There are many paths to earn the title of “celebrity status,” though the course Shabana Rehman traveled is neither advisable nor for the faint of heart. A comedienne born in Karachi to Pakistani Muslim parents who spent a vast majority of her life in Norway, Ms. Rehman braved the elements to uniquely become the first Muslim woman comedian in Norway.
Appearing at the L.A. Press Club here in Los Angeles to comically share her journey with an hour-long presentation of her struggles to become who she is, Ms. Rehman’s visit to Southern California doubled as a foray into the local market. It is here where Ms. Rehman hopes to establish her cerebral brand of comedy after taking her show all across Scandinavia and, most recently, New York.
Presentations at the L.A. Press Club notwithstanding, Ms. Rehman is currently preparing to present her one-woman show about the unpredictable journey she pursued to become a standup comic. Entitled The Homeland Insecurity Show, Ms. Rehman’s off-beat humor and emotional story will be on full display in both Los Angeles and San Francisco throughout the month of January.
In speaking to members of the L.A. Press Club about her show, which involves stunt comedy and the use of a burka, Ms. Rehman explained her experience of balancing a life as a journalist with a leading Norwegian publication while also challenging social norms as a Muslim comedienne. A columnist at Aftenposten, the largest newspaper in Norway, Ms. Rehman spoke to the audience here at the L.A. Press Club about censorship, freedom of speech, journalism, and religion.
Among the stories she shared was an incident where certain critics within the Muslim community expressed their disagreement with her work by reportedly shooting 18 bullets through the window of her family’s restaurant business.
“I’ve been a columnist in Scandinavia for 10 years, but I also have done a lot of stunts and controversial comedy. (The Press Club invited me) to give a presentation of my work,” Ms. Rehman told Buzzine. “I talked about how I started as a standup comedian. I talked about the reactions I first received. When I started, there was no one else with a Pakistani background doing this.”
Ms. Rehman, who is one of seven brothers and sisters, first started her comic career about 10 years ago and was amazed by the double standards she experienced. While she claims the content of her jokes were no different than those of her male counterparts, audiences and critics alike were not always receptive to her brand of comedy.
“It was mostly white media. My colleagues were mostly white male comedians telling dirty jokes. I thought to myself, why can’t I do the same?” she told Buzzine. “But I received different reactions because of who I was. I was told I could not talk about (many things). I realized I did not have the same freedom of speech as my fellow comedians just because of who I was.”
Ironically, it was those very reactions Ms. Rehman relied upon to ultimately define the persona audiences seem to be finally be warming up to on stage--an evolution she is grateful for.
“I wanted to be this fun girl, but the reactions really challenge me. The reactions made me think I have two choices: to shut up or to fight back. I chose the last one,” she humbly said.
In evolving into a comedienne who challenges her audience's thoughts and perceptions of the most pressing social, cultural, and political issues of the day, Ms. Rehman indicated the time finally came for her to expand her reach and present her material to those living outside of Scandinavia.
“I realized not many comedians are talking about the issues I am talking about. I need to transplant my material and produce more for an international audience,” the Oslo-based Ms. Rehman told Buzzine. “Hopefully I can entertain people (and) make them think. I hope people will see (through my show) we are more alike … than we are diverse.”
Her mission to entertain and educate began with her special appearance here at the L.A. Press Club on December 9th and continues on January 7th when The Homeland Insecurity Show opens at the Working Stage Theater in Hollywood.