5 Questions with Comedian Dina Hashem
Comic Dina Hashem has some serious writing chops, penning scripts for The Daily Show, The Sex Lives of College Girls and the upcoming animated Amazon series #1 Happy Family USA. She gets in front of the camera for her new stand-up special Dark Little Whispers, executive produced by comic Sam Morril and premiering November 10th on Amazon Prime. In the funny, deadpan set, she tackles death threats, existential dilemmas and growing up as a first-generation Arab-American. Hashem recently talked to Cracked about Dark Little Whispers.
In your special, you talk about your first time on stage. You had no plans to do stand-up — do you remember your first material?
The first time I was on stage I was literally auditioning for a contest. (Editor Note: She won.) I remember talking about my mom, for sure. And honestly, probably pretty hacky stuff. It was just completely on a whim. Me and my friend just sat down and tried to help each other out with jokes. He had done stand-up before and I hadn’t. It was nothing that I had ever thought of trying. It doesn't make sense to me when I think back on it because there was no reason for me to ever get on stage.
You say in your special that you’re a quiet person. What draws quiet people to get behind a microphone and start spilling their guts?
I don't think quiet people are really quiet. I think it's usually they have a lot of thoughts going on, but they either have anxiety or just didn't grow up in a place where they felt safe communicating with the people around them. And so they just kept everything bottled up. And that's why something like stand-up can be so revelatory. It was the first time, at least for me, that I was able to find a place to express things that was comfortable to me where I was immediately rewarded for it.
You joke in the special about comedy being a vehicle for helping people to understand one another. How does that work?
Words are turning out to not be a great form of communication. With the Internet, you realize it's impossible to really come to an understanding with people. With comedy, there's a little treat for them, they get to laugh as well. There's a reward for listening. And so it breaks through to people in the way that few things do. I hesitate to call it art, but it's like that. To really change someone's mind, you have to do it in an oblique way. It's rare that you can just have a straightforward conversation with somebody and their mind is immediately changed. Not that comedy can immediately change minds either, but there's something in it for the other person listening.
You talk about things like abortion in your special, subjects people might hesitate to discuss. Are there topics that scare you?
There’s nothing I’m necessarily afraid to talk about. I guess it’s tricky with the religious stuff because, especially in times like this, a lot of my jokes about the way I grew up tend to be sort of skewering religion. There's a risk of the wrong type of audience hearing that and then using that as an excuse to be prejudiced or racist. I guess my fear is being misinterpreted in a way that ends up hurting people. I would never want someone to hear my jokes about Islam and then be like, “See, those people are bad.” So it’s a tricky line.
But I also don’t want to censor myself and deny the experience that I had. All those stories I tell are true. There’s obviously nuance to it and that's hard to communicate with each joke. You just have to hope that people are listening with good faith.
There was an incident where I was getting thousands of threats every day. You can’t help but be afraid because you’re not sure what's real. Half the time I thought it was really funny, half the time I was very scared and I would vacillate between those feelings. But after it blew over and thankfully nothing happened, it certainly didn’t deter me from saying things I wanted to say. It just made me realize how easily misunderstood you could be. There’s just no point in worrying because you’re always going to be misunderstood, especially by people who want to misunderstand you for their own agenda.
We now believe all comedy specials should end with drum solos. How did you decide to use that as an exclamation point?
I started playing the drums a year or two ago, and I just got obsessed with it. I’ve grown up playing music, and I just have so much fun playing the drums. It’s just another funny contrast with the way people view me because drums are this extremely loud crazy instrument and stand-up is this out-there thing. When people meet me, they never guess I do these things.