Maria Shehata’s Egyptian ancestry is fodder for her stand-up routine
Stand-up comedian Maria Shehata is looking forward to her two shows in Park City this weekend for two reasons.
One: She’s never been to Utah.
Two: She’s going to perform at the Egyptian Theatre.
"I’m Egyptian, so, of course, it’s like home turf," Shehata said during a telephone interview with The Park Record from her home in Los Angeles, Calif.
Shehata will appear Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 with fellow comedian Dave Goldstein, who has appeared on "Late Night with Conan O’Brien," The Comedy Network, Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, The National Lampoon Radio Network, and Comedy.net.
Shehata, who started out her career when her friends signed her up for an open mic show, has performed at the New York Underground Comedy Festival and Big Sky Comedy.
She has also performed regularly at the Los Angeles Middle Eastern Comedy Festival and the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival and considers herself a little like a trailblazer for Arab-American comedians.
"I’ve been participating in the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival for six or seven years and the festival is going on its 11th year," she said. "I can’t think of any other Arab-American comic that started before this.
"Arab-American groups have brought me to colleges and people would come up to me and tell me how great it is that I’m a comic because they want to be, but they’re studying to be doctors," Shehata said, laughing. "It’s like they appreciate it more, because they can’t do it."
Back in 2011, Shehata was one of three comedians, along with Ahmed Ahmed and Amer Zahr, who embarked on a Middle Eastern tour and performed in Palestine and Doha.
"It was supposed to be a much larger tour, but a couple of months before we left, the revolution spread out like wildfire in the Middle East and we had to narrow it down to Palestine, where it was safe," Shehata said. "We had a great turnout. All ages and all walks of life turned out. I mean people were bringing their babies and stuff. All the kids ages 18 to 32 laughed and all the older ones came out and looked at me."
She met many people and even had one guy tell her how brave she was for being a female doing stand up.
"He wasn’t saying that it was scary to make people laugh, but it was supposed to be scary to have people judge me," Shehata said wryly.
A couple of years ago, Shehata was asked to be part of Firebreak Productions’ "Cradle of Comedy" documentary that follows six comedians who are of Middle-Eastern descent.
"That was kind of out of the blue," she said. "One of the producers contacted me and we went to coffee. I was broke and then I get this email that asked me to be in the documentary and offered me money."
Shehata got into comedy because, she said, she wasn’t good at anything else.
"No, really, it was prom night," she said with a wistful tone. "I was watching TV at this after party because I’m a big loser, and Jim Gaffigan’s ‘Comedy Central Presents’ was on. It was so funny and I wanted everyone to watch it, but when I looked around, everyone, but me, was making out."
From then, Shehata would watch everything she could about stand up.
"I always wanted to do it, but I was afraid of it," she confessed. "So I thought I would become a comedy manager. I worked at a comedy club and got pushed on stage after going to open mic nights for a year a half."
For 10 years, Shehata has made people laugh with stories about her life and family.
"When I get on stage, I hope that everybody feels like I do," she said. "I hope they think it’s hard to diet. I hope they know what it’s like to be single and I hope they know what it’s like to be Egyptian from Ohio, you know, relatable stuff.
"I think the whole point of comedy is to reveal yourself and talk about thoughts so people can relate to and feel good about," Shehata said. "I know people watch comedy because comedians can be bold and say things that people think about, but don’t have the courage to say out loud. I think it’s up to the comedian to go to those places."
Still, Shehata does face some unique challenges.’
"Being Egyptian is one of those for me, and I think comedy is not the path my parents wanted for me," she said. "I actually find with ethnic parents in general that they want their kids to become doctors, lawyers or engineers. They want them all to get married and have kids and not have a career in the arts because it’s frivolous."
Even now Shehata’s father will sit and have heart-to-heart chats with her.
"He says things like ‘Maybe you might want to try photography or something more stable’ and things like that," she said giggling. "Then he’ll go, ‘Oh, by the way, you should get married.’"
These days, when Shehata isn’t touring, she and her roommate produce the web series called "My Super-Overactive Imagination."
"We have 20 episodes and it’s an online diary," she said. "It’s been fun and it’s different than stand up because we make other people act the stories out."
Shehata also hosts a podcast, "Little Ethnic Girls."
"When you like something, you find time to do them," she said. "Some people like babies and they take time for them. I don’t like babies, but I find time for my creative outlets."
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will welcome stand-up comedians Dave Goldstein and Maria Shehata on Friday, Aug. 1, and Saturday, Aug. 2. The performances will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $19 to $34 and are available by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com .
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