British, Muslim, female: Fatiha El-Ghorri is funny, but this is no act
British-Moroccan stand-up comedian offers fresh perspective on dealing with Islamophobia
Divorce is not funny. In fact, coming from the mouth of a Muslim British woman who wears a hijab, the only laughter to be elicited on the topic is likely to be a nervous titter.
Many do not consider it a topic people such as Fatiha El-Ghorri speak about.
“I was married, and then I was divorced, and then I was married again and then I got divorced again because I don’t learn the first time,” the comedienne told The National.
“After my second marriage, I wanted to do something for myself. Not because he didn’t let me do that, but when you’re in a relationship, you give so much time to the relationship and working that your hobbies get put on the backburner.
"I’d always wanted to try stand-up comedy, so I did.”
A few years later, London-born El-Ghorri is touring the UK and abroad, having performed in Dubai to an audience of Emiratis and residents with her deadpan delivery.
I like smashing the stereotypes people have of Muslim, hijabi women and I also like to talk about my experiences of a Muslim, hijabi, British woman
It’s important to branch out from the Muslim comedy circuit, she says, if you want to resonate with as many audiences as possible.
“Comedy has to be personal to you," El-Ghorri says. "I like smashing the stereotypes people have of Muslim, hijabi women and I also like to talk about my experiences of a Muslim, hijabi, British woman.”
She’s British-Moroccan, North African, Arab and a hijab-wearing Muslim woman by her own description, so there are plenty of prejudices to take aim at.
The example she gives is of walking down the street wearing earphones and a hijab.
“You can’t see I’ve got headphones in because I’m wearing the hijab. But if someone speaks to me in the street and I can’t hear them, they start asking whether I speak English. I say: ‘I do, but I’m just ignoring you'.”
The novelty of seeing a group as under-represented as Muslim women certainly hasn’t worn off for British audiences.
Such curiosity, however, has made the gigs tougher than they might have been for a more run-of-the-mill comedienne.
“I’ve learnt that I need to explain myself at the beginning of a set and tell the audience that I was born here and I am Muslim and this ain’t an act,” she says.
“Otherwise you can see them trying to work you out in their heads, and they’re not actually listening to you.
“I’m not going to lie to you, you do get the odd racist or Islamophobe or someone who will be shouting out, you know. The hecklers can be quite offensive.
"But I don’t have a problem with that, I just tear them up. I might have a set planned out but if someone’s being disruptive, I will spend the whole time tearing them to shreds and get a laugh out of it.”
'Nobody looks like you'
El-Ghorri didn’t set out to be the one starting a dialogue on Muslim women in comedy but the mantle has fallen to her regardless.
There’s much more to be done to make the stand-up trade an inclusive business, she says.
“When you first start performing doing open mic nights, a lot of it is in pubs and obviously Muslims don’t drink, so that’s a part of it," she says.
"A bigger part is representation. How are you going to go into something where there’s nobody that looks like you or sounds like you or believes what you believe or dresses how you dress?”
They aren’t questions she has answers to, but she’s fighting hard to perform in places that wouldn’t usually admit people like her.
That goes a small way towards opening lines of communication for Muslims and non-Muslims, perhaps paving the way for anyone who want to follow in her footsteps.
“I’m a performer. It’s not just about being funny and people seeing my comedy,” she says.
“It’s about spreading a message, breaking down barriers and opening up conversations.”
Updated: October 28, 2020 07:29 PM