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Islamic History Month: An Interview with Eman El-Husseini

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Eman El-Husseini is seriously committed to being a very funny woman. A Palestinian-Canadian raised in Montréal, El-Husseini has travelled across Canada, the United States and the Middle East performing her comedy on all kinds of stages and appearing on radio and television. She has just released a new comedy album called “Unveiled.” No subject is taboo for El-Husseini – she is definitely an advocate of freedom of expression and makes jokes about anything and everything, including politics, religion, family and relationships. In our conversation, El-Husseini managed to answer my questions all while cracking wise about her marriage, her parents, why there needs to be more Arabs in the media and the therapeutic value of comedy. 

A head and shoulders image of a woman with curly black hair. She is wearing a black shirt, smiling and looking directly at the camera.
The very seriously funny Eman El-Husseini.

 

October is Islamic History month in Canada. What does that mean to you?

Wow! A whole month? And one of the long ones on top of it, 31 days that’s impressive. And on the scariest month of the year. I’m VERY offended.

 

You’ve said in the past that there needs to be more Arabs in the media. Why do you feel it’s important to see better representation of Arabs in the entertainment industry?

The depiction of Arabs in the media is limited to terrorism or cab drivers. And although we have these things, we also have a lot of other things like hilarious comedians, with curly hair, a beautiful smile, who can maybe stand to lose a couple of pounds, whose parents’ wedding anniversary happens to fall on September 11th. There is more to us. Stereotypes are rarely flattering. 

Some people in America confuse East Indians and Arabs or Sikhs and Muslims. That’s how I know we need more exposure. We should be able to represent ourselves, to tell our own story. 

People always ask me how I feel about Daesh and I get upset because they should really be asking them about me! Ok, maybe in a few more years when I’m better known. 

 

Have you faced challenges as a Palestinian woman in comedy and if so, how have you dealt with them? Have you found that you have experienced any unexpected opportunities due to your identity?

Once a rabbi asked me if I’d be interested in performing with him at Jewish functions. I was thrilled. I have been producing my own comedy shows bridging the gaps between the Jewish and Muslim communities since I started comedy. I had to showcase the undeniable bond I witnessed between Muslim and Jewish comics on the scene. I’m also a huge fan of peace and co-existence, like huge. But he followed up his offer by asking me to remove content on the Internet of me criticizing Israel. I was floored, furious and of course I refused to. I bid him Shalom!

On the upside I do feel like I sometimes got opportunities early because of my background. It made me happy to know that people are curious about what I had to say.

That said, the majority of the time, people really don’t care what your background is. Funny is funny and that’s ultimately the most important factor. 

You have often used your comedy to discuss your Palestinian and Muslim identity. Do you think comedy has a role to play in raising awareness of issues around diversity, acceptance and human rights?

You can get through to people if you make them laugh. It’s a powerful tool. It also helps me with my anger issues. I’m extremely impatient and my natural instinct is to freak out, but instead I write a joke or an article about what’s upsetting me and I’m able to channel that energy into something much more positive. Comedy can be very therapeutic. 

 

As well as being a female Palestinian stand-up comic, you are married to a Jewish woman who is also a stand-up comedian. What’s more, you both do stand-up together. What made you decide to work professionally with each other? Do you think that you’re able to challenge stereotypes through your performances together?

I never wanted to date a comic. I especially didn’t want to be in a relationship until I found stability in my career. Love ruins ambition and drive because it causes so much happiness and no one laughs at a happy comic. 

I was suspicious when I first met her. I thought she might be a Mossad agent who had come to sabotage my comedy career and possibly kill me. Turns out it’s a legit love story.