Incongruent 10+ with Mina Liccione
The Incongruent is a podcast from media students at Middlesex University Dubai launched during the COVID19 lock-down.
Hear the full episode here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/993424/4410857-incongruent-ep-10-with-mina-liccione
Zainab Ujjaini, Arjun Radeesh and Mina Liccione
Welcome back to another fresh episode of Incongruent Plus! We have with us live and in stereo, tap dancer, Broadway veteran, choreographer, comedian, and so much more they can then I can remember – Mina Liccione! Alright guys, this is Zainab taking charge with my amazing co host, Arjun.
Thanks, dude. Alright, Mina, you are the star of our show. So let’s come back to you. Time for some serious and burning questions for you. All right.
That sounds like a not so nice rash.
I just meant rapid fire questions. Alright Mina, ready for your first one?
Arjun let’s go!
Okay, so the first question, what do you do when no one else is around or you’re home alone?
I hide in the bathroom and lock the door. Because I’m a mum; I have toddler twins and no alone time. I’m telling you, especially since quarantine happened…before, it’s like, okay, we’d say goodbye. I go out and do a shoot or you know, go to a rehearsal, but now the boys – they’re two. They know that I’m always in the house. They are everywhere. They are like CCTV. They know things before I even go to the kitchen they’re in the kitchen: “Mama. Hi, Mama.” I’m like oh my gosh! So there’s only one room that has a lock and it’s one of the it’s the guest bathroom upstairs. So, I’m giving away my secret. So, at least every few days I’ll just go in there, I’ll put some headphones on, I’ll watch something, I’ll maybe like message with some friends – just to have a few minutes of just quiet alone time. Yeah, and I do eat ice cream I love erm… Ah! Yeah! I have a passion for ice cream. So sometimes I’ll sneak it because I don’t want them eating ice cream all the time. They have enough stuff but, but those are my two things hiding in the bathroom, and Ben and Jerry’s.
Okay, Mina, tell me – other than comedy, what would secretly be your dream job?
My dream job would be Oprah’s job. Absolutely! I would love to be a talk show host but also, Oprah I love so much because she’s so passionate about what she does, but she genuinely also wants to help people. So, she uses her platform to talk about important issues to help people heal. And sometimes it’s really funny, sometimes it’s really serious. But either way, yeah – Oprah, I would love that. That would be my dream job.
Have you tried it somehow? At home, maybe?
Um, yes! I actually, I’ve done some hosting. And during quarantine, you definitely have to come up with some fun activities with your kids. So yeah, we’ve played TV show host. I also do a lot of improv. And one of the games is called TV show host so I’ve played around there. And maybe 10 years ago, I had went to visit my great aunt was in a senior centre, and it was so sad – everyone there was just so lonely and seemed so sad, and she said to me, she goes: “why don’t you come do a comedy show, here?” And I said okay, But I wanted to – it had to be a character that would be relatable for people 70 to 90 years old. So, I created a character called Audrey Heartburn, and she had a huge like a big, yellow like wig – kind of like a Golden Girls, if you guys ever saw the show The Golden Girls – and she still had like a roller in her hair, she had big glasses, very, very loud outfits, and she was seventy years old. And I – the whole structure of the show was kind of like an Ellen type of show where she did funny segments, audience participation. We did “Sweat-in with the oldies” so that they they got to sit in their wheelchairs and do some fitness. We did a baking segment, but I said “why bake it when you can buy it”. And so that was kind of living the dream, though through this character. But, the funny thing is The Audrey Heartburn Show – this is right before I moved to Dubai – we ended up going on tour. 25 senior centres throughout New York State, because the word got out that the show was so much fun and it was making the residents laugh that we got 25 – we went on tour. Who would have thought> So, yeah, there was no TV there, but we pretended and I… you know.
So my next question to Mina is, what are your top three biggest pet peeves?
