Photos by Razan Samara
Salma Hindy likes to think that she was at her peak creativity and performance level while making her childhood friends laugh. Lunch times at the Islamic elementary and secondary schools she attended turned into a comedy sketch hour filled with extravagant storytelling and ridiculous imitations of her teachers and friends.
The up-and-coming comedian recently returned from the 12 city Super Muslim Comedy Tour in the United Kingdom, and finished in second place in the Toronto Comedy Brawl competition against over 400 comedians. Hindy also spent her autumn performing at comedy festivals in Boston, Dallas, Chicago and New York.
As Hindy prepares to open for American comedian and actor Ken Jeong on Jan. 11 for the Life After Mac performance on campus, it’s fair to say storytelling and making people laugh have followed her into adulthood.
Growing up in a conservative Muslim household meant that her parents have a rigid understanding of what comedy and performance is, which made it difficult for them to understand what their daughter wanted to pursue.
While their ideas of comedy were often tainted with negative connotations and misconceptions, Hindy wanted to show her family and Muslim community that clean comedy can be approached in a way that is mindful of the values and boundaries she has set for herself. Her career, identity and spirituality are part of her own personal journey and comedy just so happens to play an important part as well.
Despite her parents’ reluctance to attend her shows, Hindy’s mother found herself attending an event her daughter just so happened to be performing at for International Women’s Day this past March. It may have been seeing her daughter perform stand-up for the first time, the fact that Hindy removed all her parent jokes from her set, or the constant boasting on part of her mother’s friends, but the laughter seemed to ease her concerns.
The comedy industry was in for a shock too. Most audiences aren’t used to seeing a visibly Muslim woman take center stage at a comedy bar. Hindy will skip out on free drink tickets and get ecstatic at the availability of halal food at her events, but the industry is ready to embrace her and the diversity she brings.
“I fit in pretty well as someone who doesn’t fit in, if that makes any sense. They want to see people with different identities… different stories and different perspectives. Somebody who can teach them something that they didn’t know before while obviously still being entertaining and funny,” explained Hindy.
While Hindy’s faith and stereotypes around her identity do seep into her act, she isn’t explicitly written for a Muslim audience. Her witty remarks and hilarious stories about her life, which are all based on true events, humanize her as a Muslim Canadian; an identity that is often informed by the media rather than real life interactions.
Comedy became a breakthrough for fostering understanding. From jokes about struggling to have a crush reciprocate feelings to witnessing anti-Muslim protestors outside of a mosque and thinking ‘wow, these people go to the mosque more than me, like damn I wish I had your consistency’, Hindy utilizes storytelling to reach out to her audience and build a relationship.
“[I]t doesn’t even necessarily have to be specifically or explicitly about Muslim issues or Muslim struggles, obviously those are really enlightening and they’re great informational pieces for the audience, but even just you ranting about the same thing that somebody else would rant about which is just very mundane, just shows how relatable you are and how much of a connection that we all have,” explained Hindy.
Hindy completed her bachelor of engineering at McMaster and a masters in clinical engineering at the University of Toronto. She recently started her first full time job as a biomedical research engineer at Centre for Addiction and Mental Health so it’s only a matter of time before this milestone in her life inspires the newest additions to her comedy set.
In conversation, Hindy can’t help crack a joke or two — or every five minutes— often followed by a ‘you know what I’m saying?’ and her contagious laughter. Comedy is her superpower, she uses it to spread awareness, break down stereotypes and share herself unapologetically with the world.