Janine Harouni review - the platonic ideal of a comedy show

 

By Dominic Maxwell for The Times on August 6th, 2019

 

Janine Harouni shows aspiring comic storytellers how it’s done.

 

★★★★★

 

Some Fringe debutants arrive full of promise, but look a bit rough around the edges. Janine Harouni, a New Yorker turned Londoner, arrives looking ready for her Neftlix special. Her show, Stand Up With Janine Harouni (Please Remain Seated), is a tale that so nimbly mixes laugh-out-loud lines, smart structure and tender personal revelation that its pretty much the platonic ideal of an autobiographical Edinburgh hour.

 

They should send shuttle buses around town to pick up aspiring comic storytellers to come and see how its done. And if Harouni holds the stage with such smiling, word-perfect poise that this feels as much like a theatrical monologue as it does stand-up, she makes sure to keep the gags coming even as she paints a vivid picture of growing up in the Republican stronghold of Staten Island.

 

She was raised Catholic and conservative like her parents, but became liberal after going away to university. Dropping in and out of accents here, she becomes her tough Italian-American mother or her Lebanese-American father. He voted Trump, as did most people on Staten Island. He has no time for his daughter accusing him of endorsing Islamophobia by doing so. Is he the villain of the piece, then, this father who also spoke out against gay marriage? Far from it: Harouni has a bad car crash that thrusts her back into the bosom of her family.

 

Parents and kids, rebellion and reunion, the love that cuts through political labels: we’ve heard it all before. Yet not only do we need reminding now more than ever that political differences are neither insuperable nor eternal, but Harouni makes her story so resonant by keeping it so personal. You leave feeling you know not only all the outspoken Harouni’s, but also her gay friend, her Irish boyfriend, the girlfriends whose night out ends up in disaster. And even the throwaway jokes, including the stuff about the difference between English and American penises, plays into the larger themes of how our circumstances form our norms.

 

This isn’t quite Harouni’s first time at the circus; she played here in 2017 with a sketch trio, Muriel. This, though, is her arrival as a solo writer and performer of invigorating skill.

Comedy review: Stand Up with Janine Harouni (Please Remain Seated)

 

By Jay Richardson for The Scotsman on August 15, 2019

★★★★

 

Spanning several popular stand-up themes  a young comic kicking against an older relatives regressive views; that same comic returning to spend an enforced period of adulthood with their parents; an outsiders perspective on contrasting cultures; and confronting a life-changing personal setback Janine Harouni’s debut still manages to be an organic masterpiece of storytelling, rich in fond detail, intricately woven together

 

A jobbing actor living in the UK for seven years, she’s from Staten Island, New York, raised in its blue collar, religious, outspoken and conservative traditions, exemplified by her parents views on sex before marriage and her fathers homophobia. Partially of Arab stock, but passing as an Italian-American, she’s been oddly privy to Islamophobia since 9/11. And having seen a bit of the world, she’s converted to a liberal perspective, ensuring that she frequently butts heads with her family. Even so, her parents confound their stereotyping, with Harouni’s feelings towards her father in particular complicated by his good deeds, extending to some exceptional altruism. When tragedy strikes, the family instinctively pulls together. But some differences still need to be bridged.

 

As origin stories go, Stand Up is an absolute belter, with Harouni covering plenty of ground in her unhurriedly paced, sure-footed account. Characters are brought vividly to life through their actions rather than cluttering exposition. And her sardonic wit capably offsets the emotional tug of its latter moments. Previously known as part of sketch trio Muriel, her fast rising stand-up career seems destined to instantly eclipse it. She might imply that living in the UK has jaded her into comedy but she demonstrates plenty of the dramatists art in this uplifting and very funny hour.

Janine Harouni: Rows with my Trump-supporting dad and other gags

 

By Dominic Maxwell for The Times on August 12th, 2019

 

Janine Harouni’s Fringe hit about her Republican father shows political opposites can get along, she explains.

 

Plenty of young people find themselves having rows with their exasperatingly conservative parents. Many mums and dads find themselves rebutting irked accusations from grown-up children who seem to think that they are the first generation to realise that the world is unfair.

 

Janine Harouni, a 31-year-old actress and comedian from Staten Island in New York, has managed to turn her beefs with her Trump-supporting parents into a magnificent debut show that is one of the big discoveries of this years Edinburgh Fringe. Stand Up with Janine Harouni (Please Remain Seated) is funny, touching and impeccably told. Yes, she expresses her liberal dismay at her father in particular; the son of Lebanese immigrants, he dismisses her suggestion that he’s supporting a racist bigot. Yet, perhaps most importantly, as Harouni puts it, ‘it reminds people that there’s humanity on both sides of the aisle’. After this Edinburgh run it moves to London in October.

 

She wasn’t sure at first how interested British audiences were going to be in her relationship with her father, Joseph, a high-school teacher, and her strong-minded but less politically rambunctious Irish-Italian mother, Mary, a nurse. Both are ardent Catholics (as were Janine and her two older brothers during childhood) and lifelong Republicans. Yet when she tried out some material for a few nights in Edinburgh last year she found that her descriptions of her family’s political argy-bargies had found their moment.

 

‘People came up to me afterwards and said, I can relate to that so much because my parents voted Brexit, or they voted against gay marriage or abortion being legalised in Ireland’, Harouni says. ‘People say that when you talk about your own truth [others] can relate to it, and I thought, There is a connection here that is wider than just Trump and America’. 

 

She worried that liberal comedy audiences might see her outspoken father as too much the villain. Instead, they found him endearing. ‘I thought, Thats interesting. Of course I love my dad because I know him as a three-dimensional person . . . so I thought there might be a show in that’.

