A professional comedian stood before a crowd of at least 100 people in the UC Theater Friday, Nov. 7, to joke about her life as a Lebanese woman living in America. She said she hopes to use comedy to normalize human differences and experiences.
Comedian Nataly Aukar is based in New York, but she came to the University of Montana as part of her plan to learn more about American culture across the states, she said. She reached out to a UM professor about traveling here when she learned about UM’s Arabic Studies program. Students Madison Derendinger and Joshua Hall, founders of the Central and Southwest Asian Club, agreed to organize the show.
“I don’t talk about Lebanese people in general. I don’t talk about Arab people in general. I talk about my life as an Arab woman in the Middle East. I talk about how it affected me personally, and how it affects me today being in a completely different country and a completely different culture,” Aukar said.
Aukar was born and raised in Lebanon, and English is her third language. She moved to New York for comedy four years ago. Derendinger and Hall thought the comedy show was a good opportunity to uplift Aukar’s voice, and let more people know about their club. They worked with ASUM to get the funding to bring Aukar here and rent out the UC Theater.
Her first time witnessing stand up, Aukar was shocked by how honest people were. Talking about things that she used to be ashamed of, the things that made her human, makes her feel free, she said.
Aukar hasn’t seen much of the Western United States, and came to Montana with no expectations. She said she enjoyed the show, though, and thought the crowd was engaging and the vibes were good.
Aukar said her identity as an Arab woman drives almost all of her jokes. But she tries to not talk about what people expect her to talk about, and she uses her personal stories to make a statement.
Local comedian Sarah Aswell introduced Aukar, who immediately started talking with the crowd. First, Aukar goaded a man who someone in the crowd said looked like Bob Ross into moving to the front row. After that, she talked with a woman in the second row named Sherin Thomson. Thomson, the mother of a few adult children, said Aukar could come over for dinner, weed and beer.
Aukar talked with a man and his wife in a 43-year-long marriage about how they met and joked about how the man looked worn down from marriage. Then she chatted with two freshmen in a two-week-long relationship, who met on the Freshmen Wilderness Experience.
“You met on a wilderness trip?” Aukar asked the couple, laughing. “That’s so Montanan.”
Aukar’s mother was often the topic of her jokes. Aukar said her mother always told her that outside beauty didn’t matter as much as inside beauty. Aukar said that when people complimented Aukar’s appearance, her mother would say, “Yes honey, but remember you have bad teeth. Now go read a book.”
“I’ve never finished a book in my life,” Aukar told the crowd. “But I hate my teeth, and it keeps me humble.”
Other topics of Aukar’s jokes ranged from awkward sex-life stories to growing up in a country with frequent bombings.
Aukar said she hopes her comedy will help more people feel comfortable in their own skin. She wants to normalize the experiences she’s had, that she believes others are also having.
When Aukar first started comedy, her goal was to teach Americans about Lebanese culture. She said she found that people were more accepting of her Lebanese origins than she expected. But being a woman in the comedy world is tough, she said.
“Sometimes you just have to, you know, really prove that you have the same strengths, the same talent, the same power as the men that are around you,” Aukar said.
Sherin Thomson was an active participant in the crowd. She’s a non-traditional student studying Anthropology with minors in Central and Southwest Asian Studies and Arabic. Thomson said she loved Aukar.
“I thought it was hilarious and she was great,” Thomson said. “If you can take trauma and make it funny and you’re only 26 years old, you’ve got a good future ahead of you.”
Aukar said she hopes to be able to help grow Lebanon’s small comedy scene in the future. In Lebanon, there is not a lot of free speech, but people are protesting to change that in the ongoing Lebanon revolt.
“People are unified, people are united and they’re speaking up a lot,” Aukar said. “So, I think we’re definitely on the right track, but we’re not completely there yet.”