What comedy most inspires you?
Character comedy really resonates with me. I love being able to step into a new identity by changing my voice/accent. Watching character comedians is like stepping into the twilight zone. It is the ultimate escape.
Which comedian most inspires you?
Growing up it was Omid Djalili. I loved seeing someone from the Middle East present the culture and nuances in such an accessible way to British audiences. Crowds may be ROFL but there was and still is an undercurrent of a deeper message with his material (even with his dinosaur impressions – trust me on this one). He was the only figure from the Middle East that I saw on British television as a child, and it was truly inspiring watching someone talk about their background so freely and comfortably. I did try and meet him backstage at the Edinburgh festival a few years ago (Assembly Rooms #slack backstage door), but got escorted out by security. I think he may have a restraining order issued against me now.
Which comedian scares the shit out of you because you know you'll never be that good?
Patrick Kielty. My current day hero (now Omid has forsaken me). His mind runs at lightning speed; it takes him the blink of a nano second to produce the sharpest of comebacks. I have to think so hard with a comeback I get a migraine. The way he navigates comically through the dark tales of Northern Irish politics is pure genius. I will never be able to come even close to doing that with the Middle East.
Why and how did you get into comedy?
Theatre was always my first love. I sang for the English National Opera as a kid. I somehow found myself down an unexpected academic path at University and I was desperate to find a way back on stage. A former partner in crime from my theatre days suggested stand up which I ruled out. Thanks to her persistent harassment I did my first ever gig at the Edinburgh fringe (what a baptism of fire) to a crowd of rowdy Scots at midnight somewhere down George IV bridge. The rest is history.
What drives you to do what you do?
The adrenaline rush! It’s an addiction. And it’s getting worse. A great gig turns my whole perspective around. It’s my method to keeping emotionally healthy.
Describe your perfect Tuesday.
Lie in. Of course. A full English (with a cuppa Earl Grey – soz to be fussy. And if I’m honest it’s a cuppa Earl Grey with oat milk… I’ve bought into the organic mantra). Marathon of sitcoms, (I’m into all the retro stuff; gimme a bit of Del Boy and Rodney at each other’s throats any day of the week). Dinner would be a Wags Katsu Curry with my bestie followed by prancing about with a mic on stage talking about being an Iraqi-Palestinian-Assyrian Brethnic (British-ethnic, see what I did there?).
Describe your worst experience on a coach.
A lot of kids get motion sickness. I did. Most kids grow out of it. I didn’t. Fill in the gaps.
Best sofa you’ve slept on?
I don’t do sofas either. I can tell you why though. We’ll have to go quite far back…Med school, obstetric placement, had to deliver a baby, labour was taking FOREVER (how inconvenient), I snuck in and slept on a sofa in the staff room that looked like it had been attacked by half a dozen Rottweilers. My posture has never been the same since. It’s been orthopaedic mattresses from then on #lowmaintenance.
Best piece of advice a comedian ever gave you?
“Tell people what they don’t want to hear in a way that they will listen to it” I haven’t mastered that yet. How do you talk about colonialism without using the “c” word? How do you talk about the 2003 Iraq invasion without pointing a finger at Bush/Blair? How do you talk about custard creams being the greatest biscuit on the planet without offending the humble bourbon or jammie dodger? It’s a tough one.
Worst piece of advice a critic ever gave you?
There are two I can’t shake off. Firstly “Be more personal”. I don’t know what he/she meant by that. I was tempted to ask if incorporating a bowel function stool frequency chart into my set would suffice. The second comment was “be less Middle Eastern. Can’t you maybe be a bit Lebanese? Lebanese is cute; Iraq and Palestine not so cute”.
Tell us a joke.
“So an Arab a Kurd and an Assyrian walk into a bar in Baghdad.” That’s as far as I’ve got with that one. Still working on it. I think I may have lost all your white readers. I might even pick up a few fatwas from your non-White readers.
What’s the furthest you’ve travelled for the least amount of money/open spot?
Scarborough. Never again. I don’t care if they do have real sand on the beaches. It makes up for nufink.
Best chicken you’ve ever tasted?
Well it would have to be a KFC bucket pre 2008 before the colonel changed the recipe. My life has never been the same since.
On a scale of 1-10 , how hungry are you right now?
I’ve just binged on a packet of prawn cocktail flavour Pringles. I don’t think I’ll need to eat ever again.
How has lockdown been for you?
Am I allowed to say I loved it! Apart from the whole live comedy industry completely crumbling before our very eyes thing ... but is it bad for me to say I more than survived without the Edinburgh Festival this year? Sure I missed the dodgey overly cheesed pizza slices from that van at the bottom of the Royal Mile and the bout of facial eczema break out that makes me look like I’m shedding my own skin.... anyhow I did not bake banana bread during lockdown. I did not take a photo of a blue sky during lockdown. I did not start crocheting.
Do you think you've been more or less productive?
Well, there have been those moments where all I’ve managed to achieve is binge retro-watch the Gilmore Girls (a series that has NOT aged well) and Cobra Kai (spoiler alert: Miguel can’t die!) .. but on the whole I’ve been doing stuff... dodge virtual gigs, uber niche Mesopotamian puns, rearranging the stamp collection, questioning the meaning of life... all the things that clearly will keep me gig-fit ready for when live comedy resumes ... no really I’ve managed to release some stand up snippets that were recorded from my show that never was “Jenanistan” ...scribbled lines for the Foreigner Blog, Azeema and the Independent (humble brag) recorded a radio show on farts (yes really FARTS...) and blagged a career as a political cartoonist (very briefly).
Any last words?
I had a dream where I was in a hospital gift shop and found a pocket book on Salvador Dali but when I flicked through it there were photos of Dawn French posing boldly by distorted sculptures. Which can only mean one thing... 2020 will end well.... (?!) “What would Mesopotamian mice say to a cat ..?” “We’re not Euphrates of you!”
To find out more about Jenan, including upcoming shows click the links below: