Despite all criticism, I like Shappi Khorsandi.
Even though I don’t think she belongs to that particular genre of “born performers”. Nor is she as talented or witty as her father – once – was. I think she submits to many stereotypes – rather than aid in reducing them. Sometimes I find her remarks plain insulting. I always have to cringe when I watch her make cracks at her newly immigrated parents. Yes, this is comedy. But I am so tired of the image that just because people don’t understand a language, they are dumb, deaf, blind and retarded.
That’s just one of the things that annoy me.
And yet, I like Shappi Khorsandi.
First and foremost, I applaud her for entering such a male dominated environment. Female comedy performers are excruciatingly low in number to begin with. Add to that the fact that she is female + Iranian + stand up comedian. I only know of two others.
I also greatly appreciate the fact that religion is not the number one topic on her agenda. Albeit she tries to pinpoint that too hard. To date, I have not seen a single skit of hers which does not include the line “not all Iranians are religious, my family wasn’t.” But maybe that’s because that’s an image she has constantly had to fight.
Whatever the reason, I like the fact that Khorsandi is an Iranian performer, not a Muslim one.
Yes, the majority of Iranians are Muslims. But a great number aren’t. And of the Muslim population, a great proportion doesn’t really give a second thought to the subject. Iranian society has been dominated by the Muslim clergy for centuries. And religion is a great part of our life. But not as much as many think. And certainly not in the ways they think.
Our government may be aiding Hezbollah, Nasrallah may be portrayed daily on state TV, and we may see particular images of Iran on Friday prayers – broadcast faithfully on CNN. But that is far from the image of ordinary Iranians. I tend to notice that some Iranian performers, by submitting too much to those jokes, actually give the impression that that is the image most Iranians portray – and that is the image moderates and reformists are trying to fight.
They may be trying to fight it – as a state image, not a nationally manifested one. Religion plays a crucial role in our life, so crucial in fact, that there will never be real reform in Iran until there is religious reform. But the dilemmas, quandaries and questions it poses for day to day life are not those you see on CNN.
Comedy is one of the greatest mediums for educating and reducing prejudice. But the Iranian spirit just isn’t very comic. It’s more nostalgic and melancholy. We have only one Obeyd Zakani. Our culture is more a nurturing ground for Hafez, Rumi, Akhavan and Foroogh: words of wisdom, heartbreak, intellect and melancholy.
Even though many of Rumi’s stories are quite amusing, as a whole, he is anything but a comic figure.
In this day and age, you aren’t going to get a vast majority of the world to weep and feel the spirits with you; nor can you get many to read books with “hard words” or “deep thoughts” in them. A great number of folks just want to drink a beer and laugh.
A stand up comedian is their cultural envoy.
Although she certainly pokes fun at them, her rhetoric is not dripping and oozing with mullah bashing.
I find that a mullah bashing act is quickly deemed a masterpiece. You will find that so many of the “memoirs” labeled with “brilliance” and “magnificence” are simply mullah bashing rhetoric. With the media portraying such a negative light on Iran to begin with, I think that just helps to reenact all those images. And despite all personal feeling I may harbor towards Iranian politics, I frown when it is bashed and trashed to a point of unrealistic hypocrisy.
Khorsandi began her life in Tehran but moved to London/England after the revolution. Her father, renowned Iranian satirist Hadi Khorsandi, sought asylum there after his relationship fell ill with the post-revolution government. I like how she tries to depict the state of asylum seekers and refugees through her jokes and parodies. I love how she portrays her pain with humor – getting enough laughs accompanied by condolence and respect.
Through out the years, I’ve read her pieces for Iranian.com, and many of her views seem well grounded and reasonable to me.
So if she ever performs in my town, I will certainly try to find a seat. I will not expect a great comedian, satirist, nor even a great social commentator. But I will expect the life of many Iranians portrayed in 40 minutes of humor. I will not expect great thrills – but nor indecent hypocrisy.
For now, I’ll take that any day.