Behind the Curtain

Windsor-Born Dave Merheje Releases Crave Special

Story by Michael Seguin
Photography by Matthew Manhire
Live photos courtesy Just For Laughs Howard Gordon

A car rockets under the neon-red glow of the Ambassador Bridge. 

A voicemail chimes in, cutting through the silence: “Hi, Dave. Hello,” an older woman says. “I hope you’re doing okay. I think you’re on your way to a show. I hope you had something to eat. I love you habibi.”

It may not be the most conventional opening shot of a standup special. But for Windsor’s Dave Merheje and his unique comic journey, nothing could be more appropriate.

Dave Merheje: I Love You Habibi is streaming now on Crave. The material covers a range of topics, from being stranded on the side of the road when his Greyhound bus ran out of gas, proper hat etiquette, Uber drivers and their often poor boundaries, and the complexities of growing up with Arab parents. 

The special is wild, fresh and above all, unbelievably funny. As Dave saunters across the Just For Laughs Festival stage in Montreal, you’d never know his path to these heights was a difficult climb. A bald, bespectacled man dressed in a black tee-shirt and blacker jeans, he exudes immense confidence. He seems like an extension of the venue itself. His gestures are loose, relaxed. He engages with the audience, his white teeth gleaming in the stage lights. 

But then, that’s the grand illusion of all art—never betraying the anxiety behind the curtain. 

“This business is not safe at all,” Dave admits. “You’re gambling. You’re tossing all your chips into the pile every day.”

Dave first began dipping his toe in the comedy world after graduating from St. Clair College with a diploma in Marketing.

“I would do open mic nights around the city,” Dave recalls. “I would never get paid, obviously. I still remember my first time on stage. People who’ve said I was right at home right away are wrong. I was super nervous! I tried to jam up all this material—I was talking way too fast.”

Despite these early stumbles, Dave was determined to find his footing. After connecting with some local comedians, Dave worked up the courage to move to Toronto where he spent years cutting his teeth in the comedy community. In 2011, he performed at the Just for Laughs Homegrown Comics competition. A couple years later, he joined with other South Asian and Middle Eastern comedians in the We Aren’t Terrorists comedy show.

“I was trying to get into Yuk Yuks and other clubs in Toronto,” Dave states. “But I was having trouble finding stage time. So I thought, ‘You know, Middle Eastern people are stereotyped a certain way. What if I just created a show that mocked that? That way, I could show the world that we’re normal people. Well, I’m definitely not a normal person. But normal enough!’”

As the years went by, Dave and his clout have only grown. He has performed at several well-known comedy circuits, including the Halifax Comedy Festival, the Winnipeg Comedy Festival and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. From there, he was able to secure roles on shows like Mr. D and Ramy. He has also acted alongside Daisy Ridley in the feature film Sometimes, I Think About Dying. His previous comedy special, Good Friend Bad Grammar, which was shot in Toronto, won a Juno Award in 2019. 

And despite all these accolades, perhaps the most meaningful came from a familiar critic: “My Mom had come to see me as I performed around Windsor,” Dave explains. “One day we were at home together and I was complaining about the industry. I don’t remember specifically what I said but I remember her turning to me and saying: ‘You’re a natural.’ I responded with, ‘You’re just saying that because you’re my Mom.’ She turned back to her laundry and said, ‘No. I wouldn’t.’”

To this day, Dave affirms that she was telling the truth.

“She’s honest in ways only Moms can be,” Dave laughs. “Specifically Arab Moms!”

And now, years later, his latest special, Dave Merheje: I Love You Habibi, draws on these familial ties. 

“I always wanted to film a special in Canada,” Dave states. “As I was putting together the material, I thought, ‘What if I had my family interviewed and intercut between me doing standup?’ I had taken inspiration from this show called Home Videos by comedian Jerrod Carmichael. I loved the concept behind it. I loved the way it was shot. I was already talking about my family a lot on stage, so I thought it would be funny if they could respond.”

Thus far, reception to the special has been overwhelmingly positive. But even now, as Dave continues to make waves, he keeps a steady gaze on his hometown. 

“I think we should do a better job supporting our own artists,” Dave states. “We, as Canadians, are much more prone to supporting American talent. And I’m not immune to that. We have a strange self-loathing when it comes to local artists. You tell people, ‘Hey! I got a Netflix special!’ And they say, ‘That’s great!’ But then you tell them, ‘I’m doing a special here in Canada.’ Then the energy changes.”

This attitude is responsible for a creative brain drain, Dave stresses. 

“It makes artists leave the country,” Dave explains. “But we have all this talent unique to Canada! The streamers and the networks should take more chances on us. And the evidence is there. With my Crave special, they did make the effort to spotlight it. They put a lot of marketing effort into it. And look what happened! People received it well. There is a market for us here. I’ve always wanted to work with a Canadian network and streamer.”

And when it comes to young aspiring comics, Dave has this piece of advice: Be kind to yourself.

“Comedy is hard at first,” Dave admits. “Be very kind to yourself. Be very understanding. Have empathy for yourself. This takes time. Last month, a comedian in Montreal asked me when I started to make money. And I said, ‘That’s your first thought?’ You have to really love this stuff. You have to really, really love this stuff. You have to love it more than anything.”

Dave Merheje: I Love You Habibi is streaming now on Crave. 

Dave will also be performing at the Chrysler Theater on October 7th.

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