Review: Weapons of Mass Hilarity, 2Northdown, Monday 16th August

“Where do you want to sit?”

“The front”.

Not the usual exchange when attending stand-up comedy, but this was a show with a difference. Weapons of Mass Hilarity showcases comics with links to the Middle East, and the friend I was with is British Iraqi. Of course she wanted to sit at the front and see me picked on for a change.

Fortunately David Lewis, our MC, is an equal opportunities offender. Myself and all the other white guys (also, inevitably, called James) copped our fair share, but so did a septuagenarian Iraqi engineer, an Assyrian family, and Lewis’ own mother, who wasn’t even there but had to be apologised to repeatedly.

But that’s kinda the point. This night is a reclamation as much as it is a celebration: here are the things that unite us, and here are the things that we have the right to take the piss out of ourselves about, and frankly we’re going to be funnier than you while we do it.

It was a dizzying line-up. Maria Shehata set the tone, the Egyptian-American comedian brilliant in both material and delivery. The audience boiled with recognition laughter at Shehata’s description of parents who think you’re dead if you don’t answer the phone [1]; I especially liked the comparison of women who don’t want children with topless men on the tube – it’s allowed, but we don’t like it, do we?

Next was WMH founder Jenan Younis, already the object of Lewis’ ironic ire due to the number of people in the audience claming to be there specifically to see her [2]. We enjoyed the full range of Younis’ material, from home counties racism, body hair norms and unfortunate autocorrects; and doctors, sexy and otherwise. Our favourite bit? Her white friends planning an adventure on a dinghy post-lockdown, and Younis explaining why her somewhat lack of comfort with that had nothing to do with the water.

Remember the seventy-ish guy in the audience? His son, Yazan Fetto, was on stage next. “Any Iraqis in the audience” was met by a single-person bellow next to me, and a fun riff on how this was not the answer he was planning for.

I enjoyed Fetto’s set, but there were some groaners in there – some of the puns around Christianity teetered the line of so-bad-they’re-good and so-bad-they’re-bad. We were on better ground with the enjoyably tasteless material about his Nigerian wife, whose emails you will probably be able to find in your spam folder as I write.

The hills are alive with the sound of Victoria Howden! Tonight’s headliner was part naif, part diaphragm, with brilliant, witty, and memorable tales of being a musical-obsessed kid growing up in Jerusalem. Though Howden’s stage persona – think Björk in the It’s Oh So Quiet video, only six foot tall – is much looser than one expects from a stand-up, don’t be fooled: the pull back and reveal of why she was even on the bill was masterfully timed, the songs were beautiful, and the stories very funny indeed. 

And poof! All of a sudden, the metaphorical curtain was down, our metaphysical tour was over, and all that was left was for my friend to venture, blinking, into the evening light and go share stories with some fellow Iraqis.

**** ½ out of *****

[1] my friend: “when she looked aghast at the suggestion of her white friends that she ‘just ignore the call’ I was laughing so hard I had to gasp for breath”.

[2] Full disclosure: Younis played our own Factually Inaccurate night last week, but that was a bespoke set about farting, the first time “bespoke” and “farting” have been used in the same sentence.

Proceeds for this show were donated to MAP (medical aid for Palestinians) and Shlama Foundation – click on each charity to find out more and to donate.

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