"Stand-up is just a curation of all your funniest stories condensed into one hour."
London-based, New York-born comedian and one third of sketch group Muriel, Janine Harouni is bringing her debut hour of stand-up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August. The aptly titled Stand Up with Janine Harouni (Please Remain Seated) which promises to be about standing up for what you believe in, even if you have to do it really nicely.
During our chat, Janine talks to me about her dad being a Trump supporter, award recognition and why she believes sketch shows are on the cusp of a comeback.
How did you first get into comedy?
When I was in New York I used to get free tickets to some comedy club and I'd go but most of the comedians would be terrible. However, one time I went and Mike Birbiglia was headlining and that was the first time I saw him and I remember thinking "Wow! This is amazing!" but I was way too scared to do it so I went to drama school instead.
While I was there, I really wished that I could try comedy so after a year of unemployment after graduating I thought now was a good time to pursue it. I took some classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York but I'm very bad at improv. I think my brain just doesn't work in the same way as those people, I was God awful.
Whilst I was at drama school I met Meg Salter and Sally O’Leary who are also in Muriel with me and we just hit it off right away and after we graduated started writing sketches together.
As for stand-up, that was just me selling brownies at a market stall, feeling miserable about my life, deciding to apply for an open mic spot. I had to just book myself in and just do it, which I did.
You now live in London. How have you found it?
I feel like London and New York have a real connection like a sisterhood or brotherhood - there's a real kinship there so it's been a pretty easy transition for me. There are definitely a lot of weird cultural things that took me a while to adjust my settings to but it's been good.
I like it here so I hope you all keep me!
You've won and been nominated for numerous awards already. How important is that recognition so early on in your career?
It's definitely given me confidence because it's brutal when you're starting out and you're just performing to five people who are also comedians in an empty room above a pub and they're also super nervous about their own set so they don't care about yours. Which makes it really difficult to know if you're on the right path.
You first performed at the Fringe with Muriel a few years ago, now you're performing alone. What drove that decision?
Well Muriel started writing more for TV and less for live and I had a story to tell and I felt like this year is the right year to tell it. A lot of the show is about how my dad voted for Trump and has very different political views to me so it felt like now or never.
How long have you been working on the show for?
Bits of it are some of the first stand-up that I wrote, so two-and-a-half years, but the show itself I started putting together in January/February.
How have you found filling that Edinburgh hour?
D'ya know what? I'm good. I like it. Stand-up is just a curation of all your funniest stories condensed into one hour. So I've definitely enjoyed it.
How have the previews been going?
I was really nervous and scared because I thought people would hear that my dad was a Trump supporter and just write him off, but people seem to have really enjoyed the show.
I really want to paint a three-dimensional picture of my dad. An international audience in particular think of Trump supporters as this dumb, hick stereotype, when actually my dad is a smart guy. He's really loving and caring, he always gives back to the community, he's always been a massive support for me and for many people near where we live so I wanted to make sure that I painted a full picture of him.
Have you shown him the show?
I haven't yet, no. But I am nervous for when I do. I tried to tell him that I was painting him as a three-dimensional character and he said "Just paint me as an asshole, might make the show funnier!" so I think he's OK with it.
What are you most looking forward to about Edinburgh this year?
The crepe van. Every day I'll go and get a ham and cheese with garlic salt crepe and I've missed it every day that I've not been in Edinburgh.
I'm also really looking forward to seeing lots of shows. When you're performing they give you a pass so you can see everything else that on at your venue and I'm on at the Pleasance so there'll be some great people there.
Who in particular are you looking forward to seeing perform?
I can't wait to see Phil Wang's show, he's always very funny. Goodbear, they're very funny and the concept they have for their show this year sounds great. And Stiff & Kitsch who have a show called Bricking It and I help direct them sometimes, so I can't wait to see theirs. Loads!
Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?
Muriel are writing for a new all-female sketch show for Comedy Central that's coming out. The title used to be Laughing at Salad but I think it's going to be called something different now. We're also working on our own sketch show which we hope will get picked up.
That's two sketch shows, do you feel like they're on their way back?
I think they are. Natasia Demetriou and Ellie White have just released theirs on BBC Three and I think there's a real appetite for women in sketch at the minute. I think the sketch show will have a resurgence.
Muriel have been compared to iconic sketch group Smack the Pony. What was that comparison like?
I love Smack The Pony, I didn't know about them until I moved over here and then I was like "Oh man I've been missing out! I've lived my life not knowing about them" so that's the highest compliment we could have received in my opinion.
Finally, how would you sum up this year's show in just five words?
Funny, heartfelt and moving. Come.
Stand Up with Janine Harouni (Please Remain Seated) runs from 31st July - 25th August (not 13th) at 5.45pm at the Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker Three). Book tickets here.