MoNa “Born in Chicago to a Palestinian father and a ½ American, ½ British Mother – the combination is so common yet so unique that it makes sense for me to want to share the silliness I’ve experienced.”
It is 6 pm on a Wednesday in December, and once again I’m standing outside in the below-zero cold, in one of the more “questionable” areas of Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood. I’m waiting for the Jokes and Notes comedy club to open, and in regular fashion, I have arrived early after a long day of work to secure some of the first spots on the open mic list for myself and a fellow female Puerto Rican comic.
Most of us newer comics know that it is important to ‘go up’ early because as the night goes on, the tempo, mood, and topics discussed can be a challenge to match at Jokes and Notes. At times this iconic Apollo Theater-type room can be very unforgiving. Some nights I’ve seen comics fend off booing, hissing, and drunk hecklers, which can be intimidating for a simple open mic. Regardless, I ache to be on stage and work on new material. Whether in Chicago’s Northside, Southside, or western suburbs, I try to hit an open mic at least three times a week. Tonight, when the doors open some 2 hours later (and I have started to hate my father’s decision to immigrate to this climate) I make my way to the regular open mic host and make small talk. By chatting up the host and the other comics, I’m secured a spot even though I’m on the list. I quickly learned that if the host doesn’t recognize the name he’ll cut it, especially if a big-name comic just happened to drop in.
The show starts and the host sets the tone, while I watch from the back of the dark room in a sea of comics – nearly all male. Then he walks up and quietly touches my shoulder. “You’re up next.” I’ll be the third comic, and first of the three females. Heart pounding, I open up with “Happy Hanukah, everyone. Awkward silence… I know, but being Arab and Muslim, I gotta respect all the other holidays celebrated in the States other than just Christmas, especially if it means a day off from work.” They laugh. Then I roll into my stuff. “Thankfully being ½ Arab and ½ White isn’t as hard as it once was, especially after 9/11; now I don’t need to explain what hummus is anymore. Also, everyone is getting inappropriately touched, aka “searched,” by TSA agents. But you know, until there are hairy Arab strippers, only then will we know we’ve overcome! Can you imagine the guys? Give it up for Shish-Kabob!” The crowd loved that one, especially me dancing on stage like a silly Arab Chip-n-Dale. Just the idea made me laugh as well.