Summer 2007
Zaib Shaikh

Actor lands a plum role with a CBC hit


Young big-city hotshot leaves Toronto, travels west, and finds a financially shaky but ultimately noble calling in a small community of lovable eccentrics. Hilarity ensues.

Are we talking about Zaib Shaikh, U of T graduate and co-founder of the Whistler Theatre Project in British Columbia? Or are we talking about Amaar Rashid, Shaikh’s character, the flustered imam on the CBC comedy Little Mosque on the Prairie? Turns out it’s a bit of both.

shaikh“The character is very similar,” muses Shaikh. “This big-city kid who decides to take on something greater than himself.”

Shaikh, 33, graduated from the University of Toronto Mississauga’s theatre program in 1997, and has worked in stage, film and television ever since. Last year, he and two friends started the Whistler Theatre Project in a resort town better known for its skiing than stagecraft. The theatre company’s inaugural production – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – was a hit, and a second season is gearing up.

And speaking of hits: Little Mosque broke the viewership record for a CBC-TV première and grabbed headlines around the world with its culture-clash comedy premise. The show centres on a group of Muslims establishing a mosque in small town, Saskatchewan. The mutual xenophobia, of both the town’s white-bread populace and its emergent Muslim community, is at the core of the show’s cultural satire. But the concept became a political hot potato long before the first episode aired. “I don’t think anyone anticipated the human-interest story that we would become,” says Shaikh. “We were just trying to do a good television show that makes people laugh.” Turns out it did, and so Little Mosque will also have a second season.

Whether it’s bringing Shakespeare to the ski slopes or comedy to the Koran, Shaikh says he wants to make a lasting contribution to Canadian drama. “That’s very idealistic, I know, and potentially naive,” he says, “but that’s how I got here in the first place – by being idealistic and naive. And so far, it’s working out.”


Reader Comments

# 1
Posted by Scott Anderson on March 18th, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

I noticed that this article uses the phrase “the town’s white-bread populace.”

Why choose the phrase “white-bread” rather than “Caucasian” or “white” unless the intention was to disparage white people?

I am both disappointed and concerned that U of T Magazine would accept this derogatory term.

H. Ferrugia
Toronto

# 2
Posted by Scott Anderson on March 18th, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

Like H. Farrugia, I am upset that U of T Magazine used the term “white-bread” to refer to whites. What a sad world we live in if we have to cross the line of decency to emphasize a point. By the way, I can find many racial slurs in various dictionaries, but that doesn’t mean that I have to use them. There is something that each of us should use – and that is good taste.

M. Novar
Mississauga, Ontario

# 3
Posted by Raj khan on October 8th, 2009 @ 8:34 pm

I agree with the comments of H. Ferrugia and M. Novar. Using the term “white-bread” to refer to white people is like calling a brown south-Asian guy a “paki.” We should avoid these terms.

# 4
Posted by Troy L on October 9th, 2009 @ 9:58 am

H. Ferrugia, M. Novar and Raj Khan need to calm down. “White-bread” refers not to the colour of anyone’s skin, but to the colour of the bread they eat, which is white (a la Wonderbread). You are confusing “bred” (referring to race) with “bread.” It is a derogatory term, yes, but only to imply that what a person does is bland, unexciting or monotonous. I’m all for 12-grain flax bread and people who think before they type!

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