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Inside With: Maria Shehata, ComicBy: Andrew Singer

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COMIC 1ST, EGYPTIAN 2ND "I see the cheese" --Maria Shehata | Photo: Otto Focus

In addition to touring colleges and performing all around the city, Maria Shehata is one of the hosts of the live hit show Little Ethnic Girls and also involved with both the NY Underground and the NY Arab-American Comedy Festivals. The Apiary recently sat down to ask her about life on the road and where her cheese went.

Do you feel a duty to teach your audience about the Middle Eastern experience? What message would you like to spread?
No. In fact, when I started doing comedy, I wanted my act to have nothing to do with being Egyptian. At least not to the point of "Does she talk about anything else?" I used to hate watching comics who did half hours on nothing but being gay or fat or ethnic or a woman. Like if the fat one lost all their weight, would they still have an act? I hated it. But then I started getting spots because I was arab. So I took them. But I have no message.

Maria Shehata | Photo: Nicole Chapman

What kind of columns do you write about for the Italian magazine "Strip Seasons"?
I write about living and dating in New York like I'm the Italian Carrie Bradshaw. It's a little random writing a column in an Italian comic strip magazine. I don't even speak Italian so I just have to trust they are being translated correctly. I keep telling the editor that I'm having a hard time figuring out how I fit into it, but he insists it's great. So whatev. Fingers crossed, maybe they'll turn me into a comic strip one day.

Please describe the "Who Moved My Cheese" phenomenom in comedy these days.
Back in college I had to read the book "Who Moved My Cheese?" about how businesses that changed with the times, went with the flow, and updated themselves, succeeded, and the ones that refused to change, failed. That's the basic idea anyway and with comedy I feel like the road to success now has a byway called Youtube.

I used to think that a lot of hard work, dedication, writing and performing would get me to where I need to be, and although it still does, I now understand it could also be as simple as a video of me crying over Britney Spears. I've had agents tell me they do nothing but scout for talent all day on Youtube. Nothing wrong with that, it's just different. And completely lazy. But I see the cheese.

Do you think it's still worthwhile to perform on the road?
I think it depends on what comedy ultimately means to you. If you love comedy as an art, then yes. Going on the road builds your act, it builds endurance, it gives you more time on stage to do crowd work and improvise, and it exposes you to different kinds of audiences. If comedy is just a means to an end, then the road is unnecessary. Tighten up your seven minutes, and only do the road one day as a featured headliner because you're that one comic from that reality show.

I enjoy your photography as well. Have you done that professionally, or is it mostly a hobby?
It's just a hobby. I don't know anything about the technical aspects of photography, I approach it the same way I do video games -- just press buttons and hope for the best. I feel like there are similarities between comedy and photography. It's being able to capture something everyone has seen and showing it in a new light. Getting people to see it differently.

LITTLE ETHNIC GIRLS Maria Shehata, Helen Hong, Rachel Feinstein and Liz Miele | Photo:
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How did the "Little Ethnic Girls" showcase get started?
Whenever we [Helen Hong, Rachel Feinstein and Liz Miele] hang out together, people are always compelled to tell us how short we are. And then one day Helen and I were in Vegas, we were eating breakfast, and I think the server must have patted us on our heads or something, because we got to talking about this being short business. And since we are also funny and ethnic, we decided to do something with it.

So, you've been purposely marketing your combined adorability for maximum effect?
Yeah, we took into account that we might be a little bit adorable.

How long has Little Ethnic Girls been going on?
The idea was born in April. We did a weekly Little Ethnic Girls show at Ochi's Lounge for a couple months, which was a mix of ethnic and non-ethnic, short and tall comedians -- basically anyone, every week. And then we got the four of us together to plan the big show at Gotham a few months ago.

Will there be more shows?
Hopefully there will be many, many more shows. We did the first show as a tester, and we filled Gotham on a Monday night. Now we're putting everything together and planning. We are working on the Little Ethnic Girls Tour, Little Ethnic Girls webisodes, and Little Ethnic Girls lunch boxes.

And do you spend off-stage time as friends or as fellow performers?
Oh exclusively. I took a vow never to hang out with anybody else. I don't know about the other girls though, I feel like they didn't vow.

• Maria will be one of the acts opening for Maz Jobrani at Town Hall on Jan. 10, 2009.

--Andrew Singer is a contributing editor for The Apiary. He performs regularly as "Soce the Elemental Wizard." He recently interviewed Late Night Underground's Aaron Bleyaert, Kevin Allison and Maria Bamford.

Reader Comments (2)

I want a Little Ethnic Girls lunch box.
November 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAbbi Crutchfield
I was out with my family today and my cousin John mentioned Maria, because he was thinking of "other Egyptians that are funny and live in New York." What good company to be in!
November 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin Ragheb

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