The fact that women have a harder time cultivating a career and voice in the field of comedy is no secret. Experts point out that despite the major success of some American women, such as Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Chelsea Handler, and most recently, Amy Schumer, the majority of people still have issues accepting that women are just as funny as men.
The situation is made even more complex for Muslim women whom “no one expects to be artists, let alone comedians,” Aizzah Fatima, a New York-based writer who left her job at Google to pursue a stage career, explains.
So it is no small accomplishment that Saudi-born Bangladeshi, Farhana Muna has been burning up YouTube with her hilarious comedic characters based around Bangladeshi life and culture. In just four months, Muna, known online as “Munatic,” created a large Internet following.
“If I am to think about how I came to be ‘Munatic’ I would call it a happy accident,” Farahana Muna tells me. “In 2014, my life as I knew it completely unravelled when I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety disorder. Everything I believed about myself and the world around me collapsed. Professionally and personally I was left clueless about who I am.”
Muna says that after months of struggling through her condition, she finally sought medical treatment she describes as “one of the smartest, most beneficial decisions I could have ever taken for myself.”
The woman behind “Munatic” credits a year of consistent therapy, self-care and surrounding herself with positive people for making her finally happy with the person she sees in the mirror.
However, being a woman on the Internet has its own set of challenges, and Muna tells me that some days she feels overwhelmed by it all.
“At times I feel bulldozed to the ground with people’s preconceived notions of what is appropriate for a woman and what isn’t,” she says. “It’s hard. I have to be very cautious about what I’m wearing, the language I’m using, socio-religious sentiments… A lot of the subject matter that I want to highlight through comedy are also taboo topics for women. Male comedians can get away with a wider range of content, from profanity to sexual references. As an aspiring female comedian, I don’t think I will be granted such leniency without an immense amount of backlash…Vocal, opinionated, unapologetic women are still misunderstood by many.”
Being a Muslim, female comedian online also opens up Muna to being attacked from all different angles, but Muna says the price is worth it because of how seriously she takes what she calls her life’s mission to empower other females in social media.
“I face criticism for making videos or even uploading pictures of wearing western clothes/not choosing to wear the hijab makes me a bad Muslim,” she says. “But I manage to pick myself up and get on with it simply because the negatives are overshadowed by the overwhelming number of supportive and encouraging messages I get from people inspired by my work, especially from women. I’m crossing paths with incredible women who are strong, intelligent, kind, witty and somehow honor me with the responsibility of inspiring them and voicing our collective experiences in a public platform.”
While there is no doubt that Farhana Muna is a role model for legions of young women, when I ask her who inspires her she answers without hesitation: Oprah Winfrey and Muna’s own mother in-law.
“I’ve grown up on Oprah’s shows,” Muna says. “She will always be a symbol of empowerment, strength, empathy, taking control, and exercising the right to have a choice in all areas of your life. My at-home inspiration is my mother-in-law. She is a PhD professor and Head of the Food & Nutrition Department at Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana, Punjab, India. She is consistently supportive and encouraging of me wanting to leave my mark in whatever field I pursue.”
Check out more of Munatic’s videos here.