A Wimbledon surgeon turned stand up has created the UK’s first Middle Eastern comedy festival

Jenan Younis is a British-Assyrian surgeon and comedianJenan Younis is a British-Assyrian surgeon and comedian
Jenan Younis is a British-Assyrian surgeon and comedian | Credit: Mariana Feijo
Jenan Younis started performing comedy four years ago to “vent off some steam” and “inject some creativity” into her 60 to 80 hour NHS working week.

Jenan Younis is a woman of many talents.

When she’s not performing colorectal surgeries, she’s on stage charming audiences with her sharp-witted stand up.

Since breaking into the comedy industry, the 30-year-old has won the 2019 BBC New Voices award and has founded the UK’s first ever Middle Eastern comedy festival, cleverly titled “Weapons of Mass Hilarity.”

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Coming from a British-Assyrian background, Jenan uses her comedy to help challenge stereotypes and explore identity politics in a light-hearted way.

Having a Palestinian father and Iraqi mother, she was told to never discuss politics or religion outside of the house.

Jenan Younis is a British-Assyrian surgeon and comedianJenan Younis is a British-Assyrian surgeon and comedian
Jenan Younis is a British-Assyrian surgeon and comedian | Credit: Mariana Feijo

“When I was in all of those awkward situations being asked where you’re from or what you are rather than answer it, I would sit on the fence and just let people assume I was X,Y and Z, even though it was massively incorrect as I felt it was rude to correct them,” she told LondonWorld.

“I’m getting all of that out of my system now in stand-up to an extent.

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“Stand-up is one of those mediums where you can make people listen to things they wouldn’t normally want to listen to.”

When Jenan started performing comedy four years ago, she did it to “vent off some steam” and “inject some creativity” into her 60 to 80 hour NHS working week

In 2019 Jenan won the BBC New Voices awardIn 2019 Jenan won the BBC New Voices award
In 2019 Jenan won the BBC New Voices award | Credit: Mysa Khafil-Hussain

She has since cut down her hours as a colorectal surgeon to pursue her career as a comedian.

“It was about six months before the first lockdown that I cut down my hours,” she said.

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“It was quite a tricky thing to do especially with the speciality I work in in the NHS, it’s a cultural issue as there’s a little bit of a taboo about working less than full time.

“Balancing both careers is still a work in progress for me.

“If you can afford to work less hours than you are in the right frame of mind to do your job better.

“It’s not just about professional development, it’s about personal development.

“I didn’t have any of that for a very long time, I just lived in a hospital.

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“Every aspect of my life revolved around my job, even socially.

“It has put a lot of things in perspective for me.”

Jenan on stage performing Jenan on stage performing
Jenan on stage performing | Credit: Mysa Khafil-Hussain

When asked if she drew on her experiences in the NHS in her stand-up, she said she doesn’t enjoy mixing those two worlds.

“I think there’s a real difference in how mainstream audiences treat a woman in the NHS to how they treat men,” she explained.

“There are a few doctors who are on the comedy scene who are very successful like Adam Kay, Paul Sinha and Simon Brodkin who really capitalise on their medical background for humour.

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“I think there’s something about youngish men on stage telling people they save lives which makes people melt and fall for.

“If I go on stage and I’m pessimistic or even if I use the same attitude that they have there’s something not believable about me.

“I remember doing one set about something surgical and a guy in the audience came up to me afterwards and said: ‘That was a nice set but can I ask you a question, you’re not really a surgeon are you?’”

Gender discrimination is just one of the prejudices Jenan has to deal with, being ethnically Assyrian she says that her family are a minority within Middle Eastern culture.

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“We’re second class citizens in the Middle East, there has been a mass exodus, so now I think there are only 100,000 Assyrians left in the Middle East,” she said.

“That’s a huge part of what I talk about is being a minority within a minority.

“Even within some Middle Eastern circles I would not be welcome because of my ethnicity and also because of my family as Assyrians are not Muslim, we’re Christian.”

“Stand-up is one of those mediums where you can make people listen to things they wouldn’t normally want to listen to."“Stand-up is one of those mediums where you can make people listen to things they wouldn’t normally want to listen to."
“Stand-up is one of those mediums where you can make people listen to things they wouldn’t normally want to listen to." | Credit: Mariana Feijo

Jenan started the Weapons of Mass Hilarity comedy night in collaboration with the LSE student union’s Middle East Society in 2018, as a charity fundraiser aiming to showcase comedians with Middle Eastern-North African heritage.

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The night has since become so popular that she doesn’t have enough space to programme all of the acts.

That’s where the idea to create a festival was born.

“I thought that a mini festival would be the next step to capitalise on our audience we’ve built, help our acts develop longer pieces of material that might end up at the Edinburgh Fringe this year or next year,” she said.

This June bank holiday will see the first ever Weapons of Mass Hilarity comedy festival and Jenan believes it is the only comedy festival in the UK dedicated to Middle Eastern performers.

The Weapons of Mass Hilarity Comedy Festival will take place on June 2 to 4 at 2 Northdown, King’s Cross, London.

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It will feature comedians Yasmeen Audisho Ghrawi, Maria Shehata, Daphna Baram, Jenan Younis, Anoushka Rava, Patrick Monahan, Darius Davies, Victoria Howden, Shirley & Shirley, Yazan Fetto and Amir Khoshsokhan

Jenan will be performing her show “A Conflict of Disinterest” on Friday June 3 at 6pm.

To learn more about Jenan you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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