Khurum Sheikh

Khurum Sheikh
Detective Lieutenant, Ann Arbor Police Department; standup comedian; actor

Tottered on: 16 June2006
Temperature: 86 F
Ceiling: partly hazy
Ground: long grass
Wind: WSW at 9 mph


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[Ed. note: Detective Lieutenant Sheikh's standup comedy audition referenced below as tentative is actually firm:

Thursday, June 29th at 8pm Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, 314 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor, MI 48104 (734) 996-9080.

It's under Seva, next to the new construction that's going up. All tickets $5.00. Full bar inside. It's a charity event benefiting The Penrickton Center For Blind Children. C'mon, haven't you already been to Top of the Park this year? Go to this instead.

The play, The House of the Blue Leaves, in which Khurum performed in fall of 2005 is discussed in more detail under Past Productions at Redbud Productions]

HD: Shall we?

KS: Yes.

HD: Okay. Okaay, so you are going to be able to keep me up in the air if you want to.

KS: Okay, good! Good! This will me a psychological advantage, when I need it!

HD: [laugh] Yeah, you ever think about maybe introducing a teeter totter into police interrogation techniques?

KS: The Supreme Court has ruled that it's cruel and unusual.

HD: Really?! What case was that exactly?

KS: Oh, it's pending in the new Bush-appointed court.

HD: I see, okay. Obviously you have a very robust sense of humor. And I'm not sure if I should add ... for a police detective or not. Are you guys generally, would you say, on the Ann Arbor police force a fun-loving bunch?

KS: Well, as is the case with most any profession, it's hard to generalize everyone, police officers included. So you have the full array of personalities in the police department. But in general, officers are known for their sense of humor. The public may not know it, but as you can imagine, in stressful jobs, people tend to have a certain sense of humor, kind of a dark humor. But that's supposedly one of the ways that people cope. So a sense of humor is something most officers have.

HD: Is that something that's actually addressed specifically, say in police academies as a part of the curriculum, you know, that this is a legitimate coping mechanism for the stresses that your going to face?

KS: No, I think it's a more informal type of thing. I've never seen it in an academy. I have seen it in one of the things I do. It's what's called a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing, which is something ...

HD: ... so after, say, a shooting?

KS: Yeah, or something really stressful. It's a way for officers to get together and kind of digest what occurred. There's a certain formula in how you do that. What's the most constructive way to deal with it? And in that we will talk about different coping things that officers have. One is humor. In really stressful situations, you can sometimes see officers joking and laughing and it does look bad to the public, so we have to be conscious of that. We have a very serious situation and we're laughing, so, Oh, those officers are insensitive! It's a human trait. You know the old saying, You laugh in order to keep from crying. There's some truth to that. I grew up on Joseph Wambaugh novels, The Choirboys, The New Centurions, these are all like 30 years old. He was a Los Angeles police detective and actually wrote for Police Story in the 70's, but there, it's a lot of police humor, a lot of quote-unquote 'sick' humor, but one of the ways that people deal with it.

HD: Of the officers on the force, I would hope that you would claim to be the funniest? It's my understanding anyway, that you have and do perform on stage as a standup comedian?

KS: Well to give you an idea, I'm still working as a police detective ...

HD: [laugh]

KS: ... so nobody's paying me large enough sums of money to make them laugh. Humor, the way that I see it, anyway, is just the way you approach things. If other people laugh, that's great. But I think that sometimes, at least what I'm trying to develop especially on stage is: have fun yourself, and it's contagious. Rather than trying to be funny and then sometimes that actually backfires. But yes, one of the things I do is standup comedy.

HD: Do you have a show coming up that you would like to plug?

KS: I don't even know the exact date, but I think it's June 29th that there's a comedy showcase-slash-audition that's happening. Actually it's several comedy places, but I think the one June 29th, Thursday, is the one in Ann Arbor. Hopefully, I'm scheduled for that. We had to just pay our $30.00 fee and they would schedule us, but I put the preference to be in the Ann Arbor one. So I should be auditioning for like some sort of comedy contest, where you could eventually get paid and be an opener and maybe I could retire early.

