Monday, May 12, 2008

You can be funny AND Muslim

Muslimah Media Watch has an interview with two Muslimah stand-up comedians, Tissa Hami and Maysoon Zayid. It's a good interview and funny to boot.

An excerpt:

MMW: Is it your intent to “play ambassador” and represent Muslim women through your comedy? Do you seek to represent only your specific ethnic/nationality group or sect of Islam? Why or why not?

Maysoon: It is truly a dream of mine to do just that. I would love to have the opportunity to travel more widely and be a good will ambassador. I would love to be able to focus on the positive aspects of my faith, such as charity. I mean Maysoon’s Kids is such a huge part of my life, and the genesis of that charity was the concept of Zakat combined with inspiration from Oprah’s Christmas kindness program. That alone illustrates that I live with one foot in each world. That all being said, I’m an anarchist at heart; so I’d much rather be a goodwill ambassador for humanity at large, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or height. (I’ll probably just end up on General Hospital)

Tissa: I am a comedian. My intent is to be funny. I'm not out to represent anybody. The only person I represent is myself. If people can relate to what I say onstage – no matter their race, creed, or nationality – then that's great. If not, then that's okay too.

I've been surprised by the wide range of people who are able to relate to my jokes. When I first started out, I was afraid I might only appeal to other Iranian-Americans of my generation. What I've found is that many people relate to the 'fish out of water' story, so to speak. I had a white Christian woman from Texas tell me that she related to my joke about having people tell me to "go home", because when she first moved from Texas to the North, people would hear her accent and tell her to go back to where she came from. I had another woman who was the only Catholic in an all-Protestant town tell me that she related to my stories about being an outsider. So again, if people can relate to what I say, that's great.

They also have a post about Sabrina Jalees, another Muslim comic (hah, her website title is "Sabrina Jalees - if you don't like me, you're probably racist"). She often incorporates stereotypes about Muslim women into her act, which is both a positive and a negative. Duniya writes,
In fact, at times some of her jokes may further strengthen certain stereotypes. For instance, in joking about the Muslim arranged marriage process Sabrina wonders why the processes is appealing to men because they only see the picture of the potential mate - just the eyes. Additionally, when contrasting herself with the traditional Muslim woman she jokes about how she would never be asking to rub her husband's feet. Although jokes, these comments will further enhance the myth that most Muslim women wear the niqab and that Muslim women are subservient.
Overall, Jalees has toured with other Muslim comics and makes it loud and clear that Muslimahs can be just as funny as men, and Duniya makes the point that her jokes help create space for public discourse for Muslim women.

Personally, I think humor is one of the best way to break stereotypes and boundaries, and it looks like these three women are working hard to do just that. Plus they haven't sexually assaulted anyone on stage - good for them!

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