Mona Aburmishan in Ramallah. (WAFA Images / Shorouq Zeid)
By: Khaled Tayeh
RAMALLAH, August 15, 2018 (WAFA) – With her curly hair and fiery personality, Mona Aburmishan goes up on stage with only one thing on her mind: making the audience have a good laugh, while she, being the professional comedian she is, can have fun being herself on stage while making people happy.
Born in Chicago, US, to a Palestinian father from the town of Halhoul, north of the city of Hebron in the south of the occupied West Bank, who immigrated to the US in the 1970s, and a mother whose origins go back to England, the Chicago-based comedian, once a law major, started her career as comedian only after she was challenged to do so by her younger sister.
“My sister once challenged me on Christmas, saying I need to start doing comedy. You’re funny,” Aburmishan said, who was doing her master’s degree at that time. “My mother and my other sister also said I should do comedy. My head started turning around asking; okay… how do I do this?”
As a birthday gift, her mother and sister signed her up for an improvising class, which she did not like and thought she wanted to do something else. Eventually, she signed up for a comedy class only for women, in which she had to do a show after she finishes the course.
Aburmishan says she was forced into her career in comedy by her family. She said she was not sure she could be a comedian, especially for a Palestinian woman.
“I was raised as a ‘Halhouli’ girl in Chicago. It was very conservative, not in the religious sense, but the possibilities,” Aburmishan said. “Like, what can I do? Doctor? Lawyer? Engineer? Business owner? Okay, but an actress or a comedian? Everybody would say look at her acting like a clown. We Palestinians, we take our direction from our families. It’s not always from inside as in what to do.”
But that changed after she took the class and performed. Aburmishan says that she felt the performance was like adrenaline, immediately making her think that this is what she wanted to do.
Being a Palestinian and a law and international development student, she wanted to be a comedian not only to make people laugh but also to take a stand and say something valuable.
“I want to use my life and career to say something of value besides feeling good about what I do. Palestinians living in the States, we always really feel guilty because we’re outside Palestine,” Aburmishan said. “We’re seen as we can’t do anything about Palestine. We either send money or protest. But I knew I need to say something and I knew I wanted people to feel good. But I didn’t want the message to be in your face as in the protest. I thought if there was a backdoor I can use to send my message.”
“Comedians have that magic. They take the information and they hide it in food. It’s like giving a baby medicine. You try to make the medicine so they can take it. That’s exactly what comedy is.”
Aburmishan said it was hard for her to be a comedian at the beginning because she didn’t believe enough in herself, saying “it’s like taking a class on running. You learn how to run instead of running and when you do it, you understand how the muscles move.”
As for the nature of her jokes, Aburmishan said she usually jokes about the things she observes, in which she tries to make the best of a situation, explaining that most Arab comedians are of Palestinian origin because they want a new way to deal with frustration.
“Comedians in the States usually come from the minority which has issues. They talk about them and they talk about the majority without posing threats to the majority,” Aburmishan said, noting she also jokes about her weight loss journey.
Aburmishan is a frequent headliner in “1001 Laughs Palestine Comedy Festival”, a comedy festival founded and organized by American-Palestinian comedian, author, law professor and speaker Amer Zahr, that brings Palestinian-American comedians to perform throughout the West Bank cities and Jerusalem.
According to Aburmishan, representing Palestine and the Palestinian cause is why she does comedy.
“I want people to take my identity as a Palestinian for granted. I want it to be the norm. I want everyone to have an Arabic tattoo,” she said. “I want to be the American JLo (Jennifer Lopez) of comedy. It becomes a part of the identity. I want people to say ‘wow, Mona Aburmishan, a Palestinian-American who changed the world to bring unity and understating. Because it’s not easy to be a half white American and half Palestinian at the same time.”