14 Mar 2017

Time for a laugh. Why migrant comedians get us thinking and laughing.

Laughing is healthy and fun. I have been to many standup comedy shows. I'm sure the comedians are nervous before they come on stage, I know I am tense as part of the audience. Will I find this funny? Will my fellow guests laugh out loud? I hope so. I dread the comedian 'bombing,' and I hope they are resilient enough to laugh a bad night off. I am eager to laugh with them because I have come to the venue for a laugh, and because I admire their bravery.

Why would migrants make good comedians? With all jokes, the humour comes from 'laughing at someone else's expense.' Much of the humour from migrants is based on their experiences. They are laughing at what has happened to them, and or ridiculing the circumstances responsible for those laughable situations.

Migrants can observe because they have two perspectives of the country or society they are living in. In a previous post, some of the 12 reasons why migrants make good artists are also valid for comedians. For example, show host and comedian Graham Norton said that being an outsider, helped him to be an observer asking the questions, rather than having to be included in the group.

Comedy may be described as mocking the weak. The person laughing feels momentarily superior. They have a feeling of elation due to someone else's weaknesses or perhaps their own. An immigrant who looks or sounds different to the crowd can be perceived as inferior, vulnerable, weak. The audience already feels superior to them and willing to laugh. Comedian and writer Sami Shah says, "As an immigrant, you have to warm up the audience to who you are." 

Perhaps once you explain that you are different, it gives the audience licence to laugh at the differences in that comedy-show setting. A comedian also has a licence to make fun of the audience or the challenges the comedian has had due to the audience's individual or societal weaknesses.

Being a migrant comedian: 

1. Gives migrants a voice

"Humor is a rubber sword – it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.”  -Mary Hirsch, Humorist
Shazia Mirza
For Farhoud, the very point of comedy is to push people up against what makes them uncomfortable: “Television and a lot of performing arts are censored, but comedy is raw. As long as it’s funny, it will get people thinking about things they wouldn’t otherwise think about.”

Cristela Alonzo has been described as opinionated. Through humour, she can get her message across: "In election years, everyone talks about the good old days—but they never tell you when the good old days were. I’m a person of color. When were my good old days?"
See her perform here.

Shazia Mirza makes humour from the challenges of being a Muslim woman in a western society. Click here to watch. 

2. Helps migrants face their challenges

"Most standup comedians started in the playground when they were bullied. It starts off as a defence mechanism and ends up as empowerment. That's why it can be a force for good." Roger Clegg
The process of writing a comedy sketch would start with identifying poignant experiences. Then you work out how those experiences can be retold in a humorous way. Even if you are the subject of mockery, by laughing at the situation, or finding humour in it, you take ownership or control of the situation and literally make it laughable.

3. It helps self-esteem

Not only are you brave enough to laugh at your own misfortunes, but you are brave enough to do it in a public setting. It must be empowering. 'This is me. This is how life is for me. If you are uncomfortable with what I am saying then perhaps you should think why.'

Time for a laugh

As we all like to laugh, here are some clips of migrant comedians' performances.  Warning - there are a few words or phrases that maybe offensive.
Shappi Khorsandi shares anecdotes of misunderstandings of being an Iranian woman in England.
 Nazeem Hussain and Amaer Rahman talk about their experiences as comedians for the Immigration Museum Victoria, Australia. My favorite joke clip: "If you ever wake up in hospital and there is not one brown or Asian doctor in that hospital, you should probably get the hell out of there. Coz, you’re not actually in a hospital, you’re just on the set of a mediocre but well loved Australian TV series."
And for more information, Sami Shah talks on his Laughing Dead program to immigrant comedians, Dilruk Jayasinha and Ivan Aristeguieta. Click here to listen.

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