Jiyan Xhalaf: Comedy Is The Answer To Everything

Kurdish language has its own special echo in my ears, if I hear anyone speaking Kurdish around, especially where you don’t expect to hear it; I feel the need to laugh. It’s naturally funny. So imagine talking with a Kurdish comedian who speaks the traditional Kurmanji for 2 hours! That brought tears in eyes from the continuous laugh.

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Jiyan Xalaf, a very cheerful character, who is originally from Qamishlo in Syria and has moved to the UK since she was only 11, talked about various issues in the Kurdish society. Language was first:

“It’s a shame that our Kurdish language in Rojava a is mostly mixed with Arabic, due to the Syrians oppressive regime to the point that when I actually try to speak pure Kurdish I feel like an alien, because of the reactions I get from family as if I am cracking a joke.

When I went to Sulaymaniyah , Kurdistan,  people were laughing whenever they see me speaking Kurdish and were telling me that half of what I speak is almost Arabic, but as I know  Sulaymaniyah was the capital of Culture, and people had the chance to access,  one hour of Kurdish language on TV and on radio, where as much as I remember when I was younger, we watched the first ever cartoon on TV which was in Kurdish, my father’s reaction was unforgettable as he started crying from happiness, it was like a dream coming true,  to see something Kurdish on TV, magnificent

“However, now there are campaigns in Kurdish areas in Syria which are working on strengthening the Kurdish language. as from what i have noticed from talking to friends from home that their Kurdish vocabulary is very broad, which i think is a very good transition, from language point of view!”

• Are you married? How did you meet your husband?

I have been for 8 years now! We met up in Qamishlo, Syria, but i have known him for 10 years, I was very young (16 years old) when I met him, but after 2 years of knowing him, I wanted us to get married! Even though everyone would say that I am young, but I actually was dying to get married! (laughs), my mother had a very strong opinion on my decision, as she would always tell me back then: you won’t marry him even if the sky and earth joined together, for understandable reason from parents point of view, as he was still a student at the time, doing his second year in business management while I was still applying to get into university.

However, I insisted so much, I just wanted to get married, my mum then used her last weapon apart from tears and sweet talks and bribery, (laughs) which was if my father’s approves then I have no problem, she was 100% sure he won’t agree by the way!

This was my last chance as I had two weeks left to return to the UK, so I spoke to my dad  and used my Kurdish wisdom: “Dad, I’m going to tell you a couple of things and I hope you take it seriously. There is a Kurdish saying that suggests: two things need to be done quickly, 1-bury the dead as soon as possible 2-marry you daughters off quickly”

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Then I used my second weapon which future possibilities, so I said: “Look, in a couple of months, I will be going to my university, and there I might meet  an English boy, a European, American, Pakistani or African, you can’t control love, right? Until then, you won’t be able to stop me!” and I, again, supported my threats with Kurdish wisdom “This is heart and not a plate of burger, at least, you know the family of this man, so please just approve for this marriage and save all the drama!” He paused for few seconds and said: “you know, you are completely right, you got my approval and save all of us from all the drama!” (Laughing)

I was very excited and straight away I phoned my boyfriend telling him to make his way as soon as possible, and to bring all his family, because I knew that my father will change his mind by tomorrow if he sleeps on the decision!

Luckily in couple of hours, my boyfriend came with all his family and relatives and knocked our door to ask my hand! (Laughing)

Then was the wedding, which is another story (Laughing) as I only had 4 days to plan! I always wanted to make it in the Caesar palace, because of its Roman style, which was already booked for the whole summer, but the day we wanted was cancelled due to the death of one groom’s father, which sadly, we were lucky! Even my wedding dress was a surprised shipment from the US that was made perfectly for me! Everything was just working out perfectly and that  gave me the feeling that it was meant to be!

We, however, suffered a lot till we were united.

• Why couldn’t he come with you immediately?

