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About Playwright Aladdin Ullah

Aladdin UllahAladdin Ullah has been pioneering the past decade as one of the very first South Asians to perform stand-up comedy on national television on networks such as: HBO, Comedy Central, MTV, BET, and PBS. Co-founder and host of the multi-ethnic stand-up show Colorblind, which Mel Watkins of The New York Times hailed as "hilarious, thought provoking and ground breaking."

Theater: Member of Joseph Papp's Public Theater's Inaugural Emerging Writers group where he wrote/developed Indio during the Spotlight Series and workshops at Joe's Pub, The IAAC (Indo-American Arts Council) Playwright in Residence-Lark Play Development Center-NY, New York Theater Workshop Residency at Dartmouth, Halal Brothers directed by Liesel Tommy (The Labyrinth's Barn Series at Public Theater).  Aladdin has had numerous staged readings/workshops of his plays at New York Theater Workshop, Cape Cod Theater Project, Classical Theater of Harlem, Lark Play Development Center, Shakespeare in Paradise Festival (Bahamas) Labyrinth, and 1 Solo Festival.

Television: appeared in several commercials as an actor and voiceover artist, Uncle Morty's Dub Shack (IATV - Telly award for best comedy series), Desis:South Asians in NY (PBS).

Film: Professor Gautaum in American Desi, voiced several characters in the award winning animated film Sita Sings The Blues -"astonishingly original"- Roger Ebert (Best Animated Feature - Berlin and Tribeca film festivals, Spirit nominee).

Aladdin is a Recipient of the Paul Robeson development grant to produce a documentary called In search of Bengali Harlem which inspired the recent book Bengali Harlem (Harvard Press) by Vivek Bald.

Excerpt from INDIO:

I was the first one in my family born in America. I thought I had absolutely nothing in common with my parents, especially my father. We were from two different worlds.

I grew up in the only Bangladeshi Muslim family in East Harlem. I felt like the only Amish guy at a rap concert. During the 1980s, when I was around 11 I started hanging out with a crew. We’d hang out in Times Square where all the lights, color and decadence was. It was a little different back then. Today Times Square is rolling out the red carpet for tourists. How lovely it is today! Today there is Disney, Spider man, and Mary Poppins, but back then it was peep shows, pimps, and prostitutes. On 7th Ave. there was a theater that used to show Bruce Lee films for two dollars. We’d go every Saturday. We’d see all of them: Enter the Dragon, Return the Dragon, Bitch-slap the Dragon, etc, etc. It was the best place to watch films because the brothers used to scream at Bruce Lee like Bruce was actually listening to them. They’d yell, “You better watch out for that dude with claw, Bruce he’s behind you.” Part of me thought it was silly, but the African American dudes I hung out with were the funniest guys on the planet. I miss that old New York. Not all of it was fun in my old city back in the day. New York had no clue what gentrification was. If there was a hipster anywhere nearby he’d be mugged within two minutes. I am not proud of the old New York but it was like no other place in the world. Especially for a kid growing up in place like New York where the tourists dared not to venture uptown, while we loved going downtown to our favorite places.

Hip Hop was born during this era and I loved it. It was liberating to know that the poor folks in our hood had an art that belonged to us and no one could exploit it. We OWNED it! Our crew tagged graffiti. Graffiti possessed the badass cubism of Picasso and the ferociousness of Pollack’s splatter crashing on canvas! Only we didn’t have any canvas in the projects! Our canvas was the streets and subways of New York City! We didn’t give a fuck about Soho art galleries or getting our art to the Whitney, the MOMA, or the Metropolitan Museum full of safe art for the elite. Our art was free and for Everybody and we demanded the world see us because for a long time Nobody gave a damn about how people lived uptown, past 96th street. 96th street was the Mason-Dixon Line. If you took the 6 Train uptown you knew all the white folks got out at 96th street. Graffiti gave us a voice AND WE WERE GONNA BE HEARD! We weren’t robbing anybody or killing anyone! It was fun up until the moment I got arrested for vandalism. My father came to bail me out of jail at the 23rd Precinct on 102nd street.

My father limped with his cane and said in his strong Bangladeshi accent, “Alaudin, when I come to this country, I never thought I would have to pick up my son in jail for drawing on walls! Haram zat. For this garbage?”

“It’s not garbage Pop! It’s graffiti”, I shouted. “I tag the walls and subways because I let the whole world know who I am thru this art you call garbage! Besides what do you know, (staring him down) you are an old fresh off the boat, Uncle Tom tired dishwasher!”

There was a look of shock on his face perhaps even a bit hurt, but like always he never showed an ounce of emotion. He took a breath and it was the longest pause of my life. His eyes were stabbing me as he said, ”That is what you think of your father huh? You think I don’t know what it is like because I was a dishwasher? Let me tell you about something—

Long, long, long time ago, before you was born I go down South to see your Uncle. Cha Cha Loteb. He come to America so I visit him. I take bus. We go to restaurant. We sit down, I say “waitress, I would like a cheeseburger, make sure you put American, that is my favorite!

WAITRESS (in redneck voice): I’m sorry sugar, but we don’t serve your kind. You gonna have to take this to go.

POPS: Ven chud! Kuta batchaya? What do you mean you don’t serve my kind? I’m hungry is that not your kind?

WAITRESS: I’m sorry we don’t serve ya’ll on account of Jim Crow.

POPS: Who is Jim Crow? Let me speak to this Crow? Tell him I am very very hungry. I have money I’m sure this Jim Crow fellow will understand.

REDNECK SHERIFF: Excuse me sir what seems to be the problem?

POPS: Oh you must be Jim Crow! Hello my name is Habib.

RED NECK SHERIFF: Stop calling me crow. I’m the sheriff; I ain’t Jim Crow, Jim Crow is a law that states no coloreds are allowed in this here establishment. That means no spics, injuns, or nigras now get a going!

POPS: I will not leave until you serve me! If a man is hungry he should have the right to eat. This is America!

RED NECK SHERIFF: And this is the South and you nigras are goin’ ta jail!

My father takes a long pause and as he looks at me and continues, “So I know exactly what you are doing Alaudin, being defiant right? But at least my defiance stands for something what are you doing? (shouting at the top of his lungs ) Putting your signature on a wall?”

He looks at me again for a long time and smiles, “But what do I know right? I am just a dishwasher?”