Imah Dugamay is the Middle East’s first Filipina Stand-Up Comedian. Similar to her co-patriots, she came to Dubai, years ago in expectation to pursue her corporate job to support her family back home, oblivious of what the city had in store for her.
How did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy, and what inspired you to use comedy as a means to challenge gender stereotypes?
Stand-up comedy was a natural choice for me. I’ve always found myself injecting laughter into situations, lightening the mood with funny observations. I saw comedy as a unique channel to convey crucial messages, and what resonated with me the most was the opportunity to use humor as a vehicle to challenge gender stereotypes. It’s a powerful way to get people to rethink their assumptions while enjoying a good laugh.
What kind of challenges have you faced as the first Filipino comedian in the Middle East, and how have you overcome them?
As the first Filipino stand-up comedian in the Middle East, I expected to face cultural and language barriers, which I did. I viewed these challenges as opportunities for personal growth. By emphasizing universal human experiences and using humor that transcends borders, I have successfully connected with my audience and shattered these barriers.
Can you share some instances where your comedy has successfully challenged gender stereotypes and influenced people’s perspectives?
In my comedy, I often address stereotypes, especially those related to women. For example, I once shared a story about a male colleague who complimented me when I helped him fix his laptop. He said, “Wow, you’re too good with computers for a woman.” In response, I humorously replied, “Wow, you’re too dumb for a man.” This anecdote not only made people laugh but also made them realize the baselessness of stereotypes. I aim for this dual impact in my comedy, entertaining the audience while also enlightening them. My stand-up material covers a wide range of topics, including everyday life, relationships, and cultural observations. However, I also incorporate elements of gender stereotypes into my act on occasion. By transforming these rigid perceptions into humorous moments, I subtly draw attention to their irrationality and encourage my audience to challenge any unconscious biases they may hold. It’s like shining a humorous spotlight on these stereotypes, helping people recognize their absurdity in a fun and non-confrontational manner.
Have you faced any resistance or backlash for addressing sensitive gender-related topics in your comedy? How do you handle such situations?
Yes, I have. Understandably, some individuals may feel uncomfortable when their beliefs are questioned. However, I firmly believe that comedy serves as a potent tool for addressing challenging subjects. It allows for a gentler delivery and encourages people to consider new viewpoints. The majority of my audience embraces this approach, and their laughter and active participation demonstrate the power of humor in promoting positive transformation.
How do you balance the need to challenge gender stereotypes while still making people laugh and ensuring your comedy remains relatable to a diverse audience?
Balancing humor with the challenge of breaking down stereotypes can be tricky, but it’s all about presenting serious messages in a light-hearted, accessible way. The key is to weave important messages into the comedy subtly. My goal is always to make people laugh first, and then leave them with thoughts that linger long after the laughter has subsided, nudging them to reconsider their long-held beliefs.
Have you noticed any changes or shifts in societal attitudes toward gender stereotypes since you started your comedy journey?
Since I began my journey in stand-up comedy, I have witnessed a slow but steady change in societal attitudes towards gender stereotypes. People are gradually becoming more open to re-evaluating their biases and more willing to laugh at them. This evolution is encouraging and further fuels my motivation to challenge stereotypes through my humor.
Can you share any memorable experiences or interactions with audience members who were particularly impacted by your comedy and its message?
One interaction that stands out in my memory was with a man who shared how my comedy prompted him to reconsider his perspective on divorced women. It served as a profound reminder that comedy has the potential to go beyond mere entertainment. It can act as a catalyst for social change and personal development.
Are there any other comedians or performers who have inspired you in your journey to break gender stereotypes through comedy?
Numerous comedians have inspired me in my journey. Best like Iliza Shlesinger, Katherine Ryan, and Ellen DeGeneres, who use comedy to question societal norms. Their courage and wit motivate me to do the same, breaking down stereotypes one laugh at a time.
How do you hope your comedy will contribute to a more inclusive and accepting society, both within the Middle East and beyond?
I aspire for my comedy to not only entertain but also open minds and hearts. I believe that humor can illuminate the truth behind our societal biases, prompting us to question and change them. I hope that my comedy can contribute to a society that is more understanding and accepting of all, irrespective of their gender or background, both in the Middle East and the world beyond.
This piece was first published in Communicate's Women to Watch Issue 2023.