Gaza's Only Female Comedian Is Taking the Chauvinist Remarks in Stride

Reham al-Kahlout treads the boards in a society that doesn’t encourage women to perform onstage. Her next stop could be Cairo.

Reham al-Kahlout.
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Reham al-Kahlout is only 19 but she’s already thinking big: to become Gaza’s first major female comedian. “I believe that I have to break that barrier, I have to make it through,” she told The Observer, the Sunday sister paper to The Guardian. “Everyone wants to know why, but I say ‘why do you ask me that?’ – I have to keep going.”

For the time being, Kahlout takes part in low-budget skits produced by a local comedy troupe and posted on YouTube. But Al Jazeera calls her “an internet sensation in the region” and “the only comic actress in Gaza.”

After all, Gaza is a conservative society that does not encourage women to perform onstage.

“Mostly what depresses me are the comments on YouTube. They are all negative,” she told The Observer. ‘Why is there a girl, take her out, she is not doing well,’ things like that. Very rarely does anyone say ‘Well done, congratulations.’ ... The men get totally the opposite response.”

Her parents and wider family also take their share of criticism, but Khalout says they don’t waver in their support.

“My family was facing huge pressure from friends and relatives to urge me to stop,” she told Al Jazeera. “At first, my dad was bothered by all this. Then, in the end, he said if [that is] what you want to do and it’s not shameful, then you have my full support.”

Kahlout’s dream of becoming an actress began when she was small, and she knew it wouldn’t be easy. She says there are no acting classes in Gaza, a problem that compounds the severe travel restrictions and cultural objections against single young women traveling.

“I wanted to study art and acting. I wanted to travel because we don’t have those [courses] here, but it was impossible because of the situation, and being a woman,” she told The Observer.

Meanwhile, she hopes to get a chance to go to Cairo, an Arab-world hub for cinema and television.

“I think my life will really start then,” she said. “My wish actually is for women and girls able to do whatever they want without pressure from society. Because of this I am determined to keep going, not let them put me off.”