Dubai: The odds against female stand-up comedians in Dubai are no laughing matter. Yet they’re beating men to the punch line and, in the process, also breaking cultural barriers and stereotypes – one joke at a time.
Meet the Funny Girls of Dubai. They may have different religions, backgrounds and life experiences but they all share one thing: standing up in front of hundreds of people and telling jokes.
For some of the performers, who are Muslim and wear head scarves, there is also the desire to show the wider world that they have a voice and they are not afraid to use it to get a laugh.
Sabina Giado, a Sri Lankan Muslim, is a communications coordinator for the Young Arab Leaders forum and part-time ‘funny girl’.
She was born and raised in Dubai for most of her life and admits to falling into stand-up comedy by accident.
She said: “I’d like to show Muslim women, especially Asian and Arab Muslim women, how many different ways there are to express themselves.”
Giado wants to be a screenwriter and studied Media and Communications at the University of Melbourne.
She said: “However, many of these voices are from the West. I personally would like to balance that out with an Asian female Muslim voice.”
She has performed in Australia and says audiences in Dubai tend to be kinder to stand-ups compared to ones Down Under.
Lamya Tawfiq, an Egyptian Muslim, who has a background in journalism and PR, is a professional stand-up comedian and says Dubai is the “perfect” place to be for a comic because of its multi-national expat population. Expats and Emiratis have a similar sense of humour, she says, but Arabs enjoy the build-up and the story behind the joke as opposed to the punch line.
She describes her act as family-friendly that steers clear of making sexual or religious jokes. But she admits performing as a veiled Muslim woman has been a “challenge” at some venues where women are not allowed.
In a recent show the organisers asked Tawfiq and Giado to wear hats on top of their veils, something they worked into their acts. She has also been criticised on a TV talk show by an Egyptian presenter.
“I’ve had girls come up to me after some shows and give me hugs and praise for being a veiled comedian,” said Tawfiq.
The headline act is New Yorker and Broadway veteran, Mina Liccione, who runs the Laugh Out Loud Comedy School in Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (Ductac) in the Mall of the Emirates.
She says the inspiration for the Funny Girls show was to give comedy in the Middle East a fresh new perspective and has had a “very positive” response to the two shows that have been performed so far.
There are also plans to bring the act to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
The three women are the mainstays of the show but there are shifting newcomer and guest stand-up slots currently performed by Australian Bronwyn Byrnes and Armenian-American Sophie Samuelian respectively and hostess Azza Yahya