Once he got his visa, the Syrian government sent for him to join the army, I was soaked in worries because he had to join when the Syrian uprising started!  but that never stopped me from partying and going to weddings during that time  which was my way of coping,  I lost 15 kg in one month, I don’t know if it was the stress or all the dancing at the weddings (laughs) to the point that the singer Dilshad had to asked me: “Do you come to all weddings just like that or are you really invited?” (Laughing) because I was attending every single Kurdish wedding happening around. So I told him: “I know so many people and I am a wedding bird as they say in Kurdish” (Laughing).

luckily after 3 years of separation we were united. Even though at the time not many soldiers would be discharged from army because of the revolution that had kicked off and the Syrian army was in need of Kurdish soldiers, to put then in the first line during the battle.

• Is your husband cool about you being a comedian looking at the fact that we barely have any Kurdish female comedian? 

He was not cool at first and would always be telling me “why are you making yourself a monkey for Kurds?” which I understood from culture point of view. So I started to doubt myself, as I was insulted a lot in my first videos, taking all the negative reaction of people into account, but this bad vibes inside me started to vanish quickly after focusing on strengthening my talent rather than worrying about what people would think of me, especially after receiving a lot of positive messages from well-known and educated individuals praising my work! Thank God my family supported me a lot because they could see the joy while I was making the sketches.

My husband’s family are a bit conservative so I had work on that by convincing him that I am doing something very cultural and attached to our people in a comedian way, I don’t want to hurt anyone,  I want to make people more aware of some of the negative issues in our society. I have a goal from it, it’s not only for fun and being silly, and many people are aware of this fact. Eventually he was cool with it!

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• Did you get out of any problem just for being funny?

In fact, I get out of all my problems with jokes as comedy is the answer to everything in my opinion, I find it hard sometimes to take things seriously, even when it comes to me and my husband fighting, I can’t be serious more than 5 minutes, I end up by laughing which helps things to go smooth again.

• Were you a funny kid?   

When I was a kid, my father use to repeat funny stories to us, and all my siblings would die from laughter, I always wished to be as funny as my dad when I grow up! I had a big imagination and was living in my own imaginative world, and at the same time, I was a very serious kid when it came to speaking to guests, treating them like an adult, welcoming them and cleaning the house, but I used to imagine myself as Cinderella by choosing to wear the oldest clothes in the house (Laughing) exhausting myself too much!

But from a funny point of view my mum’s friends would always get me to imitate stars and they would laugh out loud at me, however, I wouldn’t see myself that funny then!

• So you have never ever laughed watching one of your videos?

No! I never laugh at my videos as I always watch them from a critical point of view.

• Do you think of making a Kurdish comedy show of your own soon?

I really really want to. I went to Iraqi Kurdistan 2 years ago to make my own critical comedy show, I made 8 episodes and the feedback after showing the first episode was, oh my god! Terrible! First of the all, they didn’t like the fact that I was from Qamishlo, and that I’m making jokes in Sorani, the other thing was that how can a woman speak very freely about the freedom of women, you know, because I was asking the audience in the first episode about their opinion about freedom of Kurdish women.

The reaction was very negative, there were complaints on the channel, and I even saw a leaflet made with my picture on it saying stop her.

After finishing 8 episodes, my fathered passed away, I stayed out of Kurdistan for a while and all the things I talked about in the episodes were then old news, and I had to be there while editing because some episodes were in Kurmanji and the editor spoke Sorani, all this would have taken a long time so I told the director that it’s best to stop the show because the materials were too old already and wouldn’t be as effective.

• Have you ever thought about doing stand-up comedy?

Yes I have, I have a lot to talk about, a lot of controversial issues, but the problem is I feel that the society I am aiming for aren’t ready  for this just yet! but what makes me more interested in doing such a show , is to take the role of the simple Kurdish woman, and through comedy try to find a solution to the cultural and social struggle.

• What do you think of Kurdish comedy in general?

To be honest, we still have a long way to get there. I personally prefer the aimed comedy, the comedy that talks about evolution, politics, raising kids etc. Kurdish comedy however is unfortunately about how much of a monkey you are? And this is what I most despise, not only with Kurds but in Middle East in general. It’s rare to find a comedy that has a clever message. What has also weakened the sense in comedy is the people’s taste as well.

