How Canadian comedian Abbas Wahab overcame depression while pursuing his dreams
By James Windler, Contributor
This past June, Statistics Canada released data regarding mental health and work-related stress among individuals aged 15 to 69 years as part of a set of supplementary surveys to the Labour Force Survey.
Statistics Canada found that “over 4.1 million people indicated that they experienced high or very high levels of work-related stress, representing 21.2 per cent of all employed people.”
While the data for this particular survey was collected in April 2023, if it had been conducted just a few years prior, Abbas Wahab, who was working long hard hours at an unfulfilling engineering job, would’ve undoubtedly been a part of the 4.1 million Canadians struggling today.
Wahab, originally from Sudan, immigrated to London, Ont. with his parents when he was just six years old.
The move to Canada meant high expectations from his parents. Wahab recounted childhood memories when family friends would come over and ask what he wanted to be and before he could say anything his mom would say “he’s going to be an engineer.”
“Before I knew it, I was under the impression it was my dream to be an engineer. Fast forward now I am an engineer and I’m just kind of getting really depressed, and I don’t understand it,” said Wahab.
“I got a nice car, and I got all the stuff I wanted to get when I hated school and was just trying to get through, I thought ‘Oh, once I start getting money, then I’ll be happy.’”
Things didn’t turn out that way. As Wahab started working near hundred-hour work weeks his depression worsened.
As things started to spiral out of control Wahab started looking for ways to self-medicate, which further worsened things.
“It was stupid because I’m just chemically balancing, it was just dumb. When you do a job you don’t like, it manifests in poor health,” said Wahab.
“So, I’m having all these health problems and I decide to finally leave and suddenly all of that disappears, but now it’s a financial struggle.” said Wahab.“So, it switches, but the financial struggle impacts your health a lot less than this existential angst when you’re doing something that’s against the grain of your being.”
Starting over fresh
Wahab had his eye on comedy long before he decided to quit being an engineer.
Wahab’s work as an engineer brought him down to the San Francisco area which offered him the first glimpse of hope after engineering.
A thriving comedy scene opened the door for Wahab to start performing at night after he would get off work.
One night a week turned into two, which quickly turned into Wahab going to open mics every single night.
With Wahab leaving engineering he knew that his path was leading him back to Toronto.
He knew sooner or later he’d have to have a difficult conversation with his mom about the career change, but as fate would have it, an opportunity from the biggest fast-food chain in the world would change the dynamics of that conversation.
After returning to Canada, Wahab was chosen as a billboard model for McDonald’s brand-new spicy chicken sandwich.
“That’s all it took, everyone called me crazy, and that I lost my mind. Who would leave engineering to do this?” Said Wahab.
“But that’s all it took, all it takes is for your parents to be able to point at something everyone can see and be like, that’s my son, it had nothing to do with talent, they just chose a guy, and there’s been hundreds of guys chosen since, but that’s what legitimized me in their eyes.”
With a renewed drive, focus and family support, Wahab’s career started to take off.
While he says his life is in a significantly better place now, he had to deal with many people who questioned his choice to leave engineering.
“I feel so much better, but at first I was constantly combating people’s perspectives and opinions of ‘You made a mistake,’ then other people would be very patronizing,” said Wahab.
“They don’t say all that stuff now because I built a following for myself through online social media and I get recognized all over the world, but for years I had to deal with a lot of naysayers.”
Wahab is about to kick off his third Canadian tour which will bring him to Calgary on Jan. 14 where he will be performing at Yuk Yuk’s located at 218 18 Ave SE, inside the Elbow River Casino.
Wahab mentioned that he had Calgary circled as one of the places he’s most excited to perform during his tour. You can find more information about the show at yukyuks.com and for tickets head over to abbaswahab.com.