Jest for laughs

In Bengaluru recently with her latest standup solo Man’oushe, Lebanese-American comedian Janine Harouni’s atypical humour pokes fun at the raw and messy realities of life
In frame: Janine Harouni
In frame: Janine Harouni

It was Janine Harouni’s first visit to India, and her top priority was simply getting some rest. “I really needed this vacation!” she shares, relishing a break from her six-month-old baby and the exhaustion of a new parent. “It’s been amazing. I haven’t had a chance to explore, so I’ll definitely have to come back and really get to know the city and India,” she says. The Lebanese–American actor-comedian, now based in the UK, brought her second standup solo Man’oushe to Bengaluru earlier this month.

In frame: Janine Harouni
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Nominated for the main Edinburgh Comedy Awards last year, the show is an intensely funny yet deeply personal account of Harouni’s own experience with pregnancy, motherhood, and grief. “I started writing it during my first pregnancy. All this beautiful Instagram stuff about what it meant to be pregnant I’d seen, I didn’t really feel that way. I felt sick all the time and very lonely. And when we lost that pregnancy, I felt even more alone. So I found it funny to kind of talk about that stuff. I think I just selfishly wanted to feel a bit less alone in my grief. Then I also probably just wanted to let other people know that there can be some catharsis from some tragedy,” she shares.

The 36-year-old also delves into her grief over the loss of her friend and the director of the show with incredible candour. “It felt wrong and inauthentic to continue performing comedy every day when I felt so sad. All I wanted to do was talk about him constantly. So, he became a part of the show because it was very... I don’t want to say cathartic because I don’t think comedy has to be cathartic. I think it has to be truthful and personal. For me, being able to make myself and others laugh about the darker aspects of life feels like a worthwhile endeavour. So, maybe I will do a show in the future that’s just jokes,” she adds.

In frame: Janine Harouni
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Ahead of her visit to India, Harouni was pleasantly surprised to find out that Indians rank second in the number of followers she has on Instagram. While still unsure, yet intrigued by her popularity, she says, “A woman I met after the show told me that she would send my reels to her husband, saying, ‘This is how I feel; this is what I’m going through.’ Maybe that’s what has made it resonate so deeply with people here’.”

A trained actor, Harouni decided to pursue her comedy ambitions quite late in life. “I was terrified of it. It’s an intimidating field, where you immediately know whether or not your audience appreciates your material. The formula is straightforward: set up a punch line, and if there’s no laughter, you’ve failed. Ever since I was 18, I knew I wanted to be a comedian, but it wasn’t until I was 30 that I felt so defeated by life that I no longer cared about the potential difficulties or the fear. I realised that I didn’t want to waste any more time. I knew what I wanted to do, and even if it was challenging or frightening, that was okay. I would regret not trying more than failing. Not trying at all seemed much worse,” she says. Yet, her success on stage has ironically helped her acting career take off, with her most high-profile acting credit being 2022’s Robert Pattison-starrer The Batman.

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