By Ryan Meehan
Mona Shaikh, also known as The Naughty Muslim Comedian, has a very unique perspective on the contrast and conflicts between American and the South Asian Culture. With half of her life spent in a prominent conservative Muslim household, and the other immersed with America’s entertainment and culture, Mona knew she was set out to break boundaries. With Mona’s sense of humor and vivid point of view on religion, sex, politics, which includes personal life experiences, Mona brings to the world a story like no other that is nothing less than hilarious. Mona performed her first open mic at Comix Comedy Club in NYC, after a friend suggested she pursue stand-Up comedy. However, her conservative Pakistani Muslim upbringing prevented her from pursuing her dream for another 10 years. Later, Mona rebelled and moved out of her family’s home to relocate to the Big Apple and pursue her acting career. Shortly after moving to New York and landing numerous gigs, Mona was no longer limited to theatre and soon appeared in commercials as the global face of Kodak, a pharmacist for Wal-Mart, an Indian Mom for Cablevision and a businesswoman for Deutsche Bank, in addition to acting in various independent features and short films. Today Mona resides in Los Angeles, pursing her career as a comedian and actor while developing her upcoming One-Hour Special and Comedy TV series. Mona can be seen all around Los Angeles in such places as The Comedy Store, Flappers Comedy Club, The Laugh Factory, Ice House Pasadena, Hollywood Improv and many more. Recently, Mona hosted the Miss Pakistan World Pageant in New York City and also became the first Pakistani female Comedian to be selected for the Laugh’s Factory Funniest Person in the World Competition. Mona has been featured in The LA Weekly, New York Post, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post and BBC. Be on the lookout for Mona Shaikh coming to a stage, radio and television set near you, and check her out today as my guest today in 7 questions.
RM: While living in Pakistan, how did you first come to learn about stand-up comedy; and who was the first performer that you saw (American or otherwise) that really inspired you to further investigate the intricacies of the art form?
MS: I was 15 when I left Pakistan so I actually discovered stand-up comedy while I grew up in the US. Having grown up in NYC, my first taste of comedy was watching Letterman’s Late Night Show. I couldn’t understand all the references at first, but I was anxious to know why everyone was laughing so I started watching it religiously and fell in love with comedy.
RM: What was the first joke you told on stage that really ended up connecting with the audience; and how would you best describe the feeling you got from that response?
MS: The first joke I ever told on stage was about my mom living with me. For most adults it’s not a pleasant experience living with your mom or parents. The joke was that my mom was only supposed to be visiting me but ended up living with me for so long that I was gonna become a virgin all over again. It felt cathartic to talk about it on stage…not to mention my mom was in the audience while I did, but language barrier is a beautiful thing so she couldn’t understand most of what I said.
RM: Aside from the violent extremism typically (and most often incorrectly) associated with the faith, which stereotype of Muslims tends to bother you the most; and why do you think that particular association is so troubling to you?
MS: I think the stereotype that you mentioned is the one that bothers me the most! Mainly because most non-Muslims don’t realize that families like mine who immigrated to the United States left for precisely those reasons. Now we bust our butts and make a whole new life for ourselves, only to constantly be forced to apologize for the wrongdoings of others and suffer hate crimes. Take the current Chapel Hill Shooting for example…Since a 46 year white male shot and killed three Muslim kids execution style, should I ask every white man to apologize for this guy’s wrongdoings? It’s ignorant and illogical. I have four older brothers and they are “randomly selected” at the airport most of the time. One of my brothers said that he doesn’t even get mad anymore. That’s sad! America is a great country and it’s every American’s responsibility to fight stereotypes and ignorance.
RM: You’ve made a couple of really funny YouTube videos that play off of the stereotypes we just discussed…Have the videos you’ve made up until this point come from ideas that were specifically designed for YouTube; or have you ever had an idea that was originally planned for your stand-up act but then ended up being better suited as a sketch? Can you share with us any of the ideas you have planned for newer clips?
MS: Oohh…you’re asking me to reveal secrets Ryan! Well, “The Lonely Bedouin” was meant to be a sketch about online dating for a bedouin but “Sex Hotlines in India” started off as a joke in my stand-up, and I thought “Wouldn’t it be hilarious to do it as a Dell Customer Service style call”? Voila, a funny sketch arose from it! I would still like to explore that sketch more and a do a visual one. You’ll just have to wait for the new sketches to come out…Mwahahaha!
RM: Which club in Southern California would you say is your favorite venue at which to perform; and what is so special about that particular live comedy environment?
MS: I’m gonna be biased about this: I love different comedy clubs for different reasons. I love The Comedy Store because I get to hang with my fellow comics and watch my idols perform with no hassle at all. I love Laugh Factory because they selected me for the Funniest Person in the World Competition. I love performing at The Hollywood Improv – It’s very comic and audience friendly. So basically what I’m trying to say is that I’m not taking sides. (laughs)
RM: If either acting or doing commercial work becomes something that eventually becomes more financially rewarding than doing stand-up comedy, is that something you’d be cool with; or is continuing to be a successful comic something that will always be the primary activity for which you want to be remembered?
MS: I love stage and I love stand-up. I would love to be in a position where I do well as an actor and continue to perform around the world. As a matter of fact one of my goals is precisely that, acting gigs and a world tour.
RM: Do you feel that in certain ways your ethnicity makes you more marketable when it comes to commercial or film work?
MS: I believe it does. South Asian and Middle Eastern actors are the new kids on the block. I speak 4 languages which gives me an edge along with having a stage acting background. To be able to know all the cultural nuances as an American and a Pakistani definitely makes me very marketable, at least I feel that way. Also busting out a few accents in this town helps out to play different characters.
RM: Which aspect of writing jokes would you consider to be your specialty; and why do you think you excel at that particular component of the practice?
MS: I’m a story telling comic and I love telling stories…very funny stories. I love digging up stories from my childhood, teenage years or even from recently to lace every other word with comedy, its flips and its curves..and the suspense you create to have a big pay off at the end, that’s what excites me the most.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
MS: Right now I’m working on a couple TV pilots and putting together my first 1 hour special. I have a show that I co-produced with Lahna Turner at The Hollywood Improv on Mar. 20th 2015 at 8pm called “The Hello, Salaam, Shalom, Namaste Show” featuring all female lineup of different faiths. Lahna and I recently just created a couple comedy sketches with Ralphie May that will be released soon via Youtube. I’m very proud and excited to be a part of that. I also have a bunch of shows lined up for the upcoming months in the states and overseas. I’m also being considered as one of the leads for few different TV shows. So keep your eyes and ears open for more Mona Shaikh “The Naughty Muslim Comedian”.
Official Website: http://www.monashaikh.com/
Mona on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/monashaikhcomedian
Mona on Twitter: https://twitter.com/monascomedy
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The latest installment from regular Dubsism contributor Ryan Meehan.