Owais Khan, Desi Rascals star and stand-up comedian, on how he overcame racist bullying and a life-altering stammer

He endured terrible bullying at school and could barely say his own name

Owais Khan overcame racial bullying and a terrible stammer to become a stand-up comedian and star of a TV series.

Khan has overcome his stammer in spectacular style. He says it was the "biggest problem of my life", but has managed to launch a career in TV and stand-up comedy in spite of the fact that, at many times in his life, he literally could not speak.

"My stammer’s actually helped my stand-up," Khan explains. "My comedy's very much rooted in it. I can’t stand on stage and think I’m all that and expect people to laugh at me. You have to have some vulnerability about you."

After years of teasing and rejection by his peers at boarding school, Khan's friends and sisters encouraged him with comedy. "I used to work on stuff so I could try it out on people," he says.

He describes his first stand-up show as "the longest three minutes of my life. The first 10 seconds I stood there and went: 'Oh crap, what am I doing here?'

"And as soon as I stammered on a word, I saw one person smile and I thought: ‘Right, I know what I have to do now’ and I ad-libbed it from there and I kind of stammered through the whole thing. It was great. It’s amazing how other people find other people’s vulnerability and weaknesses entertaining."

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Far from being an impediment, Khan believes that his stammer has made him more endearing to the audience of Sky Living reality show Desi Rascals - and has made him something of a role model for young kids. "The feedback I love more than anything is from the parents of children who have stammers or speech impediments" he says. "Some have said: 'It’s so nice for someone who has the same problem as my child to be their role model, because you haven’t let it hold you back.'

"That was so humbling. You get girls’ attention – whatever, that comes and goes. But that means more to me than anything." 

Khan, whose stutter was so severe in school that he couldn't even say his own name, says: "To be able to speak during stand-up was amazing. Reading in English class was my worst nightmare.

"As far back as I can remember I’ve had a stammer – since I was about four or five years old," he tells The Independent. "As to how it came about, that’s kind of a mystery. Something in my childhood might have triggered it – it’s also slightly hereditary as my mum had one as a kid."

School was difficult for the 35-year-old, who stood out for being Asian at a predominantly white boarding school in Henley. "Kids, as we all know, are quite mean. I was one of the few Asian guys at my boarding school, so I got picked on for my ethnic origin, and I got picked on for my speech on top of that.

"I asked out my first girl at 16, and I could hardly get the first word out. She swore at me and rejected me. I didn’t really speak to girls after that. Growing up was hard – I dreaded school. Going to boarding school, it was all day. For a few years, I didn’t speak at all."

 

The process of addressing his impediment wasn't easy. Khan still speaks with a slight stammer, which he explains is an emotional reflex. "I went to speech therapy courses, but they didn’t really help. A few years ago, I went to see a guy who tapped into my brain using psychology and it helped. You can hear when I’m talking about things that have affected me in my past, like my parents' divorce or ex-girlfriends, it affects my speech straight away."

Khan is a personal trainer on top of his comedy and television work, and takes pride in his personal appearance and fitness. "I wasn't always 6ft 5in and ripped and confident," he says. "But I think I’ve earned the right to be a bit confident because I’ve had to work for it. I was a gangly, stammering little boy and I think behind all this confident guy is still this 16-year-old kid who has a stammer."

The stammer still comes and goes, he says, but doesn't rule his life anymore. "I can go through a period of a year and be fine. Then I can two months where I’m really stressed out, and you can see how it affects me and my speech and I can’t say anything."

On a stuttering scale of one to ten, Khan currently puts himself at a three. "When I’m at 10, I stammer on every word. I don’t speak to people if I’m at a 10."

Khan hopes people with the same issues take courage from his story. "Never give up – never let anything hold you back," he advises his stammering brothers-in-arms. "It just makes us more unique and special. "

Desi Rascals is on Sky Living HD, Tuesdays and Fridays, 8pm

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