Comedian Zainab Johnson Breaks Stereotypes and Barriers With “Hijabs Off”

Zainab Johnson, an up-and-coming comedian, aspires to make her mark in the comedy world. Her Amazon Prime comedy special "Hijabs Off" serves as a platform to showcase her unique comedic style and share her life experiences, including growing up in a large Muslim family.

Comedian Zainab Johnson Breaks Stereotypes and Barriers With “Hijabs Off”
"Hijabs Off" is Johnson's first original comedy special. 

Zainab Johnson, an up-and-coming comedian, aspires to make her mark in the comedy world. Her Amazon Prime comedy special "Hijabs Off" serves as a platform to showcase her unique comedic style and share her life experiences, including growing up in a large Muslim family.

Viewers might know Johnson as Aleesha Morrison in the science fiction comedy television series “Upload” (2020 – ), from her performances on “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (2014 – ) or “A Black Lady Sketch Show” (2019 – 2023), or from her accolade as a former semifinalist on NBC’s comedy competition show “Last Comic Standing” (2003 – 2015).

Johnson's journey to comedy began unexpectedly. She initially considered various career paths, from acting to being a math teacher, but ultimately she found comedy — and it found her. During her first open-mic night, she discovered her knack for making people laugh and developed her distinctive comedic voice.

After moving to Los Angeles, Johnson worked up the courage to try stand-up comedy by Googling “open mics.” She chose one strategically close to her apartment at the time, assuming that if she did poorly, she would have an easy escape. She prepped for the evening by writing down a few jokes, one of which was about her brother she refers to as “the criminal.”

“He would claim that he was such a good Muslim because he abstained from eating pork, but it’s like, yeah, but you rob people,” Johnson said in a profile with the LA Times. “And I just remember thinking that that was ironic enough to be funny … and people laughed.”

Despite the misconception that comedy is easy, Johnson emphasizes the challenges of consistently making people laugh, especially when the audience has diverse backgrounds and experiences. She believes in the power of empathy in comedy, advocating for more opportunities for comedians from marginalized groups on mainstream platforms.

In her profile, Johnson said that comedy has often been “a white guy sport” that has more recently opened up to Black men, then white women, slowly trickling to other groups participating as well.

“Don’t put me on like the quote unquote ‘Muslim show’ — just put me on a show and trust that I’m going to be funny,” Johnson said. “Put me on your mainstream night where [you’ve] got your six other straight white guys on that lineup. Put me on that lineup and put more of me so that it’s mainstream.”

While Johnson's career in comedy is an ongoing journey, it's also a way for her to honor her family and reflect on her life experiences. Her Amazon Prime special “Hijabs Off” is a testament to her authentic, heartfelt approach to humor.

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