Most people know that there is some small element of risk in choosing a front-row seat at a comedy show. There’s always a chance that the comic might tease you a little. At a Hoodo Hersi show, however, no one is safe. The Toronto-based comedian, 27, keeps up a running commentary on the audience’s reactions to her work. Hersi, for example, will launch into her bit about the Muslim ban. “I’m fine with it,” she says. “Like, I want to ban white guys who go to Thailand.” The laughter crescendoes and then Hersi pauses, a mischievous smile on her face. “There’s always one white girl in the audience who’s like, ‘My dad’s been to Thailand, like, four times, so this joke is not for me.’”
Hersi fearlessly tackles race, religion and gender. Or, as she puts it, “all the fun stuff!” Audiences are wild for it. This year alone, she was named a Homegrown Talent at Just for Laughs and taped a performance that will air on the Comedy Network. She has done CBC tapings at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival and the BBC World Service Montreal comedy show and was selected as an Audible New Voice at SF Sketchfest. She has also opened for Gina Yashere, Moshe Kasher and Eric Andre. Once a month, she co-hosts The Ebony Tide, a showcase for comedians of colour. “One of the goals is for people to understand why terms like ‘black comedy’ and ‘ethnic humour’ just don’t make sense,” she explains.
In a comedy scene often dominated by white men, it is refreshing to see a black Muslim woman performing in a hijab. Hersi takes the occasional cringe-inducing comment and incorporates it into her act. She remembers when a woman told her she was so brave for doing what she does, clad in her “Muslim garb.” “This is from Forever 21!” cries Hersi. “I’m culturally appropriating my own culture! I’m part of the problem!” The room erupts into laughter, but Hersi is already moving on to the next bit: no hesitation, no apologies. “No segues!” she announces. “Next joke!”