Writer, producer and comic actress Tima Shomali is one of the only female comedians in Jordan. When she started out, she had to navigate loudmouth critics who called her promiscuous and said she didn’t represent Arab women–not to mention the apparently universal stereotype that women aren’t funny.
But she hasn’t let any of that stop her.
After making her name acting and writing for the show Bath Bayakha, she left in 2012 to write and star in her own web series, Fe-Male or Fe-maleShow— a romantic comedy focusing on one couple’s path from dating to marriage and told from the woman’s point of view.
It’s been a smash hit. With more than 24 million views, Fe-maleShow is the one of the most popular TV shows in Jordan. Shomali, 30, has won an impressive following that extends well beyond her homeland, with over a quarter-million fans on Facebook and nearly 70,000 followers on Twitter. She’s sure to reach an even wider audience when her first feature film comes out.
“It was very hard in the beginning,” Shomali told Women in the World in a phone interview. “When you start something and people aren’t used to it, the first thing they’ll do is attack you.” Her show regularly challenges notions of what women can do in public. In her first video, she wore pajamas to a crowded market and shouted into a megaphone. But the ratio of praise to criticism has improved: Shomali estimated that when she first started her YouTube show, about 35 percent of her respondents were attacking her. Now, that number is down to two or three percent. Yet she’s always been polarizing. People are either “really, really supporting or really really attacking,” she said.
That change isn’t just a result of Jordanians getting used to her brand of comedy; it also reflects broader cultural shifts. “With social media and the Internet, it’s different now,” said Shomali. “People are more willing to share now. People are able to see stuff online that they weren’t able to see before, because of the restrictions on TV.”
Shomali’s videos haven’t been translated into English yet, but Arabic-speakers can find her comedy sketches and TV show on YouTube. And if even if for those don’t speak Arabic, viewers can still sample a flavor of her comic stylings by watching some of her most popular YouTube videos below. And, you can catch her at the Women in the World summit on April 24th at Lincoln Center. Tickets can be purchased here.