Living on a prayer is one of those Australian comedy shows that sits in the “wog” genre.
Frida Deguise relates stories from her life as a Lebanese Muslim growing up among “Aussies”.
She commands the stage and delivers her material with bravado.
There is a core group of themes explored in Living on a prayer, namely, expectations of girls within Lebanese culture, the stereotypical association of Muslims with terrorists, the weight and novelty of “old world” customs being maintained by “wog” families, and a zealous drive to demystify life under a hijab.
To this end, we hear about how Frida failed as a Muslim girl and is more like a Lebanese boy with her attitudes and behaviours. In particular, Frida says her lack of domestic abilities has been a sore point with her mum and also resulted in her only attracting a very small dowry in her first marriage; a verse from the Quran. And venturing into stand up comedy hasn’t improved relations either. She reveals how she has received death threats for her comedy stories. From her mum. And, thus, we hear a lot of jokes milking the Islamic terrorist caricature.
As an “Anglo” who doesn’t use terms like “wog”, there is something unsettling, refreshing, and important about comedians like Frida. Firstly, I found myself laughing at jokes about Muslims (my hair? why do you think I wear a hijab) before catching myself and thinking, should I be laughing at this? Of course, Frida gives us that permission. In a way, she is turning around and reusing the jokes aimed at her and her community as she grew up. There seems to be a cathartic aspect to this performance, and we are part of that. Secondly, it’s refreshing for uptight wannabe-dogooders like me to actually be able to relax and just have an old fashioned laugh and snicker over some really simple, almost schoolyard, jokes about cultural traditions and absurdities. And, thirdly, there is something important about adding voices like Frida’s into the mix of comedy; humanising the figures whirling among us in anonymity under Muslim garb.
Frida portrays life as a visibly-identifiable Muslim in Australia as being an existence in which you just know people think you might be a terrorist. As a result, she plays with and laughs at that notion; even milking it when she can (oh, those poor Town Hall security guards).
Of course, Frida doesn’t need to be achieving any idealistic outcome other than delivering comedy, and to this end, she drops more F-bombs than I’ve seen recently, perhaps as her way of bridging the perceived gap between wog and Aussie culture; see, we all swear the same!
For $17, you and your Fringe Cell should make it your holy duty to include Living on a prayer in your schedule.