In late October Netflix premiered Patriot Act, the highly anticipated new series from stand-up comedian and former The Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj. So far, the late night-esque program has released five of its “unprecedented” 32-episode order, and it seems to be going well for all parties concerned. Yet as Comedy Central conveniently noted at around the same time that Patriot Act was about to debut, Minhaj’s solo efforts aren’t the only thing he’s doing at the moment. There’s also Goatface, the comedy troupe he formed with Aristotle Athiras, Asif Ali and Fahim Anwar back in 2011.
The YouTube sensation is set to debut Goatface: A Comedy Special on Comedy Central, so Uproxx hopped on the phone with Athiras, Ali and Anwar to talk about it. Among other things, the three friends couldn’t get over the fact that turning their group’s sketches into a television special meant having a props department that, if asked, would provide them with multiple varieties of “fake urine” for a sketch. Yet what they’re even more excited about is the prospect of getting their names and faces out into a much broader (and, politically speaking, scarier) world.
“Ultimately, our goal is to get normalized,” says Athiras, who directs the special. “At the end of the day, we’re American. We all grew up here.”
Goatface has been together since 2011, but when did the idea for this TV special first come about?
Aristotle Athiras: It was really a product of timing. When we first started the group, we were together at the same level and we always knew that if one of us blew up in some form or fashion, the goal was always going to be to bring the show with them.
Fahim Anwar: This is a thing we tried to do earlier on, but I just don’t think our public presence was high enough to do it yet.
Asif Ali: Yeah, this was pre-woke America and Los Angeles.
Anwar: Our profile was rising a little bit and then the climate became what it is. So even though we were like a dog sensing a tsunami and we knew it was on the horizon, everyone back then was like, “Go away, dog!”
Athiras: And it just so happens that we have the country’s woke laureate as one of the members of the group. Hasan is the quintessential woke person. We’re all woke! But that’s kind of how it all went down.
Ali: This just happens to be the right time for it, for us.
Athiras: Yeah, our current political climate definitely had a lot to do with it. I think that’s why we all voted for Trump because we were like, “We gotta work!”
Ali: I voted twice.
All jokes aside, this begs a common question that comedians have been asked since Trump first announced his presidential run: “Does this make your job easier?” I’m not asking it specifically, though I’m curious how his presence has affected your work.
Ali: One thing I like about this show is that we don’t really address Trump or the right. We’re not super explicit about it. There a lot of angles to being brown. There’s the cultural experience and all that. We’re not as divisive as you think we might be, having the racial composition that we do, that we are.
Athiras: The connective tissue between Trump and what we’re doing now would be the fact that there’s been a very concerted effort on his side of the fence to alienate us. To alienate us as a group of individuals that occupies the U.S. with citizenship status. Ultimately, our goal is to get normalized. At the end of the day, we’re American. We all grew up here.
Anwar: I was born in Seattle and my parents are from Afghanistan, but I’m just as American as anybody else. My upbringing and experiences are just like yours or anybody else’s, and just by having a voice, I think that’s powerful.
Absolutely. That was something else I noticed in the special, that any political commentary that is there isn’t all that explicit. I’m thinking specifically of the “NRA Image Awards” sketch, for which you all dressed up as guns. It’s absurd.
Athiras: What’s really always been a goal for us is the idea that we don’t want the joke to hit harder because of where we’re from. We want the comedy to speak for itself. There are some sketches we’ve done in the past that do lean on the fact that we are brown, and we try to play the best version of that. If we’re addressing anything that’s a knee-jerk reaction to our current administration, it’s the fact that there have been so many efforts recently to make us feel more alienated than we already were. So we’re doing our best to show everybody that we’re normal Americans.
Anwar: We always want to be comics first and brown second.
What is the group dynamic like?
Ali: We’ll all get together with our own ideas, throw them at each other and pick the best ones. It’s very egalitarian. Whatever is the best idea will always win, and then we’ll take those and build them out as a group. I think it’s really fun for us because normally we all do stand-up, which is this very solitary thing. So to get in a room with a group of guys that you think are really funny and build out these roles together is super fun. It’s part of the reason it works because we’re not on top of each other all the time, trying to get the funniest lines or whatever.
Athiras: We would do this on a weekly basis. When we were all together in Los Angeles, we would literally have weekly meetings.
How has this process evolved over time? I mean, obviously, everyone’s not in California at the same time nowadays.
Athiras: I think the process for the TV show is different just by way of the fact we now have another level of approval to get through. The face of what we’re doing hadn’t really changed all that much. We still get together in a room to hash out ideas.
Anwar: There are so many more departments because it’s at a higher level now. It’s a bigger symphony than what it was in the past. Before I’d be like, “I’ll run to Home Depot and get this, this and this.” It was all self-contained within the group because we were doing everything. But now we have a props department, and one of their guys will come over and be like, “Hey, I can’t find the urine you want.” It’s literally a grown man’s job to find that for us. The comedy is stripped from it because he just sees it as a task to do. “Hey, they don’t have any more fake urine. Sorry, guys!”
Athiras: It was funny because we would make these requests and it was somebody’s job to be very serious about getting that thing, whatever it may be. Like for “Frosted Greg,” we got a couple versions of the cereal boxes. That’s another thing that kind of trips me out, even with the fake urine. They would bring you different options.
Ali: They had different types of fake urine.
Anwar: Then we’d have to make a choice. Like, “Here’s you’re Gianni Versace variety.”
Makes you wonder what prompted their needing to have so many options.
Athiras: I think it’s funny. It actually sounds like a sketch idea, to be honest.
You directed this special, Ari, but you also directed Fahim’s Seeso special and many other comedy films. From your perspective, what are the biggest differences between directing sketch and stand-up?
Athiras: Really, just the workload. How much you listen on either is different, too, because stand-up is one of those things where, as a director, you’re just trying to direct someone else’s thing. It’s not necessarily my job to say, “I like this joke better than that joke.” My job is to ask, “How do I find the best tone for this point of view?” So for Fahim’s special, he’s very much a purist when it comes to stand-up. He doesn’t like hearing a lot of distracting things and wants the jokes to speak for themselves. Which is great, because it’s a lot harder to do those things these days, but he does it very, very well. I still try and inject a little bit of sketch in there, though. There’s an opening that I devised for his special that I thought would be a really great fit for his sensibility.
Anwar: Yeah, the painting was really cool. So were the curtains.
Athiras: That’s probably the chief difference between doing the sketch show and a stand-up special. There’s just a lot more involved in doing sketch. There are more wheels turning to make something like that work. A lot of moving parts. It’s scripted narrative.
‘Goatface: A Comedy Special’ premieres Tuesday at 10 pm ET/PT on Comedy Central.