Oh, wow, pet peeves. Oh gosh, there’s a list. I think – okay, one of them – a pet peeve of mine is when people do not read anything. So, say you send an email, and you’re like, okay, I’ll see you tomorrow 12 noon. You know, let’s just, let’s just make something up, right? Say that I’m emailing you and I’ll say great. I’ll see you tomorrow. Caribou Coffee, Spring Souq, 12 noon, and then you reply back to me saying, so where are we meeting? It drives me nuts. It’s like, just read, just read what I just wrote you. And people will do that all the time. And WhatsApp groups are my second pet peeve. When people add you to like these groups that you’re just like, I don’t even know any of these people and why am I in this group and then there’s like all these notifications and then you’re like, do I leave the group? Am I gonna offend somebody? Okay, can I just like not have notifications? I always tend to leave the group if it’s an unnecessary group but yeah, people have stopped adding me because I’ve asked them to. My family “please don’t have you anywhere like that groups – it’s my private number“. That’d be number two. Um, another pet peeve of mine. This one’s actually a more serious one… is when… I’m just gonna say it, when big companies, large corporations, especially during COVID-19, who weren’t really affected; some of their businesses actually thrived! When they ask artists to perform for free, when the artists are deeply, deeply affected and many of us are out of work for months at a time. That was definitely a deeper pet peeve on many, many different levels. I had had one big company that our employees are really depressed, they’re at home. You know, many of them, you know, in their pent houses, they have nothing to do you do a show for them. And I was like, Yeah, what’s the budget? Well, you know, during these difficult times, we don’t have a budget. I’m like, no, no, no, no no! You gotta pay the artists you got to pay the artists that’s like me going to the doctors and being like: “Hey, man, come on. Come on, man. I’ll pay you next time you give me this one and, you know, let’s work together. Let’s collaborate on the surgery.“
Okay. So, Mina, pick a TV or movie character that represents you.
Oh my goodness. Oh, wow, that’s a hard one. Well, the thing is, I’m going to tell you – lately, many, many and the thing is I haven’t even seen this show. So it’s funny that I’m going to choose this character that I haven’t even seen yet. But everyone,I’m talking like, hundreds of people have been like Mina you need to watch the Marvellous, Mrs. Maissel. Everybody keeps telling me that oh my God, this character, she reminds me so much of you. Oh, you have to watch this show. So according to everybody else, that would be it. According to me, I don’t know! Maybe…that’s a good question. That’s a hard one. Probably a cartoon character. Maybe a cartoon character. One with big hair and a loud, nasaly voice. I don’t know, I’m thinking The Simpsons. I think they could make me a character on The Simpsons that doesn’t exist yet. Like, maybe Marge has a cousin. Because her sisters smoke too much and they’re too angry so it wouldn’t be one of them. So maybe Marge’s artistic, creative comedian cousin and we’ll just name her Mina. That would be awesome.
Mina – pick one pineapple on pizza or not?
*gasp* God no! Haram! Are you kidding me? Get out! That’s it, the interview is over. The interview is over, people! Next, what are you gonna do? Are you gonna do tomato sauce and gravy? What are you doing?
So, tell us about the favourite show that you have done.
That I have been in? My favourite show? Ooh, wow. I have two sides of the coin. I have two sides of the coin. I think, younger Mina -my favourite show was Stomp. Hands down. Stomp was my my dream show, I had started taking dance class when I was three, and I trained really, really hard. My dream was to get on Broadway, and when I saw Stomp as a teenager, I was like this is it. This, it had dance, it had music, it had comedy, it had acting … the fashion. It was just like, you know, people from the streets, you know what I mean? It was like, it was so cool. And it was on Broadway. And it was amazing, and I wanted so hard to be in that show. And I got there. So that for me, it was life changing. And I got I got paid to do what I loved. I got health insurance, I got to tour the world with a show that every single day I walked on that stage like, I can’t believe I get to do this. And people would, you know, save up money to buy a ticket to go to that sho. People would wait after afterwards and kids, you know, can I get my picture with you? Can you show me how to drum this. It’s.. it was the first time that I really felt the power and the impact of art, on that level. And then years later, my favourite show for a very different, different, different, different reason was clowning in a hospital. I had gone through very, very, very difficult injury, I had crushed all of my ribs. And a lot.. my lung collapsed. I had internal bleeding, I was told I would probably never dance again, never perform again to that level as an athlete. And I was so depressed I was like, “Oh my gosh, what’s going to happen?” And then kind of stumbled across you know, like using using your art to help people in hospitals, and I went from like, performing to sold out theatres of thousands of people to performing for one little boy, who was battling leukaemia and his mom to try to make them laugh. And that changed my whole life. My whole everything, the way I look at comedy, the way I look at the performing arts, because before, yeah, I loved it, but there was an ego in it. You have to have ego in it to be a performer – you have to. That you know, to a certain level, you have to have confidence, you have to really love it, because it’s really demanding, but then to be able to have this real connection.. this pure, honest connection and realise the higher purpose of your God-given talent… That .. that for me changed everything. And now, everything I perform; every gig I take, every big project, the classes I teach. We started Clowns who Care, which is basically to bring joy to those in need – from refugee camp tours, to orphanages, to centres for children and adults with determination. That is really where my art has evolved to. Two very different sides of the coin for two very, very different reasons. But once you, you get a little bit older and you realise wow, I can have much more of an impact now that I have this this foundation, what do I want to do with it?
