Comedian Eman El-Husseini on embracing her Arab background on stage
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When she started performing stand-up comedy in 2006, Montreal-based Palestinian-Muslim comedian Eman El-Husseini avoided talking about being Arab.
“I really just wanted to be a comic and not have to talk about being Middle Eastern or even woman stuff, but it ended up being the thing I like to talk about the most,” El-Husseini says.
El-Husseini — who was born in Kuwait and moved to Montreal at age 10 during the Gulf War — began to embrace her background onstage after she accidentally started speaking about her family to a tough Montreal open mic crowd.
“I was bombing, just terribly bombing.
“It happened to be my parents’ wedding anniversary, which is September 11, and I just said it like that, ‘My parents celebrated today,’” El-Husseini says.
“That’s become one of my trademark jokes because it’s a true story.
“I feel like people have a curiosity, especially about being Middle Eastern and Muslim and stuff like that. The best jokes I have are about my Palestinian background, about having a Jewish best friend and about visiting and performing in Israel and the Palestinian territories.”
El-Husseini, who performed alongside Palestinian-American comedian Maysoon Zayid in the Palestinian territories, said Middle Eastern audiences were very responsive to her brand of humour. El-Husseini said Canadian crowds also appreciate her Arab material; she just has to win them over first.
“In Canada, if I talk about being Middle Eastern off the top, I don’t know if it’s too heavy for them, but they have to get to know me first,” El-Husseini said.
“My boss, the comedy club owner in Montreal (Comedyworks Montreal), had given me that advice when I first started talking about Arab stuff.
“He said it’s maybe too much off the top and I found that’s true. I talk about something lighter off the top, travelling or men and women stuff or relationship or diet ...
“It’s so much better to put the Arab stuff in the middle. They’ve got to know me and they have a sense of my type of humour, so then when I get into it, they’re on board instead of being uncomfortable.”
When and where
Eman El-Husseini performs at Jekyll & Hyde’s Freehouse on Wednesday, April 30. Winnipeg comics Chantel Marostica and Benjamin “Old Ball Coach” Walker open the show. Tickets are $10 at the door or by calling/texting 204-295-4585. Showtime is 9 p.m.