Bustle is partnering with MuslimGirl.com to celebrate the fourth annual #MuslimWomensDay on March 27 to highlight the voices of Muslim women in 2020. This year’s theme is “Autonomy,” which touches on everything from redefining social distancing to creating space in the narratives for voices that aren’t always allowed to speak for themselves.
While stages and theaters are shuttered and concerts are postponed, coronavirus-related content is surging across social media. Even celebrities who once resisted TikTok are now joining the pack as people look for ways to stay occupied. As the CDC’s social distancing guidelines have stuck people at home for the foreseeable future, many are making their way through Netflix watch lists, to-be-read piles, and household chores. People could use some levity, and they’re in luck! Here, five emerging comedians — who’ve had shows, tours, and appearances canceled due to the coronavirus — tell Bustle how they’re pivoting their jokes to smaller screens to make the social-distancing era a little funnier.
My Parents May Use This Pandemic To Prove A Point
Name: Reem Edan
Hometown: Fort Collins, Colorado
Currently Social Distancing In: Los Angeles, California, with my sister who I have now deemed my parental guardian
Career Highlight: Opening for Arsenio Hall and the Burbank Comedy Festival
Role Model: Ali Wong
Quarantine Survival Tip: Meditate
To be honest, I don’t remember life B.C. — before corona. My parents were both born in Baghdad, Iraq. It must have been huge for them, given that they’re immigrants, for their daughter to suddenly be like, “I don’t want to use my college degree. I want to make jokes.” But my mom is a fan; she comments on all my Instagram jokes.
As a college-touring comedian, the majority of my performances are centered around certain dates — spring break [and] the end of the year are huge for me. I lost the bulk of my performances, or they’re being pushed to next fall. One school is letting me do it virtually for an hour, like a Zoom stand-up performance. I hope my parents don’t say, “I told you so.” Like… please.
Brown Girl Magic In The Bible Belt
Name: Atheer Yacoub
Hometown: New York, New York
Currently Social Distancing In: Birmingham, Alabama, with my parents
Career Highlight: A half-hour special on Comedy Central Arabia and Gotham Comedy Live on AXSTV
Role Model: Alanis Morissette
Quarantine Survival Tip: Feel all your feelings and channel that energy to create something
It’s enough dealing with the stereotype that women aren’t funny, but add Arab and Muslim to the mix, and it’s a turducken of racism and sexism. Our body-hair jokes are real, but most of us have been culturally shamed into getting it removed. It’s easier to perform for open-minded people in places like New York City, but performing in remote parts in the country, I’m always afraid, "Am I going to trigger the wrong person?"
People don’t know that Muslim women are diverse and that we don’t all subscribe to the same religious ideals and philosophies. That’s why I co-created the web series Muslim Girls DTF: Discuss Their Faith, so people can see we have different points of view, especially when it comes to religion and culture.
As a comedian, most of my income is from touring. I was supposed to start a six-city tour, but due to coronavirus that got cancelled. There’s no telling what this industry will look like in a few months. A lot of us are doing virtual open mics on Instagram Live or virtual shows through Zoom. I joined my friend, comedian Ali Sultan, in producing a weekly Zoom show called Virtual Distancing Comedy. Along with Usama Siddiquee and Moe Yaqub, we’ll be having a weekly show on Saturdays at 9:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
Meet My New Pandemic Boyfriend
Name: Zahra Ali
Age: 23, if anyone in Hollywood asks
Hometown: Between New York and Los Angeles
Currently Social Distancing In: Los Angeles, all by myself, but I have a boyfriend pillow I’ve named Nathaniel
Career Highlight: Appearing on the Steve Harvey Show and producing Facial Recognition Comedy
Role Model: Joan Rivers
Quarantine Survival Tip: Try wearing a bra at least once a week. It’s hard for me to make adult decisions when I’m not wearing a bra.
Like so many comics, I’ve lost at least a hundred gigs at this point. I really miss stand-up. I have a microphone in my house, so I’ll walk around with it and blurt out thoughts. I’m thinking of a live stand-up show through Zoom, and putting all my stuffed animals and Nathaniel, my boyfriend pillow, on the couch.
But quarantine has given me time to work on my book, all [about] the lies I’ve told leading my double life: lying to my parents, leaving the house, and trying to have some semblance of an "American girl’s life."
It’s still a boys’ club [in comedy], even though there are very talented women finally getting a spotlight. I produce a show that’s all women of color. I promise we have more in common than not. I know you’re all looking up "exotic chicks" on Pornhub, so if we’re good enough for Pornhub, we’re good enough for your YouTube feeds, Instagram, and social media feeds, too!
To All The Bros Who Think I’m Indian
Name: Zubi Ahmed
Hometown: New York, New York
Currently Social Distancing In: New York City, with my parents who are always yelling and screaming
Career Highlight: Creating the web-series Polterheist
Role Model: Missy Elliot
Quarantine Survival Tip: Download TikTok
We don’t get the same respect as our non-Brown counterparts. [At] one of my first open mics, a guy started ragging on Indians, and he goes, “Why are Indians so materialistic?” I was like, “I don’t know, bro. I’m not Indian.”
As a Brown woman and a Muslim in the comedy community, people seem [to think] there can only be one. There can only be one Muslim Brown woman killing it at the game. But how many shows feature all white comedians? That’s one of the reasons me and Pooja Reddy created our show, Kutti Gang. We have a roster every other month with South Asian comedians, who are women, LGBTQ, gender-nonconforming. We fill up our seats, which shows we don’t need to be in competition with each other. We need to support each other.
In This Market? No One’s Marketable
Name: Amamah Sardar
Hometown: New York, New York
Currently Social Distancing In: New York City
Career Highlight: Writing for McSweeney’s and selling out SF Sketchfest
Role Models: Maya Rudolph and Nasim Pedrad
Quarantine Survival Tip: FaceTime friends and family
My family’s from Pakistan. When people ask me where I’m from, I always say, “Do you want to know where I’m from, or where I’m from from?” Some of the biggest challenges are the misconceptions people have [about] what Brown women’s comedy should sound like. When you’re on stage, people say, “You know what you should do? It would be better if you talked about X, Y, or Z. Then you’d be more marketable! This would make your comedy better.”
It’s challenging [when] people think you need to be more “marketable," when people tell you what you should and shouldn’t say about your culture. People feel like they can give input on what cultural things you speak to. [But ultimately,] the great thing about artists and performers is that they love to be creative, and they’ll find an outlet to do that. If you want to do stand-up, you’ll find a way to do stand-up.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
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