• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


The Power of Silliness

Humor and human rights.

November 10, 2013

For a little over a year, I have been part of a musical improv practice group. Originally eight of us bonded in a beginning class and started meeting weekly to practice and consolidate what we had learned in class. We have lost four of the original members and replaced them with a series of terrific improvisers, some of whom have stayed and others have moved on.

Last spring, my friend and fellow "founding member" Arlene and I decided to re-take a beginning class to brush up on our basic skills. It was a wonderful class, and one reason for that was the participation of a young standup comedian named Hisham Fageeh, who was in New York finishing up a graduate degree at Columbia. We immediately invited him to join our group.

He stayed with us several months, before leaving for a comedy tour and then returning to Saudi Arabia. We followed his adventures and exchanged messages on Facebook.

A few weeks ago, Hisham posted this video, in support of women in Saudi Arabia who are forbidden to get drivers' licenses. I found it hilarious, and shared it, as did many of his other western friends. By the next day, it was linked on nearly every blog I visited.

Then, last week, Arlene sent our group this.

I have been thinking about this not just because I feel a personal connection with Hisham or with women generally (though I do) but because improv and sketch comedy sometimes start to feel like frivolous pursuits when there is so much serious work to be done in the world. Yet the humor and absurdity of "No Woman, No Drive" seems to have eased tensions for many in a very fraught situation, and to have encouraged those brave women who took to the streets in cars.

Sometimes art, and silliness, can cut through political differences in ways that sophisticated analyses can't touch. I am so grateful to live in the 21st century, when far-flung friends can remain connected, and brilliant commentary can reach around the globe in minutes.


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