Mona Shaikh Is a Naughty Muslim Comedian
Courtesy of Muslims Do It Better Mona Shaikh: sexy extremist
Mona Shaikh is not impressed with the supposed merits of Islamic martyrdom. "Seventy-two virgins? As a reward? Have you ever been with one virgin? [winces] That shit sucks. Can you imagine having to teach 72 of them how to do everything? Guys -- wouldn't you rather have 72 hos?" she asks.
Shaikh is one of a half-dozen or so comedians who performed two Friday nights ago as part of the Levantine Cultural Center's Sultans of Satire comedy show. In its seventh year of semi-regular performances, the show includes a slate of Arab, Persian, South Asian and Turkish comedians. Shaikh, unlike her stagemates that night, was on track to piss some people off -- even a crowd of mostly non-white Muslims in the middle of Ramadan.
Where most Middle Eastern comedians trade in weak cultural taboos like toilets and body hair (apparently it's one giant human hairball from Rabat to Rajasthan), Shaikh is willing to put some sacred cows on the chopping block. "I really wanted to open the set with a beer and say, 'Ramadan Mubarak!' but I thought that lady in the front would have a heart attack. I don't want her blood on my hands," she says, referring to a veiled elderly Muslim woman in front.
OK, so she's going to hold back a bit sometimes. "I'm probably not going to make jokes about the Prophet's sex life ... at least not yet," she told us in a follow-up interview. But everything else is on the table.
"There's this perception that we're all angry and serious. Muslims are funny!" she says in a hammed-up tone. Her act and her nascent media empire answer to this. Her online platform Muslims Do It Better is a first of its kind -- a website dedicated to Islamic-oriented humor, run by women, no less. Using such an outlet, she's turning those sacred cows into some delicious comedic kebabs and keeping some pretty uptight political and religious leaders in serious check.
Shaikh insists that she's not playing politics, however. She's quick to point out, "It's art. Not politics. I'm making artist statements, not political or religious ones. Entirely artistic." That may be, but her art is inescapably taking both to task.
Courtesy of Mona Shaikh and Muslims Do It Better Pornsama: a photo from Shaikh's website Muslims Do It Better
Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Shaikh came to the United States at 15. Now 32, she recalls, "We first came to Jersey City and I couldn't believe that it was the U.S. It looked exactly like Pakistan. Then I barfed." As the youngest of five kids, and the only girl, she evolved some pretty thick skin. That skin was further thickened through some rough high school years. "Everyone thought I was Puerto Rican, so I got in trouble every time I opened my mouth," she says. After dropping out of community college (a "college for winners" she jokes was "just too overachieving" for her), she began working as a model and theater actress in New York.
Now an Angeleno, she's about three years into a stand-up career, and she really wants to focus more on Muslims Do It Better, realizing that she can have a global audience and more creative scope. She and her unnamed partner post blush-worthy photos and keep tabs on the most extreme fundamentalists in the Islamic world. They focus on exactly the type of overprotective sentiments that seek to keep women's bodies covered and suppress any discussion of normal female sexuality. Fusing that with a tongue-in-cheek take on the awful Western perceptions of Muslims-as-terrorists, she's created a singular niche -- and a hilarious one at that.
Up next: The risks she's taking