So if I’m not wrong, back into 2017 you had your first televised stand-up comedy debut, right?
Right, yes. Araby By Nature was… that was my first one, our comedy special. That was that was kind of okay…wow, you guys are…you you don’t know you’re opening up here this can of worms. You guys are better journalists than you even thought. Well, yes, that was funny enough. I had just found out that I was pregnant and nobody knew. And I said to my husband, and I said I want to film my one hour special now. It has to happen now, before I, before I became a mom, because there was a lot that I wanted to say, there was 10 years of material. And it was time, it was time to do a special and put everything together. And I was so happy at that time, because I had that secret, and I knew it was ahead. So, it was kind of like the marking of an end of a chapter for me. And, but, it was such that one hour show was so special. It was called special for a reason because it’s special, but my whole heart, a whole heart – I put on that stage, I put into those jokes, but there was a lot of, you know, I talked about a lot of different topics and a lot of stereotypes, and some were funny, and some I’m going to make you laugh, but now I’m going to make you think, and then I end with a song and dance because I love you know, I’m still a Broadway baby. But that show.. I still get emotional when I think of “Araby by Nature” because it was, it was a very, you know, I, I always tell my husband I said one day these boys are gonna watch that special and I’m gonna say that’s you in there, but no one knew. No one knew. Yeah. And then later on, I had filmed for Comedy Central. And I was eight months pregnant, and no one knew that it was twins. Only our parents knew yes. So you, there’s an episode of me – I look like I’m about to like pop at any second. Any second. Even the people in the audience are like, “Wow, she looks really big.” And I gave her two weeks later, two weeks after that filming. So I’m like those boys better thank me. They got they got stage credit. They got TV credit before they were even born. These boys.. come on, they can say.. while technically I was on Comedy Central Arabia twice on TV … At what age? Erm.. negative… negative one month. But yeah, though that was a very, very, very special and precious time that I hold very, very, very close to my heart. Araby by Nature. Yeah.
So what what exactly drew you to comedy?
Another big question, huh? See comedy, it’s a very big word with a lot of big meanings to it. Because comedy – you know, you have stand-up comedy, you have improv, you have physical comedy, you have clowning, you have comedy series, you have comedy films, you have comedy writing, you have joke writing, joke telling. There’s so much that goes into it. Um, comedy for me is a way of life. It’s my culture. It’s how I was raised. It’s a sense of humour. My dad. My dad is hilarious. He has this huge personality. Hey, what are you talking about? Hey, Come Here! literally talks like this “Whattarya talking about Ey? I coulda been on TV, but they told me I had a better face for radio. Oh!” You know, he’s amazing. He’s always telling jokes and creating characters. So growing up … my dad was a boxing promoter so he worked at night and my mom worked during the day. So, I remember spending all afternoon with my dad just making up characters and doing voices, and laughing and, and you know, so I.. it’s a way of life. And I remember… always too, you know, you get to this point where if something bad – there’s always gonna be bad times, there’s always gonna be bad times. But my family were able to see the humour in it quicker than maybe some other of my friends maybe. So I always kind of found myself doing that like pain in time is comedy. Pain in time is definitely comedy, and the quicker you can make a joke about it, the quicker you heal about it, you know, and and that definitely got me through this quarantine. So comedy found me, I, I did nothing. It was it was the way I was raised and you know, I, my parents put me in tap dance class when I was three because I was always dancing around the house and and I, they said I was very musical. So they wanted – and I was shy. I was a very shy kid. So, they put me in dance class and they said, I haven’t shut up since – that’s the, that’s the story they tell me.
You should actually have a sort of a university degree for comedy, right?