 

And how. Harouni gives us an in on New Yorks most resolutely Republican area, a largely Italian-American, working-class district that believes in hard work over handouts. Joseph and Mary voted Trump, but so did 80 per cent of their neighbours. Harouni is a recovering Catholic who nonetheless acknowledges that her parents have done all sorts of good charitable work because of their religious beliefs. And though she wont give up her quest to get her father to moderate his views, she knows that he’s a Trump supporter despite the president’s outspoken excesses, rather than because of them.

 

‘Dad says, I don’t like the way that he talks, he doesn’t speak properly like a president should, but he is an outsider, he is not tied up in all this political nonsense, he is for the working man, he wants to make everyone rich’. People in the area see Democrats as snowflakes, too willing to give or receive a handout. ‘Thats the thing my dad is always criticising about liberals’.

 

Harouni and her brothers grew up conservative too. Then she went to study at university in Baltimore. She met people from different backgrounds and discovered boys. When she returned home, aged 21, spending her days studying acting and dance in New York, working towards a future in musical theatre, she was a full-on artistic liberal sort. Her father, meanwhile, was speaking out against gay marriage. They stopped talking to each other for a while.

 

Then, as she explains so vividly in the show, she had a terrible accident. She was on her way back from a friends 21st birthday party when their car was rear-ended by a driver who had fallen asleep. Her right leg was paralysed, and it stayed paralysed, first for two months in hospital then as she started two years of recovery at home. Her parents prayed for her and looked after her.

 

Medical science warned her that this might be her lot. For a while she despaired, asking: ‘Why has this happened to me?’ In the end, supported by her parents, she recovered, although she no longer had any future as a dancer. And in the process of fighting for her life and her mobility, a few disagreements about politics were put in their place. ‘What I say in the show is true, it really brought our family back together’, she says.

 

Which doesn’t mean that they went on to spend all their days hugging each other. On stage and in interview, Harouni is a sharp-witted, casually dressed, but composed presence. The only difference as we meet in person on a rainy day in Edinburgh is that, offstage, Harouni wouldn’t dream of studding her conversation with the sort of zingy one-liners that make her show as unstoppably entertaining as it is emotionally acute. Around the family dinner table, though, sparks will fly. ‘We’re New Yorkers’, she says. ‘We shout about passing the dishes down the table for dinner’, never mind political debate.

 

And Joseph loves a debate. ‘Because the other side is calling him a racist and Islamophobic, and he knows he’s not that, he does the research to justify his voting. And I think he enjoys a debate because he’s well prepared. And thats where the name-calling comes in, because emotion kicks in doesn’t it? You each go, How can you not see this? How can you not see that you’re wrong here?’  she says, laughing.

 

‘I think that admitting there is good and bad on both sides is what is going to build the bridge, between families at least. And that is what the show is about. It’s not about solving what is happening in the world at large. I am just hoping that people can take away from this that you can love someone on the other side’.

 

Her father writes off the political left as workshy and deluded. ‘Surely he can see’, she says, ‘that his daughter is hard-working and respectful’. She, in turn, admits that she has demonised the right by calling them racist, small-minded and materialist. ‘And then I see my dad, who is the most generous man that I know, he gives his time and money to charities, so I know that not everyone on the right is that way’, she says. ‘But it’s hard to remember that when we are living in such divisive times, I guess’. 

 

The family has been less disputatious since Harouni moved to London seven years ago to study acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (Lamda). She prospered pretty quickly. Just before the end of her course in 2015 she was cast as the female lead in a critically acclaimed West End production of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. ‘I thought, Thats it, I’ve nailed it, Im playing Julia, my career is done’. 

 

She was in the cast for a year, then she was unemployed for a year. She was selling brownies in markets when she decided to do a stand-up comedy course. She had always wanted to do some stand-up, but had been too scared. She started talking about her life, about the differences between Britain and America, about her dad. In December she won a Laughing Horse new act of the year competition in London. Then Soho Theatre, where she had been doing the weekly stand-up classes on Saturday mornings, agreed to produce this show.

 

She’s not quite a Fringe first-timer  she did a run in Edinburgh two years ago with the sketch trio Muriel, which she formed with her fellow Lamda graduates Sally O’Leary and Meg Salter. They still work together, but on video rather than stage  their wonderful sketch ‘Men are Witches’, which is on the BBC iPlayer, has had almost five million views. Andrew Nolan, her boyfriend who is doing his own Fringe show, is a director and cameraman for their videos. ‘So we cant ever split up’, she says. They live together in Tottenham, north London.

 

Her parents will visit her there for the first time in October, when they will also see the show. She is looking forward to it. ‘I don’t think they’d understand what my career was if they came to the Fringe; they’d be like, Why are you performing in a bunker? They’d want to give me money’, she says.

 

And money, as for most Fringe performers, is not easy. She’s not selling brownies any more, but the bulk of her income comes from her work as a voiceover artist for video games. She has had other recent acting work, though, opposite Keira Knightley in Colette (which gives rise to an anecdote in the show) and as a funeral-parlour receptionist opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in the Patrick Melrose TV series.

 

Like a lot of comics she has packed a lot of her life into her debut. Does she have a second show brewing? She laughs, saying that it’s a question she asks herself every day. Her brothers have been in touch to remind her that they don’t feature in this show much. Her older brother, Joe, was going to be a priest, but then became too liberal. Her other brother, Michael, is whats called a ‘doomsday prepper . . . it’s big in America’. He and some friends have an underground bunker in Las Vegas, full of food, guns and ammo, ready for ‘the end of days’. She has suggested to him that she would love to visit him some time and see what is going on in that community. ‘Hopefully there is more to come,’ she says.