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Muslims Can Laugh About Themselves, Shugs and Fats & Muslim Experiences

Shugs and Fats
Radhika Vaz (left) and Nadia Manzoor at the Gorham Award, 2015 after receiving their award (courtesy of Hollywood Report)

Summary: Shugs and Fats is a comedy series played by two women discussing Muslim women issues
Shugs and Fats are the names of two comedy characters created by writers and stars Nadia Manzoor and Radhika Vaz. One Muslim and one non-observant Catholic, Nadia and Radihka decided to show, through humor and laughter, how universal women’s issues can be. Now, after three successful seasons, they are preparing their pilot show for a TV series. We talked with the writers about their insights, missions and hopes.

Goltune: Tell us about yourself?

Nadia: I am a writer, an actor and a producer who’s been working on creating, or perhaps inspiring people to create social change; whether it is about feminism, whether it is about opening a dialogue about immigrant assimilation, immigrant culture.

My background is in social work and policy making. I try to weave an interest in advocating issues related to women, politics, and art.  

Radhika: I am middle-aged, middle-class and mediocre. Kidding. I am just mediocre. I saw this joke somewhere about what it is that supposedly brings on a mid-life crisis – it is finding out that one is middle-aged, middle-class and mediocre – didn’t make that up but I liked it a lot!

But to try and answer the question seriously (!) I am a comedian, writer and actor.  I live and work between NYC and Mumbai in India mainly thanks to Shugs and Fats!

Goltune: How the idea of Shugs and Fats came about?

Nadia: for me, growing up in the West was very confusing. The message in my home was to be modest, to not be loud, to not dance, to not bring attention to myself, were it was on the other hand, in my school, everyone was Western, they were taking completely different sense of expression such as do gymnastic, do dance, do this and that. Basically to experience everything one would experience at puberty. But foor me, everything was extremely conflicting and confusing.

So for me, comedy was a way of allowing audience enter into your world, so you are not lecturing them. So, when you allow someone laugh or cry, you are creating an opening. An opening to a communication. I think it allows traditionally difficult conversations to be talked about, and lightens the way. Comedy also allow us to laugh about ourselves, we are able to laugh about the stupid things our cultures do, stupid things that may be we did grow up with.

Radhika: About 10 years ago I was auditioning for films in NY and I would keep getting called in to read for Arab female characters who were subservient and pretty much either silent or crying. This was the post 9/11 world where women from some parts of the world were seen and not heard. Being Indian I can identify with that so at some point I just got frustrated and in one of my comedy writing classes I came up with an idea for a hijabi who wasn’t frightened and crying and quiet but instead loud and out there and unafraid.  

Then I met Nadia a few years later and she was writing her one-woman show ‘Burq Off’ and we started to riff on the idea of doing sketches with two women in hijab and that was when we teamed up briefly with MTV Desi for the first incarnation of these characters. After that we decided to take the characters a little further – and I guess we just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

Goltune: What is your message?

Nadia: Our message is about having a dialogue on preconceived ideas about people. That we can engage in dialogue about an issue that Shugs and Fats speak about. In our season 3, we talk a lot about body image, about period, …

Radhika: Don’t ever make the mistake of judging a book by its cover or a woman by her costume. You have no idea how wrong you are likely to be.

Goltune: What is next for Shugs and Fats?

Radhika: An action-comedy film if I can help it! Please let that happen before I am 50 and have a bad hip! Besides that as Nadia may have mentioned we have a TV pilot we will start to pitch in a minute and for Season 4 we want to cover the US elections in the special way only Shugs and Fats can.

No one would ever have written a comedy about two hijabis and cast me and Nadia. So we did it. I am very proud of what Nadia and I have done. very proud to have a partner like her.