I follow up Kurdish comedy pages a lot, but sometimes I am appalled by some of the videos they share and that are when they mix between comedy and using vulnerable people for laughter.

You know Sherzad? I like his work a lot, he is a clever man and has a good charisma, but what put me off that when people cheer him up for his videos with Demo, who is a vulnerable young lad. I have high expectation of sherzad, because I do find him very interestingly funny, and a lot of people get influenced by his jokes.

• What do you think of Bavê Tayar? Do you think he is funny?

I like his stories but I think he has serious technical problems. From acting point of view, he doesn’t need to squeeze his face that much while showing an impression or put too much effort to look funny! I think he is naturally funny! His show is poorly funded which is another serious problem with all Kurdish shows, however, Bavê Tayar has a lot of audience that love the show and enjoy it among Kurds.

• Have you done black comedy before?

No, I’m not going to philosophize about it a lot, as  I haven’t thought of it (laughing)

• Do you think Kurds like black comedy?

We are a wounded nation already; we are still suffering now from war and pain, it’s quite sensitive just yet to make jokes out of the situation. It’s still ongoing and it’s very heavy on people. I’m trying to avoid the sensitiveness of these issues. I have the courage to get involved in these matters but maybe not at the moment.

• Don’t you think talking about sensitive issue could be very powerful?

It would, thought I think I need to take feelings into account, and in my opinion, it would be much powerful if I do black comedy after things go calmer. I just don’t want people thinking that I am living in Europe and I don’t care about what’s happening in Rojava or the whole of Kurdistan.

• Who do you think are the funniest Kurds in general, the ones who live in Syria, Iraq, turkey, Iran or abroad? 

People from Amuda are the funniest Kurds alive. In Rojava, we don’t have borders for comedy. Amuda people even greet each-other with insults that are really funny, no one sees it as insults, instead, they all laugh.

In Iraqi Kurdistan they might kill you if you do so, they are more serious and women don’t have that sense of humor, instead they are seen as being easy when they try to be funny.

Once, I translated Ciwan Haco song Kale Kale to a friend of mine from Kurdistan, when he say “you are a dog and the son of a dog” along with the other sexual contents. He couldn’t believe it and found it very strange.

The closest European characters to Kurds are Italians. 5 years ago I worked in an Italian restaurant and when I would tell my boss that I can’t take this dish to the clients if there was something that wasn’t up to standard he would say (in Italian accent): “Take it, fuck it, they would never know!”  Just like Kurds, with the same hand gestures.

• Ashyties make fun of Gharbies and Gharbies make fun of Ashyties, which side are you?

You know (Laughing) what I like the most about Kurds is how cool they are with making fun of each other.  I am Gharby so I automatically make fun of Ashyties. I would also consider who am I surrounded with and put that into account (Laughing)

Ashyties mainly make fun of Gharbies that they insult a lot and about us  walking in the middle of the streets. Gharbies when they tell any joke, all the characters in that joke are Ashyties.

I can recognize Kurds from Iraq from their flat head, Kurds from Syria from their nose, Kurds in Iran look mainly like snow-white dwarfs.

When I was teenager I used to always complain about my Kurdish nose and my father told me: “You know, there will be a time where everyone will have a nose job and at that time you would be very special with your Kurdish nose!” Then I started to like it more and I decided to forget the nose job idea.

• How often are you serious?10011608_626409074096322_1584201677_o

40% of my time maybe? Being funny has always been a way for me to get what I want and send the message that I want to send without making anyone upset.

• Any future plans?

Now that I finished my study I feel more in control, as my parents taught me that as a women : “education is a very powerful weapon and knowledge is power” so I am thinking of starting a stand-up comedy show in English then do it in Kurdish.

• Say something funny.

Say something funny? I have been making you laugh for 2 hours! What do you want more? You are like the Arab who kept talking and talking and in the end he said “Do you want to hear the truth?”

 

Contact Ronak Housaine on: ronak@zivmagazine.com

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