HD: Sounds great. So your material, do you draw from life as a police detective, I assume?

KS: Not necessarily. Actually, I've avoided doing police humor, just because one thing is that it so colors an audience ...

HD: ... and there's only so many donut jokes you can tell ...

KS: ... yes, that. Although I would want to do it from a fresh perspective. In fact that's what I'm trying to do. What I actually do is political comedy.

HD: Really!

KS: If you can imagine the situation in Iraq, it's very difficult to make into a comedic monologue, but that is actually what I work on.

HD: Do you have actual isolated jokes? Modern comedy has gone very far away from, Here's a joke, here's a punch-line and now here's another joke.

KS: Right. Well, I'm a definite work-in-progress. But what I'm trying to do, like the great comedians, which I'm not suggesting I am, but talk about my life and mostly be truthful. For example, what I talk about is that I was born in Pakistan, which is true, I came to America when I was about 8 years old. And this was in the mid-60's, so before I was 8 years old I was in two wars. This was back when East Pakistan was trying to get separation from West Pakistan, eventually did and became Bangladesh. And so there was a war with India and I can literally remember being in the trenches in Pakistan with the Indian jets flying over dropping bombs ...

HD: ... so when you say 'the trenches' you really mean literally earth that had been dug out?

KS: Yes, that was the most sophisticated way we had to deal with it, which was digging little tunnels, or not even tunnels, just holes. So that if there was a bomb, it would go over you, because you were under the ground a little bit. And I remember being there and having the jets fly over and my mom turned to my dad and said, Maybe we could move to a better neighborhood?

HD: [laugh]

KS: And luckily we were able to get emigration into the US. I remember, it still took almost a year to get all the paperwork and vaccinations and everything. So all my classmates in Pakistan, they knew we were going to America and so they would tell me how rich it was. The only thing I knew that compared to Pakistan that American was so much richer. And you can imagine the 60's how true that was. And so in my little seven-year-old imagination, I thought of golden streets and emeralds and rubies and then we landed in Detroit, in 1968, right after the riots. I thought, they have done a bait-and-switch on me!

HD: So that is the punch-line, right, 'we landed in Detroit'?

KS: Yes! I say, I'm 18 hours on a plane and I'm in Afghanistan!

HD: Well to get to the emeralds and rubies, I think you have to come all the way over to Ann Arbor.

KS: Yeah, there's a few diamonds and a few less-than-jewel-quality items! [laugh]

HD: So you grew up in this general area, the Detroit area?

KS: In the greater Detroit area, yes.

HD: The reason I asked you about isolated, discreet jokes is that I'm a little leery of jokes right now, because one of my recent tottering guests said he had this long joke he wanted to tell me. And when people say a long joke, you know, I think five minutes would be long for a joke, but you know it was like an hour later when we finally got to the punch line. I had to take a bathroom break in the middle. So I'm not going to re-tell that joke now.

KS: Thank you! I hope he's auditioning, this guy, because I need to be able to beat somebody out there anyway! Well he wasn't funny but he went a lot shorter than that other guy!

HD: [laugh] So do you watch stuff on television like Last Comic Standing?

KS: Actually I don't watch that and I don't watch police shows that much. I go back to the classics, Richard Pryor and all those sorts of comedians. Actually, growing up I knew I wanted to do that kind of thing, had followed it all my career. But I was too practical, I guess. Growing up in a couple of wars you tend to want some steady income, and health care, and so on. So I became a police officer, but followed the classic comedians, like Lenny Bruce types or whatever.

HD: So Lenny Bruce. Is your material off-color in any way or is it family-friendly would you say?

KS: Well, there's that old saying, that, If it's dirty, it's not funny, and if it's funny it's not dirty. So some of it could be a little off-color to some people, but definitely that's not the intent ...

HD: ... so you're not looking to shock people ...

KS: ... no, not at all. Or not with certain language, but maybe about the war and that sort of thing.

HD: In your material do you follow your childhood from the time you landed up until present day?

