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“Dolma Is Ours” – Chatting With Comedian Reem Edan 

Iraqi-American comedian Reem Edan appeared on my screen one day through her Instagram page, saying funny Iraqi phrases and words with her dad and ever since then, I’ve been a big fan! She is also an actor and content creator alongside doing stand-up comedy.

All video content courtesy of Rema Edan

So, when I had the absolute privilege to interview Reem, who is getting ready to tour Europe this June, I was beyond excited!

Interview

 I first wanted to know where Reem’s confidence comes from and her comedic talent. As both of us have Iraqi heritage, we share an understanding that Iraqi parents and Iraqis generally are the most unrivalled in confidence, humour and socialising within the Arab community. Reem thanked me for thinking she was confident, before immediately affirming that she 100% is! She noted her sense of humour came from her dad, “he’s very intelligent, so, his jokes are very witty”, this encouraged her well-thought responses without getting in trouble. She also moved to the Middle East a week before 9/11 and was “grappling with like, oh wait, am I American or am I Arab”. Amid this Reem says she was a “fat kid” growing up so she feigned confidence and humour to avoid being bullied. This evolved into being the “funny friend” and “funny girl in the office”. Although she developed her “real confidence” not from her environment or survival mechanisms but by beginning to “believe in myself.”

I then asked her the moment her parents accepted her being a comedian. Unsure whether it’s something inherent in Arab or Muslim culture as to why an artistic career doesn’t feel like the right way, Reem quickly wanted to “debunk” the white saviour perspective of; ‘Oh, it’s because they don’t want women to have a platform’. “That’s not it… art being a pathway, it’s a trajectory that is unknown… you may go broke and have wasted an education and wasted an opportunity that you know, arguably they (our parents) fought so hard for you to have, right.” The idea of telling jokes for a living; “what does that even mean?”. Her parents finally accepted what she was doing… only after making her dad ‘TikTok famous’. “You want that approval so bad, and you know, I’m here to tell you that if you wait long enough, eventually you will get it.”

I never realised the importance of seeing people who looked like me in the creative industries before the emergence of Reem and other Arab stars in America (mostly) telling our stories. As Iraqi-Australian actor Osamah Sami said in SBS The Feed interview: “We’re spoken of, not heard from”. I wanted to know if this resonated with Reem, and she was happy I brought it up. Having recently done the Netflix Is A Joke comedy festival alongside other Arab/minority comedians, Reem mentioned them discussing; “who did you see yourself in growing up on TV and none of us had anyone… Russel Peters was the first person I realised had a somewhat related background to me.” Reem says, “there’s so many more Arab comedians or Muslim comedians today than there were when I started.” She continues “having a say not only inspires the next generation but teaches people about us in a less stereotypical way… like, hey, we’re people too and we’re not perfect. We talk about our problems… questioning our identity/upbringing etc.”

We then began to discuss the ‘Haram Police’ (an internet term for Muslim communities that are overly critical of jokes). Reem told me that she sometimes questions who she’s writing jokes for. If it’s a Western audience, can her jokes come across as mocking her own culture and acting as a ‘token Arab’? There is also the burden of her own thoughts and making light of things representing the whole culture. “It can get tiring, you know, at times it’s like, you know, I want to be myself. I’m very much Iraqi and I’m very much American.” I added that sometimes the ‘Haram Police’ need to realise they’re allowed to laugh, Reem responded saying “They just don’t get the joke. That’s the thing. You can judge me. That’s fine. I’m not sitting here and like, I’m gonna live my life this way… are you not picking up on sarcasm?!”

Pitching her TV ideas, Reem says that the cultural diversity now is “great” but she doesn’t want to make shows all about just being Arab and Muslim, rather she wants to “tell us real stuff, make us laugh, entertain us, that’s what we’re actually here for” and not just to fit a quota.

Reem also had a funny story she told me when she visited Iraq back in 2000 on holiday, she went to an amusement park with her cousins. She was excited until they said, ‘‘Let’s get ‘Sha’ar Al-Banat’” (girl’s hair) which is just cotton candy, “but I thought that they were just harvesting girl’s hair and feeding it to the children… I started crying, I was like, I don’t want ‘Sha’ar Al-Banat’. But it was cotton candy, and I was like, I want more ‘Sha’ar Al-Banat’… this is the day after I found out what Pacha was. I was like, OK, you guys eat lamb heads and eat girl’s hair.”

We also spoke about what to expect from her upcoming tour; “I’ve performed in Europe but never headlined, so this is the first time I’ve got my own show in Europe… so I’m excited!” Reem also teased that she’s going to be working on new material and bringing some comedians along on the tour. Reem has also been preparing herself for the crowd with British sitcoms; “you guys’ sense of humour is a little darker or more hostile, but it’ll be fun. I think if you have Arab parents, you’re used to it.”

Iraqi/Arab style Quickfire questions

*Sorry for non-Arab readers you may have to look some of these foods up.

  1. Dolma Or Kubba?

“Oh man, why you gotta… Kubba all the way… or Kibbeh as the restaurants spell it.”

(we both made fun of the spelling here)

  • Masgouf or Bamya?

“Ughhh, both I hate both. I mean when I saw Simmich Masgouf in Iraq, I was like that’s a radioactive fish. I don’t like both. Maybe Simmich Masgouf? But I don’t like fish.”

  • Maqlubah or Iraqi style Kebab?

“Iraqi kebab all the way… it’s 90% grease, 10% beef.”

  • Baklawa or Kleicha?

“I choose Knaffe, next.”

At this point, I started cursing my dad for making me take Knaffe off the list when preparing because it wasn’t an Iraqi dessert.

“Oh is Knaffe Falestini (Palestinian).”

I did say in fairness it is ours as well as Iraqis’ love Knaffe to which Reem said true “It’s like we say Dolma is ours!”

  • Kahi Geymar or Min Al Sama?

Reem’s ears perked up at this question hahaha!

“Kahi all the way. Kahi is so good. I love Kahi.”

  • Favourite place to visit in Iraq?

“Baghdad!”

  • Favourite Arab comedian (male and female)?

“Oh. That’s so hard. That’s hard because they’re my friends. So that’s like I’m picking favourites… they’re gonna be like, oh, really Reem. Or I’ll choose one and they’ll be like oh really Reem? So, you know what? We’re just going to skip all of the above… I’ll tell you who my least favourite is though… just kidding!”

  • Favourite Arab singer (male and female)?

“Nancy Ajram… let’s go old school. When I was (lived) in Bahrain that’s when I found her. I like Amr Diab as well, he’s the OG.”

Last Question: What makes you proud to be Iraqi/ have Iraqi heritage?

“Honestly, everything… especially being an Iraqi-American, I feel like you are forced to think about your identity a lot, so you know, and it’s kind of changed over the years. Like you become more accepting of it and then more proud of it… to be from a country that in the Arab world, you know, we’re known, like you said, we’re known for being funny and confident and social and all these things, and we’re just also known for being, like, really good, down to earth people like people give you, like, the clothes off their back. So, I think, yeah, I don’t think there’s anything that I could say that doesn’t make me proud. I think we have such resilience and no matter where we go, we like to find community, we build it, and we like we make a mark. And so now this is a generic answer, but everything makes me proud. I’m so proud… or Dolma, I mean Dolma that’s what makes me most proud. Just kidding.”

Naturally, I had to back up the last statement, that it’s where it was invented (Iraq).

“It was right, everyone else calls it Warak Enab, like (sure) alright, Dolma.”

Thank you so much for talking with me Reem! Reem is a huge inspiration to me and I’m so proud that I got to speak to her! 

 Stay tuned for more…

Where can I see Reem? 

Reem’s tour dates are as follows:

12th of June- London, West End Comedy Club

15th of June- Liverpool, Hot Water Comedy Club

18th of June- Dublin, In Stitches Comedy Club

21st of June- Paris, Cocou Comedy

Be sure to visit one of these shows and show Reem the love she deserves, I will be at the West End Comedy Club! You can purchase tickets on her website here

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