Inspire: Feminist Muslim Comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh Is A Stand-Up Superhero

When you’re a feminist Muslim comedian (as you do) like Zahra Noorbakhsh, you have no choice but to break down the weight of it with laughter. It’s akin to a superpower in that not many people possess these specific traits and even fewer understand what it’s like to be in such a position. Which is why she’s perfect for our latest Inspire segment.

Ever since she was a little girl, a first generation Iranian-American, Zahra has been using laughter to diffuse the seriousness of the life around her, which is something we can all buy stock in. When angry Americans considered her family an “enemy of the state” during San Francisco’s Iranian hostage crisis, little Zahra might’ve been small in stature but she was acutely aware of what was happening around her. Comedy wasn’t a luxury to her then; it was a weapon to defend her family, and it still is. Not only that, but the pressure for any woman in the stand-up comedy world back then carried a heavy dose tension.

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“The first thing you have to do is speak to the tension in the room, that is, guys wondering if you know how attractive or unattractive you are,” Zahra told Mandatory. “As a comedian, your ability to gauge tension is based off how quickly you assess that.”

But outside of the whole “woman” thing, she was constantly barraged by socio-political questions from fellow Iranians she would meet when, really, she was just a young girl who loved cartoons and video games like the rest of us. Although this one-woman show felt lost between the two worlds, comedy became the opening for which to insert herself (euphemism unintended), which can be felt in her new special, On Behalf of All Muslims!

Despite differences in opinions, belief systems, skin color, political swing in a time of electric scooters and instant delivery, Zahra is a prime example of how people can break down walls instead of building them up. And she does it with a comedy toolbelt that transcends what would predictably come out as anger as edgy comedy built for unbiased laughter, a universal ingredient for positive change. That’s how we know she’s a stand-up superhero, when she’s using her powers for good. And while she has quit comedy in the past, she keeps coming back for more, thanks to the sage advice of W. Kamau Bell:

You don’t choose comedy. It chooses you. 

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Tune in to her #GoodMuslimBadMuslim podcast for more Zahra Noorbakhsh. 

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Cover: Kim Newmoney