Three hours before Irvine’s stand-up comedy show Minority Reportz was scheduled to begin on a recent weeknight, a father arrived with his young son in tow, trying to snag some tickets.
Online tickets had sold out days before and a limited number were available at the door.
Mona Shaikh, the comic who produces the weekly show, was at Caspian Restaurant early to prepare the venue. They weren’t open yet, but the man pleaded with her.
“You’re not bringing him, right?” Shaikh asked, motioning to the child. She was relieved when the answer was no.
Though Caspian is a family-friendly Persian and Mediterranean restaurant, Minority Reportz is held in its private ballroom which, on Shaikh’s comedy nights, is strictly for those 18 and over. Guests are encouraged to visit the hookah lounge afterward.
“Once there was a parent in the restaurant who was trying to be slick and sent their kid over to our room to see some comedy,” said Shaikh, whose jokes can get pretty raunchy. “And I was like, ‘You need to go back to Mommy. Please don’t be here. I don’t want to go to jail.’”
The father who had successfully secured tickets for his group was among only a handful of men at Minority Reportz’ first-ever “Desi Girls Night Out!” show, which packed the venue with approximately 240 people.
The comics included Shaikh, Hina Khan, Sarah Fatemi, Priya Prasad, Eman El-Husseini, Mansi Mehra and Zahra Noorbakhsh.
Comedian Rajiv Satyal, another of the handful of men in the room, hosted.
Four years ago, Shaikh started Minority Reportz, a showcase for underrepresented stand-up comics, at Los Angeles’ famed Comedy Store. Comedians like Tiffany Haddish, Finesse Mitchell, Nikki Glaser and Iliza Shlesinger have performed in the show.
Even Marc Maron and Kevin Nealon have taken the stage.
“They are not [minorities],” says Shaikh. “But they were minorities that night… [Kevin] showed up, everyone was ethnic and he was like ‘Is this Indian night?’ Kevin, have you read the name of the show? Minority Reportz, dude. Seriously.”
Last June, Shaikh moved the show to Orange County. She had a hunch that because of Irvine’s demographics (41.2% Asian, majority non-white, according to the US. Census Bureau), a show like Minority Reportz would work there.
“Desi Girls Night Out!” was their fastest selling show to date. Even newly elected Irvine Councilwoman Farrah Khan, one of the only Asian Pacific Islanders and Muslims elected to a city council in Southern California, showed up to address the crowd, watch the show and sometimes cover her face when the jokes got particularly explicit.
“So many waxing jokes tonight,” Shaikh quipped when she took the stage as the headliner.
She was still on a high after performing for approximately 50,000 people at the Women’s March San Francisco a couple weeks prior.
Shaikh told jokes about discrimination at airport security, dating sites like Shaadi.com, Dil Mil and Minder (Muslim Tinder) and the differences between American and Pakistani parents, before lowering her voice and asking the sufficiently wined-up crowd, “Do you like dirty jokes?”
“There was so much howling, it sounded like a Magic Mike show,” said Noorbakhsh, co-host of the #GoodMuslimBadMuslim podcast who was that week’s surprise special guest.
Noorbakhsh says it’s very rare to be able to perform in a showcase of all-brown women.
“As a brown woman, you so rarely get the opportunity to develop material that isn’t specifically about how you explain your existence in the world, why you’re up there in the first place,” she said. “Four minutes of my act is usually context-building: ‘I’m Iranian, Iranians are like this.’ But what I saw happening was, as each comedian went onstage, they were establishing context.
“I realized I didn’t have to [explain] ‘I’m a feminist bisexual Muslim Iranian American comedian.’ There were already feminists onstage. There were already Muslims all over the place. There was already someone who identified as queer.”
So she threw out her planned set and instead told a story that she rarely has the opportunity to practice in front of a large, sold-out crowd who innately understands where she’s coming from.
She talked about waxing her white husband’s chest in her parents’ home — and how it oddly allowed her father to accept his daughter marrying a non-Muslim atheist.
It’s a section she’s been workshopping for her forthcoming comedy special “On Behalf Of All Muslims” that is usually 10 minutes long, but she was able to test it out and see how it’d work as a quicker-paced four-minute bit.
“There’s no way to be able to sit at your desk, write that, and predict how that would go,” says Noorbakhsh. “It has to be with an audience. You have to feel their expectation.”
Noorbakhsh recently gave a talk called “Funny is Funny, So What’s Happening to Standup Comedy?” at Florida’s 2019 frank conference about the growing need for alternate spaces outside of the bar/club scene — largely dominated by straight white male comics and audiences — where comedians of color can practice their craft.
“If you’re unable to develop [your more nuanced] material on par with your competition, then you’re not going to sound as polished,” says Noorbakhsh. “I don’t think people understand how much it shapes the stand-up comedy genre as we know it. Talented comics of color are often defeated before they’re able to reap the benefits. So many people quit.”
With Minority Reportz, Shaikh hopes to give these up-and-coming comedians one of these alternate spaces.
“I want to make it a home,” says Shaikh of Minority Reportz. “For people to feel comfortable, have a good time, feel loved and empowered.”