984, Sheikh joined the Ann Arbor Police Department for a career that had long been in the cards.       
“As a little kid, whenever I heard a siren, I wondered what the police were going to — and although lots of kids are like that, I never lost that wonder,” he says. 
Working his way up the ranks as a patrol officer, detective and supervisory detective, he retired in 2009 as an administration lieutenant.
His favorite task was working undercover narcotics.       
“I remember thinking when I first got the assignment that even if I won the lottery, I wouldn’t quit my job,” he says. “Being an undercover narcotics officer was like living a Hollywood movie. I remember once trying to buy cocaine from a known dealer who worked in a bar and playing pool with him and having a beer when it occurred to me — I’m at work! Being of Pakistani origin it was particularly fun because no one ever thought I was a cop.”
After earning his comedy chops while still at AAPD, with “Open Mic” night gigs at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase and other venues, Sheikh threw himself into his new venture after retirement.       
“At some point I realized that as I was getting older, the idea of never trying to be a comedian was getting scarier than attempting it and failing. Finally decided I would go on stage simply so I would not have regrets in my old age,” he says. “Now for me there’s no failure in comedy — I’m at least out there giving it my best.”
Drawing on his experiences at the AAPD for much of his comedy routine he relates how, in the 1980s the force was made up almost exclusively of white males, a few black officers — and Sheikh, who immigrated from Pakistan in 1968 at the age of 7.       
“Everyone knew when a citizen referred to me because they would say, ‘that Puerto Rican cop,’” he says.
After the terror attacks of 9/11, Sheikh faced hostility as a native of Pakistan where Osama Bin Laden was believed to be in hiding – but found people liked him once they learned he was a police officer.       
“That’s weird — I get the opposite reaction at my Al Qaeda meetings,” he would say, a quip often met with surprised, nervous laughter before he would add, “I’m kidding — I don’t go to Al Qaeda meetings — we chat online.”
Now part of his stage routine, that joke is an example of one that takes risks and can only be done if a comedian has complete confidence in the material, he notes.       
“When first doing comedy I would be hesitant to do it — now I do it with full force and it generally gets a big laugh,” he says. “Not always, but that’s what makes comedy such a challenge and keeps me interested while in retirement.”
Like many comedians, Sheikh is generally quiet and introverted offstage.       
“For me, I’m such a perfectionist that for a long time I didn’t enjoy performing because you’re bound to be less than perfect. Now I know the best thing you can do is simply have fun — that way the audience has fun, too. Still, it’s taken me five years to begin having fun on stage.”
Sheikh, who has spent years studying and analyzing movies of classic comedians, comparing their routines from the early years to their peak performances, gets a big kick out of thinking up new jokes, trying them on stage, and getting big laughs.       
“Of course, the only way to do that is to take risks and fail once in a while,” he says. “I’m finally happy even when I fail because I realize that’s part of the process and I’d like to eventually get so good that people laugh at my ‘failures.’ That was one of Johnny Carson’s trademarks – he was funniest when a joke didn’t go well and his reaction and play with it was priceless.”
Carson is still Sheikh’s comedy idol, as is Richard Pryor. Of the current slate of comedians, Bill Maher tops his list.       
“Not necessarily because he’s the funniest, but because he’s political and makes people think, whether you agree with him or not,” he says. “That’s what I would like to do eventually — be so funny that I can talk about politics and religion and instead of alienating people, make them think and maybe actually change their minds on some things.” 
Sheikh, who recently finished a pilot for a new reality show about up and coming comedians, has won several comedy contests and performed from Aspen to New York City. Locally he has worked at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle in Royal Oak, Joey’s Comedy Club in Livonia, and the Michigan Theatre in Jackson. A lover of live theater, he has acted in various roles at Riverside Arts Theater in Ypsilanti, and Redbud Productions in Ann Arbor. To “nab” this former cop for a gig, e-mail him at khurum313@aol.com.

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »