Growing up, everyone had a goofy friend or that person in class who kept everyone laughing no matter what. For Tarek Ziad, growing up queer and Muslim wasn’t easy, but he’s found his community and has been creating endless content from his life experiences. If you want to learn about Tarek’s story, keep reading below.

How did you get your start in acting and comedy? Tell us your story.  

I was definitely the classic class clown who talked too much as a kid, but I was distracted from my true calling of performance by sports until junior year of high school when I couldn’t keep up with the travel requirements of the soccer team. So then I switched to trying out theater since it happened exclusively at the school, got cast in my first play (coincidentally the queer-focused Laramie Project), realized I was a natural, and the rest is history.

When I got into Yale, I decided to pursue a degree in theater—while also doubling in biology because I was the first in my immigrant family to attend college and was on full scholarship, so I had to have at least one degree that was dependable haha. I also discovered I could be more than just a class clown after I had a YouTube video go viral my freshman year when I was quarantining with mumps (that’s right, I quarantined before it was cool) and landed on NBC Nightly, Yahoo News, and Hello Giggles as a result.

That’s when I started exploring comedy in addition to theater, and began doing stand-up on campus and made it onto the school’s nationally touring improv group, The Yale Exit Players. I was lucky enough to do a bunch of training with professors at the world renowned Yale School of Drama, and after graduating into a pandemic, decided to fully commit to the arts and figure out how to build a career as a creative without having intergenerational wealth or family support of any kind. I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far!

I’m recently most proud of being named an SNL Scholarship recipient at The Groundlings Theater, and I’ve since passed every level of improv at the school on my first try—not an easy feat as many can attest. But I’m goofy like that I suppose! I also just shot a lead role in a hilarious and queer AFI thesis project called Teen Mary by Ali Rosenthal, so keep your eyes peeled for that in the festival circuit and beyond. I now spend my time between LA and NYC attempting to make more magic happen, ya know?

This month you’ll be performing a solo comedy special at the Queerly Festival in NYC. Talk to us about “Give Me The MacArthur Genius Grant” and what viewers can expect from your performance.  

Give Me The MacArthur Genius Grant is basically a result of me spending three months on unemployment last year (I like to call it my own little artist residency) figuring out how to make a show that combined my loves of stand-up comedy and heady thought driven theater, was a great time for all involved, and was relatable to other young, queer, and/or BIPOC creatives trying to figure out what the heck they’re doing and if it’ll ever matter.

And that’s what I’ve come up with! It’s a 50-minute solo comedy show that uses the idea of The Genius Grant—a shining $800,000 symbol of validation and success for creatives—as a gateway into discussions of achievement, failure, self obsession, flop eras, and how they all fit under one stressful umbrella: financial security in the arts. It’s basically a multi-media driven stand-up comedy show about my life with some big thoughts in it, and I draw a lot of inspiration from Jim Carrey, Maya Rudolph, Jacqueline Novak, and Kristina Wong.

So it’s along those lines with my own unique angle: HIGH. ENERGY. I like to make it feel like I’m hosting an absurd, chaotic, high octane party where you have no idea what will happen next! My workshop preview of it last year in Brooklyn sold out to a crowd of 100 who absolutely loved it and I was totally covered in sweat by the end, so I think it worked! I’m excited to bring it back to NYC at Under St Marks Theater this June 14th and 17th in the Queerly Festival!

You’ll also be performing various standup comedy shows throughout pride month including at The Broad Museum. How do you prepare for different audiences and what have you learned from your live performances?    

With live comedy, what I’ve learned is that the best way to perform for different audiences is to bring your authentic self to the table every time and to make sure you understand what makes your point of view and how you communicate it uniqueIf you try to change who you are too much to fit the room, it’s not going to be your best work. So a part of it ends up being accepting that your best work won’t land with everyone since that’s impossible, but that you know your stuffs good if it lands with MOST people. For me, my comedic style is high energy, goofy, ridiculous voices, being physically expressive, and telling a wild but true story from my life. The time’s I’ve tried to do one-liners or be one of those comedians who does a flat affect delivery, it’s fallen flat because that’s simply not who I am—more power to those people who know how to work that though!

A lot of your content not only discusses your queer experience but being Muslim as well. How were you able to express yourself so openly about these subjects?  

To be honest, I’m stubborn as hell, resilient as fuck, and I got a big ass mouth. I’ve been through a lot, most relevant to your question I suppose being that I was initially disowned and excommunicated by my physically abusive and orthodox Muslim parents when I came out in college. But ever since I was a kid growing up in a rougher setting, I was someone who talked back if I thought authority was being unfair, got in physical fights to defend myself, and was always quick with a comeback on the playground.

Biting my tongue has never been a part of my life (unless I’ve signed an NDA), and since talking about my experiences has proven the best coping mechanism for my past traumas, it only makes sense that being queer and Muslim would come up. And no, I don’t think those two identities are in opposition to each other at all. I personally love Islam regardless of how others may try to use it against me, and as I’ve said online, it’s not my job to hold anybody’s hand to get them to understand.

