WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Returning to where they began performing can be a tricky proposition for entertainers.
For stand-up comedian Ali Siddiq, that place was jail and while most ex-convicts never want to go near a lockup again after they get out, Siddiq didn't flinch in his commitment to shoot his first Comedy Central hour special in a detention facility.
The result is Ali Siddiq: It's Bigger Than These Bars, which debuted on Feb. 24 and features Siddiq not only telling jokes for inmates at Bell County Jail in Belton, Texas, but also conversations between Siddiq and the warden, male and female convicts and reenactments of Siddiq's previous prison experience.
"People in those positions, I'm comfortable with," Siddiq said in a phone interview this week prior to his weekend shows at Wilmington's Dead Crow Comedy Room. "Even if this was a homeless piece and I had to go in and just talk to homeless people and drug addicts and juveniles, it doesn't bother me. I'm having the same conversation with them that I'm having with you or the Tea Party or if I was at a function with lawyers and dignitaries. I have this relatability because I've been in this position."
Siddiq, a Houston native, served six years in prison for drug trafficking.
Instead of wasting away behind bars, Siddiq, who was 19 when he was first locked up, used his time served to ensure that he wouldn't ever return as a criminal. He began telling jokes to fellow prisoners during his incarceration and discovered quickly that he had the ability to make people laugh.
After being released, Siddiq pursued a career in stand-up and after some rough sets early on, he found his groove and he continues to rise through the comedy ranks. The hour special is just the latest confirmation that Siddiq is a noteworthy comedic force and not just because of his unusual start in stand-up.
Comedians are notoriously harsh self critics and Siddiq is no exception, but he did admit to feeling pride in It's Bigger Than These Bars and his fellow comics have shown their support as well.
That doesn't mean there weren't roadblocks along the way.
"I am actually happy, which is a hard thing for me to be," said Siddiq, who will be performing in Wilmington for the first time but has done shows in North Carolina before at Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh. "I fussed and I fought with the executives, with Comedy Central, with the director, with the prison system. I wanted (to shoot it) in a prison I was in and I was dead set on that. When I couldn't get it, I really lost motivation in the project because I was dead set on what I wanted. In turn, I had to go back and write new material for it because I wasn't going to do a prison thing in a jail. I keep stressing prison, prison, prison and these people are in jail.
"When I saw the trailer, I must admit that it gave a different sense of something that I didn't actually see. In the trailer, it never dawned on me (that) if I would have done that prison, you would have only gotten men. … By me doing that jail, I got an opportunity to reach women as well. That elevated it to me being extremely proud of this special."