From Yemen to the Twin Cities: Local comedian releases first album, starts podcast

Twin Cities comedian Ali Sultan uses his experiences as an immigrant from Yemen to build bridges through comedy.

He just released his first comedy album but one of his newest ventures is a passion project and it's all in the family. But most nights of the week, you'll find Ali Sultan on stage making people laugh.

"In Yemen, they don't have birthdays or keep birth records,” said Sultan. “So you just got to guess and I finally asked my mom when I was 14 or 9. When did you have me? She said we got you when we got the cats. And I said, when did you get cats? She said when your uncle got diabetes. And that's when I learned time is relative. My relative is my uncle. She taught me physics.”

Ali finds the funny in his experiences as an immigrant from the Middle East and shares his stories to not only tickle his audiences’ funny bone but also to make them think.

"I'm Yemeni, Ethiopian, so I'm Arab, African… I feel like I scare different people at different elevations,” he explains. “If I'm underground in a parking lot, I scare women because I'm a man. If I'm on the street, I scare people like you because I'm African. And if I'm on a plane, I pretend to be Puerto Rican. "

"We have a really funny family and we've always been really good at using humor as a mechanism to take in life when things got rough,” Sultan says. “We immediately looked at the funniest thing in the situation."

Ali was born in Yemen and came to Minnesota when he was 14 to join his mother who left their native country in search of education and better opportunities. His gift for looking at the lighter side of life came in handy while he adjusted to life in the U.S. and eventually became his calling.

Sultan says, "I actually wanted to be a basketball player which I thought was amazing. In Ethiopia, nobody really played so I was killing it in front of people who had never seen a basketball. Then I came here and a 15 year old dunked on my face and I said ‘all right.’ I need to find something else. Luckily, I got to comedy."

"I remember being on the plane and I asked him where he was going and he said Atlanta and he asked me where I was going and I braggingly said America and he explained to me slowly that Atlanta was in America."

Sultan started doing standup eight years ago and quickly gained a reputation as one of the funniest comics in the Twin Cities. He was one of four local comedians who caught the attention of superstar Kevin Hart when he came to town to shoot an episode of the Comedy Central show "Hart of the City" back in 2017 and in the process likely became the first Yemeni American entertainer to appear on national TV.

"Most comedians will spend their whole life doing comedy and never be on TV,” he says. “I like to keep the perspective that I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm blessed by the biggest comedian in the country."

Now Sultan's rise to fame has become a family affair. He started doing a podcast with his mother called "Stories with my Muslim Mom" after hearing tales of the racism, sexism and other obstacles she had to overcome. She explains, "I wanted to support Ali any way I can. I wasn't thinking of myself. I wasn't sure I can do this. If he can see that. I said ok. I'll do anything you want. When we started doing this, I feel like this is kind of fun. I love it. I keep waiting for the next episode."

And doing the podcast together has not only enlightened listeners about their family's experience. "We're one of the people who lost their homes in the housing crisis."

It has also strengthened the bond between mother and son.

"She has a talent she didn't know about,” Sultan said. “She is great at podcasting. She asks better questions than I do. She is always collected. She listens so well. I've learned she is talented. She should be in Hollywood my mom."

His mother said, "Ali is making me famous now. How do you feel about that? I love it. I didn't mean to but I love it."

As for his career in comedy, Ali says the sky is the limit but he has no plans to go Hollywood just yet. "I love Prince and one of the things I respected about Prince was his love for Minnesota. If I can make it by not having to leave. I would love to be here."