You were on the cast in the queer comedy film “Stress Positions”, which appeared at the Sundance Film Festival. Talk to us about your experience being a part of this project and what you learned from it as an actor.  

It was just so incredible. I was involved with the project early on, as I was initially brought in to audition for the lead role given that I’m a Moroccan comedian and Stress Positions is a comedy with a main character who’s Moroccan. The character in question, however, is also a professional runway model, so while I may be very beautiful in my own right, I’m not exactly giving in the same way the character needed to be giving (shout out to Qaher Harhash, the incredibly talented, endlessly sweet, and actual 6 ft 2 professional model who ended up bodying the role and doing an amazing job).

But the team really liked me and we got on well so Theda Hammel and John Early wrote in a small role for me so I could still be a part of it all. It was my first time on set for a feature-length film, so I mostly just took it all in and got to experience and learn first hand how the machine of filmmaking works. It was also a great lesson that if you’re just normal, nice, and personable, people will want to work with you and find ways to work with you! I think a lot of young actors forget that to be honest.

Talk to us about the new series you’re on the cast of “Daddies Boi”. How did this opportunity come about and what can we expect from your character Francois. 

Daddies Boi is actually the first project I booked after moving to LA, just a month in. I auditioned for the role through casting director Steven Tyler O’Connor who casts a ton of diverse stories and not to brag, but he thought I was hilarious so I booked it! It follows two inseparable best friends Ozzie and Billie (played by creators Louie Rinaldi and Zoe Tyson, respectively) as they venture into the unconventional gig market while navigating life as aging sugar babies.

It’s an awesome project that embraces the grit and edge of the sex industry while showing the unconventional empowerment of its protagonists as they dance their way through joy, humility, and deep friendship. My character Francois is a poster boy twink who swoops in and aims to dethrone the two main characters as a younger, sexier sugar baby 2.0.  You can expect Francois to be stirring up drama in his villain era throughout the series. Daddies Boi is currently in development alongside industry leaders with the plan to begin streamer negotiations in late 2024, so I’m pumped to see what’s next.

Not only are you in front of the camera, but you’ve also been working on projects as a producer as well. Tell us about “The DEI-licious Show” and the queer lineup that will be a part of this project.  

I was recently talking about the show with my planned co-host Leanne Velednitsky, and ultimately we both just love hosting! Before either of us moved to LA, we were in NYC hosting comedy shows in our backyards. Our plan for The DEI-licious Show is to create a comedic variety show that’s not only engaging in diversity by way of its rotating monthly lineup featuring exclusively queer and/or BIPOC performers, but also by reaching back out into diverse communities through all profits being donated to local mutual aid organizations.

The show I used to host in my backyard in Brooklyn raised money for mutual aid org Bed-Stuy Strong, and I recently performed in a fundraiser here in LA for a downtown organization called Solidarity & Snacks. Being a comedian is already such a self indulgent thing, it only makes sense to me to try to offset that by doing something with tangible good and redistributing resources back into your community. The show’s title is a tongue-in-cheek joke I think is self explanatory lol.

How was it  living in New York and dating as a queer and Muslim young man?  

I suppose it went pretty well since I started dating my current partner in NYC, we’ve since moved to LA togetherand will be celebrating our 3 year anniversary this summer. What I’ll say is that dating with the end goal of a relationship in mind is almost always bad in any big city no matter the demographic, but there will always be people out there who share whatever experience is core to you. My partner isn’t Muslim, but his family IS pretty intensely “Born Again Christian”, so we share a deep understanding of being queer in traditionalist religious settings, leaving those settings, and then getting to figure out and define what spirituality means to us on our own terms.

What has been the inspiration behind your pilot series “Arrangements”?  

Well I can’t say TOO much, but basically three years of living in NYC as a young queer man in the arts exposed me to a lot of things, people, money, and evil. Arrangements is the inspired-by-a-true-story saga of a young queer couple who find themselves uncovering the secrets behind a drug-induced death scandal in the East Hamptons after infiltrating the world of some high-ish profile old rich men in the arts, media, and entertainment industries. It’s giving absurdist dramedy à la Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You and definitely coincidentally shares some themes with Daddies Boi (it’s almost like certain queer experiences are universal ???)If you’d like to know more, you’ll have to be a producer or rep interested in setting up a general meeting with me xoxo.

How will you be celebrating pride this month?  

I’m celebrating pride by being my wacky, ridiculous self on and off the stage, sharing the entertaining stories from my life that have made me who I am and therefore are inherently queer stories. I’m performing a lot this month and planning to look good while doing it. Follow along @tarekaziad on Instagram 🙂


Editor in Chief: Prince Chenoa (@princechenoastudio)

Feature Editor: Taylor Winter Wilson (@taylorwinter)

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