But there is a college in New England, in the States that does have a Comedy Studies degree, and yeah, and also in Chicago, their second city that have linked up with one of the universities in Chicago to do an overlap programme where it’s theatre and comedy and improv together. And then, in San Francisco, right before I had moved here, we did a bridge programme with New College in California and the Circus Centre, and it was the very first physical comedy and theatrical circus degree, which was crazy at the time. So, there are already these small programmes. It’s just not very common, you have to really search for them. But there are these golden nuggets that are popping out. And the one right now, the comedy studies one is where Jay Leno graduated. It’s the college where he graduated. So you have to Google that later – I want to say Amherst, but it’s not that. It’s at Emory…ah, I forget. But so many comedy writers were studying writing at that school that finally they were like, they kept pitching it they’re like, “Come on, let’s do a comedy studies. There’s so many writers and you know, people doing pilots and different shows.” And they finally agreed to it, which is super exciting, but they’re only a few years old.
What and who was the motivation for you to start up the organisation, like a comedy school for girls in the region?
Well, Dubomedy is Dubai plus comedy – basically, that’s kind of how the name is. And the school…well, I had come here in the summer of 2007 as a performer – I was booked. I was hired to come perform. And then, it kept getting extended. It was like supposed to be two weeks, then it was three weeks, and then was a month, and then it was a month and a half, because I kept getting booked to teach workshops, to perform stand-up, to MC, to perform this or that. And it was like, everyone I met kept saying, gosh, it would be great if we had a local comedy scene here. We really need more comedy. At the time they were only flying comedians in like myself, and there was importing. So, I had spoke with a couple of people and at the time there was DUCTAC. And they said, “we will give you space if you wanted to come back and maybe start a comedy and urban art school“. And then at the same time, the New York Film Academy was in talks of opening up in Abu Dhabi. So I spoke with them and they were like, “well, we can also…we need an improv teacher, and a voice in movement.” I was like, okay, all the arrows were pointing here. Anything sustainable… I think the cornerstone of anything sustainable is education. So, it made sense that, how are we going to build a comedy community when no one’s ever performed comedy here? So I did a workshop. I wanted to start doing the workshops to kind of like, help them learn how to write jokes, how to structure things, how to do public speaking, physical comedy, timing, delivery…you know, coach them up. Basically, what people do for years in open mic nights, right? Here, it’s like okay, let’s let’s give them a workshop in a very supportive environment because people were really nervous especially over here, “oh we have stand up comedy. Oh gosh, it’s gonna be it’s gonna be dirty, it’s gonna be vulgar, it’s gonna be inappropriate.” So we kind of had to teach people like, “No, no, it’s your voice, it’s your own voice.” So, it made sense to start with the workshops, and we’re still doing them now. And I had met my husband a few months after I moved here, and he had the same passion. He wanted to build a community. So we kind of, you know, Ali and I kind of joined forces. We launched the school, and we still have classes. We still have classes every Saturday for 12 years now. And then, I think you’re thinking of Funny Girls. Funny Girls is one of the projects under Dubomedy which was the first and only all-female stand-up comedy troupe, and that was awesome. And every year, yeah, we tour every year, we like to link up with breast cancer awareness month, because it’s so important and passionate for all of us to use our comedy for good, but to also really encourage women to get tested who might be really scared or uncomfortable, you know, about it, and to encourage men to talk to their moms and say, mom I love you. I love you, mom. We have got to talk about this hard stuff. Just go go get tested mom. So and you know, we have improv troupes. We’ve done festivals, we have Clowns who Care projects under there, which all started with that one performance for that one boy in the hospital. So I think, no matter what your career is, there’s going to be these little little moments where you’re like, wow, this is this is a life changing moment. And it could be something so tiny, but if all the arrows are pointing in one direction, you’re like, I just have to keep going with it. So I didn’t know. If someone would have told me that I’d be living the Middle East, I married an Arab Muslim man, I have twins, running a comedy school, being the only, pretty much the only female – full time professional, female comedian in the UAE, I would have said no, you’re crazy! I would have never ever in a million years, would have guessed that. So, honestly, you just have to look for signs and take that leap of faith when it feels right. I didn’t really plan it. It kind of happened on its own. And I said, you know what, this is needed. This is important. And you know what, I have an opportunity to create something that’s gonna help make other people laugh, and that’s gonna make people, like, heal. So, you know, I don’t know – it wasn’t planned at all!
