Abu Dhabi: Being a stand-up comedian is challenging enough, but it’s even harder if you are a woman, according to Arab female comedians in the UAE, who are determined to break down gender barriers when it comes to comedy.
“Definitely, there are many challenges that come with being an Arab female stand up comedian, I’d say the challenges we face are almost double and even triple what our male colleagues have to go through,” said Jordanian stand-up comedian Kholoud Abdullah, who lives in the UAE.
“It’s not my day job, I’m a teacher by trade and so I perform stand up comedy two or three times a month. It’s a hobby of mine that I’ve been pursuing for the last two years, and one that I want to keep on doing,” she said.
“I remember when I started two years back there were many female comedians at the shows, but gradually I’ve noticed many of them not coming back to perform because it has been so challenging for them,” she said.
Some of the difficulties she has faced, she said, range from the reaction she gets from people finding out about what she does, to the type of material audiences are comfortable with coming from a woman.
“I was very surprised to see some of the reactions and how people changed towards me when they found out I do stand up comedy. Not all of them are negative, some people get really excited and want to find out more because they think it’s interesting.
“Then there’s the other group who somehow have the idea that stand up comedy is associated with dirty jokes and they aren’t as accepting at the start because they don’t believe this is something appropriate for a woman to be doing,” she added.
Aware of these perceptions, Abdullah said she chooses her comedy material carefully to avoid tricky situations with the audience.
“I see my comedy routines as a way of highlighting diversity and the funny things that happen in the community because of that diversity. For example I’ll talk about some of the cultural shocks that come from moving from one country to another, this is a topic that a lot of people will often find funny.
“The good thing about performing in the UAE is that there is more tolerance and it’s seen as more acceptable, especially as we have such a diverse society with a lot of open minded people,” she added.
Despite choosing her material carefully, Abdullah says that it’s not always possible to avoid offending audience members.
“I was called a man hater by one audience member after I had finished my routine because of some jokes I had made about men in a five minute act. I just started laughing after such an accusation because it’s obviously not true as I make jokes about men and women.
“In this certain routine I just had five minutes and so I had to choose one theme to go with, I didn’t have time to cover everything. I do think this is one of the challenges that we face specifically as a woman, I don’t think I would get the same reaction if I was making the same jokes as a man,” she added.
Razan Takash, also from Jordan, agreed that female comedians have to try harder to win their audiences over.
“The moment we go on stage there is a bit of a reservation at the start with people thinking who is this lady, and so we have to break the ice and get them to drop their guard.
“There is an intellectual resistance as well at times when women make the same jokes or say the same things a male comedian would. When a woman says the same things it comes off as her being critical and there is a more defensive view from the audience and it makes it difficult for them to laugh,” she added.
Takash said that it’s for this reason that she chooses non-controversial subjects while on stage.
“I don’t tread on taboo subjects, this is something I do on the side and so I’m not looking to be a maverick, I just want to have fun instead of fighting a battle.
“I think there is still a long way to go to having this become more acceptable, and it comes down to increasing the platforms that are available, especially for women. That’s why I also produce content on Youtube, it’s an open platform for everyone and it’s easy to put entertaining content up there,” she added.