"I was always a funny person," he said. "I loved to make people laugh."
In the mid-1990s, while studying law at the University of Minnesota, Usman used to tag along with a friend who haunted the local comedy open mic nights.
"It was totally voyeuristic," he said. "I totally wanted to do that, but I didn't have the courage."
He graduated, moved back to Chicago, started work and spent several fruitful years not doing comedy -- just thinking about it. Then in 2000, Usman dragged his wife to an open mic night at a club.
"Her recollection of what happened is very different than mine," he laughed. "She recalls me bombing totally. I remember getting laughs."
The laughs kept him going. Usman performed at more open mics, slowly working his way up in the Chicago club scene.
"And then 9/11, 2001," he said and sighed. "What a terrible, horrible thing."
Usman stopped performing. For six months, he stayed away from it, but when he came back people started paying attention.
"Frankly, the interest in me as a Muslim doing comedy eclipsed whether I was funny or not," he said, and Usman wasn't sure whether he was really all that funny then.
"I was just starting out," he said.
But the attention got him bookings. At first, a lot of Muslim community groups would bring him in to do a little show. Suddenly, he was working a lot and became part of a kind of alternative comedy circuit.
"The Kabob circuit, if you will," he said. "But I kind of thought I was cheating. It was too easy. So, I decided to quit my law practice and devote myself to working on my craft."
That was almost 10 years ago, and comedy has been good to him. It's taken him to more than 20 countries. Usman has opened for, shared the stage with, or gotten to know some of the best-known comics out there, including Dave Chappelle, Margaret Cho and Jim Gaffigan.
"I've been very blessed, very fortunate," he said.
Usman said he's not looking to parlay his standup act into a TV show or a movie career. He's not an actor.
"That's a whole different craft," he said.
Usman just wants to make people laugh, which he can do -- but if Jerry Seinfeld isn't doing anything after his show on Friday, Usman would love for him to stop by and maybe give him a couple of pointers.Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.