Mina, if I remember correctly, you did organise a show – a local show to promote, you know, artists during the COVID pandemic. So are you looking into a new one soon?
Yes! Oh, well, we, right now we’re kind of it’s the tail end…gosh, right now it’s such a weird like transitional time. Because, now things are starting to open back up, right? So, this is kind of the the tiptoeing back. It’s like, oh my gosh, you know, we started getting phone calls from theatres now in venues saying now, “Okay, can we set some dates” and we’re like, “oh, wow.” So no, I think we’re probably going to not do so much online but more start transitioning into okay – social distancing shows, you know, shows that people are very confident in, that they feel safe and comfortable in. So I think now is it about exploring that, because I’m not gonna lie, I have a lot of anxiety. When I go grocery shopping right now, I’m still like, “Okay, wait, do I have my mask on? Do my gloves. Okay, don’t touch my phone. Do this.” I’m thinking about every moment, and when I have to think about every second, it gives me anxiety. So just going to a restaurant, I went to a restaurant just like last week – it was my husband and I’s anniversary – we went out to dinner and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, is the first time, I haven’t even sat out and had dinner at a restaurant.” So for me, I’m like, would I how would I feel going to see a live show, right now? I think I’d still be a little nervous. Honestly, I’d have to take baby steps to kind of get to that place. So we try – what we’re trying to do is help create those baby steps, so that artists can feel comfortable, but also people who really want to laugh and feel inspired, also feel comfortable. So, right now we’re kind of focusing on healing that gap. But, we’re doing one final – we called it the Comedy Lockdown –. we’re doing one final one right now, actually, because…also a lot of comedians and artists are really afraid that oh my gosh, venues are opening up. Did I write? Do I have new material ready to jump on the stage? So, this is kind of, we’re doing our final two-week, it’s like an incubator, to test out, get all the new material ready. It’s like going to the gym for comedians. You got to write, you got to feel confident, and people haven’t been on a stage in months. Tthis is the longest – I’ve never, ever in my life gone this long without standing on a stage, since I was three. So it’s weird. It’s very bizarre. It’s gonna be like, okay, alright. I’m all about supporting local talents. I always have been – I am local talent. So, I know. I know what the needs are; when you just need a platform and you just need someone to believe in you and say, “Hey, you know what, I’m gonna offer you this spot to come perform your new songs.” So, we’ll always do that. That’s what I believe in and I will always do that.
One last question from my side. You are a tap dancer, as well as a comedian. So, how do you blend the dance and the concept of dance and comedy together when you present on a stage?
Whoo, well, I don’t really perform – I don’t tap dance in stand up. I’ve never tap-danced as part of a stand up comedy show before. And funny enough, I was just talking to Ali saying, “I would love to find a way to do that.” Um, so right now. my tap dance is always humorous because it’s a, you know, it depends on the song, or if it’s acapella, or it depends on the character. I like to do characters who tap dance and tell stories and stuff like that. With stand-up, I’ve done dance and music like parody songs and dance jokes.
Yeah, I’ve seen that quite much.
Yeah, I found that, I was able to find a way. The thing is, if you consciously try too hard to fit two things together, it doesn’t feel natural. So, the dance jokes kind of happened on its own because it was physical comedy. It was literally me going to the beach in July in Dubai and literally, like, “Oh my god, it’s so hot!” And I was barefoot. I was literally like, running! So that’s how that became the joke. And then I thought, oh, gosh, how did other dance moves start? So that kind of was the catalyst to that. I sing a song about a shattafa because I went to New York and I missed it so much. I was like, oh my gosh!
I just saw that yesterday.
I did see that song yesterday. I was like, oh God, I couldn’t stop laughing!
You know like, all my comedy is based on my life experience. So my next step is to naturally find a way to get tap dance into a stand-up comedy show. So I’ll say Inshallah to that. By October, that’s one of my goals is to actually tap dance as part of a stand-up show – at the end, it would be like a finale or something – you are the first to know!
We have so many more questions that are probably left unanswered for now. But hopefully, we can we see you again in 2020 Mina, at university?
Absolutely yeah, yeah, you bettcha!
Joke’s on hand sanitizers, because that would be fun. Thank you so much, Mina. Can we have a cheer for her, please? And thank you to our wonderful audience for joining us for another special show of The Incongruent. See you guys very soon!