Within my network, I can easily name ten Arabs who are doctors or on their way to becoming one. Let’s be real – badass Arabs all over the country are most likely cramming for their MCATS five years in advance right at this moment. But can you as easily say you know ten badass Arab comedians? Probably not. After today, though, you can say you know at least one Arab comedian. I had the privilege of interviewing the extremely talented, witty, and intelligent Palestinian comedian, Mona Aburmishan, and it was one of the most informative interviews I have ever done. Aburmishan was raw, honest, and did not hold back. Just as she does on stage, she answered all my questions by diving head first into the philosophy of humor, minority politics within the comedic world, her personal journey, and more.
MM: When did you know you wanted to go into comedy? Was it always a passion of yours?
Mona Aburmishan: I had always been a “class clown” in school and the jokster in the family, but I never considered being a professional comedian until much later in life. Growing up in such a culturally diverse community – while being a fat, Palestinian, Muslim girl – allowed for such unique situations, comedy was innate. Also, growing up in the states before Dish Network and Arab TV, gave me access to American comedy like cartoons, sitcoms, and SNL. Something about SNL both annoyed and intrigued me, because I knew I could do what they did, but better, while at the same time, having no idea how they actually did what they did.
You know you’ve made the right choice, though, when you tell your former high school bully what you do and they say, “Oh yea, that makes total sense, Mona, you were always a damn smart ass!”
What took me by surprise, however, was one Christmas, my sister decided to verbally attack me in front of the family by insisting I get off my ass and jump in to comedy already. “Enough already Mona, you’re supposed to be on SNL or something. Stop bullshitting!” The funny part was, at the time, I wasn’t sitting at home playing Xbox, rather, I was finishing up my Masters Thesis in International Development, having just returned from Namibia. I was also employed, but something in her felt the need to attack. God or the universe or Santa must have channeled my little sister the way Patrick Swayze did Whoopi in Ghost. She came at me like I owed her money and by finally becoming a professional comic. I could pay her back. I’m so grateful she yelled at me because it woke up that hidden part of me that had always loved to make people laugh as well as the part of me that needed a stage to address the injustices of the world and in my own life.
What is it that you love about comedy? Where do you get your comic inspiration and influence from?
What I love about comedy is it’s complexity. It’s the only art form where you need other people to create your art. A musician, singer, actress, filmmaker, writer, painter, and even a magician can create their art alone and deliver it completed to an audience. However, a comedian needs the audience in the creation process making it both powerfully vulnerable as well as incredibly intimate and independent. Meanwhile, not a single day in the creation processes is the same. Literally every single day at work for me is different than the day before or the day after. I will never perform in front of the same audience again, ever. Some people might see me again, but never the same chemistry and group of people in the same circumstance will repeat and that is a very powerful contributing factor in the creation of a comedian’s material. So, learning how to create material for a moving target can be empowering while totally nerve wrecking. Nothing in life is so publicly intimate, which allows for a very powerful connection in a time where digital disconnected connection is the norm.