KS: Actually, I'm kind of working on the chronology of it, but really just commenting on the modern situation, but with my perspective. What I'm trying to do, is not so much funny-funny comedy, but comedy that will make you think. Like with the Iraq war, I talk about how it's one thing if the administration got the weapons of mass destruction thing wrong, and as I can see the intelligence was wrong. But what bothers me is how certain they were. They did not say that we think there's weapons of mass destruction. Instead, there's Cheney literally on tape saying, There can be no doubt that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Condoleezza Rice said, We know for a fact... And I'm thinking, we should have been suspicious then, because the last time a politician was that certain about something, it was when Clinton said, I did not have sex with Monica Lowinsky! Now I like that joke, because A: it's all true. And B: it offends both sides in the sense that it's showing the less-than-truthfulness of both the Republicans and the Democrats. So that's what I try to do, is take things that are true and make a comical observation out of it.

HD: [laugh] Yeah, maybe it reveals too much about the way my mind works, but the phrase 'weapons of mass destruction' also plays into the humor of the Lowinsky-Clinton affair.

KS: Hmm, I'm seeing that you are stranger than I even realized, Dave! [laugh] I'm glad I can keep you up there in the air if I need to! I want on the record that here's a man who finds weapons of mass destruction to have some sort of comical overtone ...

HD: ... well, I mean there was the whole thing with the cigar ...

KS: ... yes, there is.

HD: Well, let's skip right along! This is a total non-sequitur, but did you happen to go to the Elvis Costello concert?

KS: I did not. I have a friend who one of their favorite songs is hmm, something with ...

HD: Watching the Detectives?!

KS: Yes!

HD: You gotta be kidding me.

KS: She told me about that song and actually bought me the CD. So I'm familiar with him, but I did not make it. If he's looking for an opener, you let me know, okay?

HD: Absolutely. I was hoping I could find some way to get him onto the teeter totter, but you know, a guy like Elvis Costello, it's not like you can just walk up to him and say, Okay, I'm going to take you and waste an hour of your day!

KS: Well, no, not looking like you, Dave! [laugh] I can see how that might work for certain people ...

HD: ... oh, you might be able to pull that off [laugh] ...

KS: I kid you, Dave, I'm trying to be a comedian! [laugh]

HD: I know, I know. So have you ever, in actual police work, had occasion to deliver the line: Are you trying to be some kind of comedian?

KS: I don't remember ever using that. I do remember a few times people complaining about the jail. Because we do have a temporary holding cell and it's definitely not a very comfortable place. But it's not designed to be. But I will occasionally, if they're complaining that the floor's a little cold or the toilet is less than inviting, I will point out that this is not a Holiday Inn.

HD: And I'm sure that's the typical phrase they'll use, that this toilet is 'less than inviting'?

KS: It's a phrase I use, much like your weapons of mass destruction! I think it just has a certain tone to it, don't you?

HD: Yeah. I've actually seen the holding cell, I don't recall it being that bad. I mean not from the inside! There was a, I don't know how to describe it, a police rodeo of some kind out in the parking lot was a few years ago. They probably have them on a regular basis. They had the drunk-goggles that you could try on, the seat-belt sled thing and then they had the opportunity to take a tour of the police station. And so they took us through there and I have this vague recollection of the woman who was given the tour pointing it out, there was the door behind which you have to put your weapon in a receptacle before you can go in ...

KS: ... there's a little locker, a security area, yes.

HD: Let's see, I wanted to ask you about your role as Billy in The House of Blue Leaves. That was last fall [2005], right?

KS: Correct.

HD: How many performances of that were there of that?

KS: I can't remember if that was a one-week or a two-week run. I think it might have been two weeks, now that I think of it. So it would have been altogether about ten actual shows.

HD: Do you remember any of the dialogue from that, or once is was over did it all sort of evaporate out of your brain?

KS: I remember we used the phrase 'weapons of mass destruction' and that was a big hit.

HD: Really, was that in the original play?

KS: Well, we improvised a little bit. I couldn't remember the line and so I just said that. I knew that would be a crowd-pleaser.

HD: Really!

KS: I kid you, Dave! I don't remember a lot of the lines. I've been in a play recently, since then. So that one, I remember the character and the overall, but the exact lines ... It's a very interesting black comedy. My character is a Hollywood producer that loses his fiancee in an explosion, but very quickly falls in love with someone else. So it was a big stretch for me.

HD: You know in the News recently there was a report, I guess it's the FBI annual report, that said violent crime in Ann Arbor was up 35% compared to the previous year. Is that something that was surprising to you, or surprising to the police force? Or was that just something you sort of noticed through the year as you were going along, that gosh, there seems to be a lot more stuff going on this year?

KS: Well, one thing, if I could put on the record that I'll give my opinion rather than any official police opinion, although it was also mentioned in the article in the Ann Arbor News about it: part of the increase was just that in the past few years, crime has really gone down. So when you compare it to last year or the previous year, it looked like quite a spike. But if you looked at it, say, over a ten- fifteen-year period, crime is way down. And especially in a city like Ann Arbor, if we have one homicide, which is about what we average a year, and the next year you have three, then it looks like you have a 300% increase, which is outrageous. And it might be a certain kind of homicide, which it would have been difficult for police to have prevented. And so there isn't that much you can do. But the increase in crime, we're noticing it a little bit. But again as the article indicated, there were groups of 'thugs' ...

HD: ... I remember the 'roving band' ...

KS: ... and generally you do tend to have a small number of individuals who do a lot of crimes. And so that was the case that year.

HD: Did you work specifically on that detail? There was a special task force formed wasn't there.

KS: Not directly, I did not work directly on it. But so, it's hard to say, the whole thing with crime and increases, decreases. Again, this is just my perspective, but it's overblown in terms of exactly how much the police actually influence it, compared to just demographics of ages of people, or who's getting out of prison, or the economy, or just who decides to report crimes. Sometimes they say that if crime statistics go up, it can be a good thing in the sense that, say for example, a rape or incest, it may be where it was always happening, but suddenly people are comfortable reporting it to the police. Even though crime looks like it's going up, it can be a could thing because people are reporting it. Statistics are very difficult to connect to police activities, in my opinion. Unfortunately it seems like police administrators when crime goes down, they take credit for it, when it might not be everything they did. I remember in Detroit, Chief Hart, who was eventually jailed, was embezzling tons of money, and crime was going down in Detroit. Embezzling money and crime going down are not necessarily correlated. But in that case that's what was occurring. And then you can have crime go up, even though the police are doing a really good job.

HD: Anything else on your mind today? Is your summer off to a pretty good start?

KS: Yeah, the weather is nice.

HD: Spectacular, huh? Today's the first day, where it's starting to get a little bit muggy. But still within tolerance.

KS: Yeah, and refreshing that the weather forecasters are getting it right anyway, because they said it would get muggy and it was nice yesterday. But as far as what's on my mind, nothing specific. Other than, when I read your website, I kid you not, I thought: I like people who are a little different, and I like people out of the mold. I was looking forward to this, and I was actually glad I lived in Ann Arbor, not that there aren't such people all over the world, as I've found, but it's nice to have a community where these sort of things happen. I saw the various politicians that have talked to you. And if I was as famous as Elvis Costello, I would give you twenty minutes. I wouldn't give you an hour, but I'd give you twenty minutes.

HD: [laugh] Well, okay, the thing is, you might well become famous on the comedy circuit, and when you do appear on the Tonight Show, I hope you'll come back and ride the teeter totter again with me.

KS: I can't guarantee that!

HD: [laugh] Jeez!

KS: If my agent thinks it will help me, I will be here.

HD: Do you actually have an agent?

KS: No, but I'm hoping that this little teeter totter conversation will flood my phone with messages ...

HD: ... it will propel you into the consciousness of the citizens of Ann Arbor. ... Well with that, if we can pause the teeter totter, I'll grab my camera and I guarantee you this will look way better than a mug shot.