Comedian Sabrina Jalees explores intersectionality

Sabrina Jalees, a Canadian-Pakistani comedian, speaker and writer, performed a stand-up routine at Hodson Hall on Friday, Nov. 2. The Offices of the Dean of Student Life, LGBTQ Life and Multicultural Affairs (OMA) co-sponsored the event, titled Sabrina Jalees Speaks.

The event was part of OMA and Homewood Student Affairs’ Heritage 365 series, which started at the beginning of November and will continue through the start of reading period this semester.

Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka explained that Heritage 365 aims to explore and celebrate intersecting identities, as well as amplify the voices of marginalized communities.

“Heritage 365 is a way to say: We’re not just going to celebrate Asian Americans in the month of April, because that’s when we celebrate Asian-American heritage day; We’re not just going to talk about black and African-American folks during Black History Month in February,” she said. “We have to recognize their history and their current struggles as well as their successes.”

Ruzicka emphasized the importance of bringing a speaker to campus who was part of several intersecting identities but also part of the popular culture. She explained that Jalees’ unique perspective, being half Pakistani and half Swiss, would allow students to resonate with her.

“Sabrina [Jalees] really was a crucial speaker for our students based on her biracial identity and the fact that she’s a stand-up comic coming from very nontraditional backgrounds,” Ruzicka said.

Jalees recently starred in Netflix’s The Comedy Lineup, which was released in 2018. On the show, she reflected on coming out as lesbian to her Pakistani family and explored the intersection of feminism and sexuality. Some of her earlier work includes writing for Powerless and Portrait of a Serial Monogamist. She is currently working on an upcoming comedy TV show called Hanging On.

Jalees has been a part of the comedy world since the early 2000s and explained that as her career has advanced, her goals and what she hopes to achieve through comedy have changed.

“I started doing this a long time ago. In the beginning, it was about getting a laugh, and now the deeper I get into it, the more it’s just about talking about the things that are important to me,” she said.

She explained that her comedy focuses on LGBTQ community rights and racial diversity, issues that she has advocated for in the past.

During her show on Friday, she aimed to explore some of the misconceptions surrounding the feminist movement. She felt that in conversations surrounding feminism, some people ignore years of past oppression that women have faced and focus only on the most recent events.

“Being a feminist means that men and women are of equal value,” Jalees said. “This shit’s been happening. How are you talking about the oppression of women like it’s like ‘Men have been bad this year?'”

She acknowledged that extremes exist on both sides of any movement and explained how this can sometimes blind people to ways in which they might be able to cooperate.

“With the left and right in politics too, there are just embarrassing people,” she said. “We all actually overlap way more than those people, but those people are loud.”

Jalees emphasized that she feels optimistic about the way society’s attitudes are changing, citing the climate surrounding sexual and gender-based violence. She believes society has improved the way it treats women, and because of it men who have committed sexual assault are more likely to face consequences. She connected this to her personal experience of recently having a baby boy.

“It’s really exciting to have a little boy in these times where you know boys are going to grow up to be so much better than so many garbage men that are being exposed right now,” she said.

Jalees emphasized that her brand of comedy, along with the comedy she tends to enjoy, draws on life experiences.

“I want to know that the person that is talking on stage cares about what they’re talking about and aren’t just doing backflips for jokes,” she said.

She added that she is inspired by her own everyday life. Comedy, for her, should not serve merely as a distraction from the world.

“I’m a queer person and I’m an immigrant and I’m brown and all these things that are very fish out of water-y,” she said. “There’s got to be a purpose behind [comedy], and talking about my truth is that purpose.”

Jalees proceeded to described how her parents and in-laws gradually accepted hers and her wife’s sexualities. She believes that when people experience different cultures, they can expand their perspectives.

“Catholics, Muslims – everyone is just so scared of what they don’t know until they know it,” she said. “But you only know your experience.”

Jalees explained that she felt that as more minority groups are represented in media today, it has become easier for people outside those groups to experience perspectives that they have never before been exposed to.

She cited the specific example of members of the LGBTQ community growing increasingly prominent in mainstream media.

“The evidence is out there. Ellen DeGeneres dances everyday on TV. Gay people are out there being normal, good people. There are examples out there,” Jalees said.

Kanak Gupta, a member of the Stand-Up Comedy Club, enjoyed listening to Jalees’ comedy and perspective. She said Jalees helped her realize how her own life could impact her comedy.

“The best comedy comes from life experience. Everyone’s life is just absurd in some way, especially if you’re different from other people,” she said. “So if your life is different from other people, I’m sure just hearing that kind of difference makes it funny to other people.”

Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka agreed, adding that the most effective form of comedy brings attention to issues that society is currently facing.

“When done well, comedy and activism is a wonderful combination,” she said. “A brilliant comedian who is also an advocate and activist will leave audiences not just laughing but also thinking.”

Diva Parekh contributed reporting.

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