From blue helmet to joke maker: Israeli comedian Noam Shuster | Television
IThe Israeli satirist Noam Shuster was preparing a career in comedy when, overnight, his name spread throughout the Arab world. During an Arabic-language slot on Israeli news channel i24 in 2019, Shuster joked that at just under 6 feet and 32 years old, her family was urging her to find a partner. She was aiming high, she said, so what potential suitor do you think of? “MBS, hello,” said Shuster, using his fluent Arabic to speak directly to the imposing Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, and asking him to support a fictitious political party so they can work together for peace.
The UN peace worker turned comedian woke up the next day to Arab media headlines on the proposal. Whether viewed as a satire of a potential peace that had bypassed the Palestinians entirely, or as a serious marriage offer, the clip traveled through media outlets across the Middle East, from Moroccan news sites to the Arab service of the BBC. The entire episode placed rocket boosters under Shuster’s already accelerating career, which saw her become a favorite in the Arab world and land gigs on the world comedy circuit.
Shuster is now the subject of an Al Jazeera documentary in English, Counting with laughter, which traces a career of dizzying comedy abruptly interrupted by the pandemic. As Shuster returns to Israel from Harvard, where she received a scholarship to develop her comedy show (titled Coexistence My Ass), she catches Covid and is sent to a quarantine hotel. There, we see Jewish and Palestinian Israelis bond unexpectedly during their shared confinement.
It was a familiar situation for Shuster; Born in 1987 to an Iranian mother and father whose family consisted of Romanian Holocaust survivors, she and her younger brother grew up in an Israeli village set up in the 1970s as an experience of coexistence. In Neve Shalom / Wahat al-Salam, or the Oasis of Peace, nestled on top of a hill near Jerusalem, Palestinian and Jewish residents are attached to a bilingual, bicultural and binational community. Shuster, whose father was jailed when she was little for refusing to serve as an army reservist in the occupied Palestinian territories, now describes this education as a gift, though she sometimes thought, “Why couldn’t you? not just raising us by the beach in Tel Aviv! ” However, the historical awareness, education, and linguistic mastery she acquired gave Shuster the ability to later challenge, through comedy, the systemic power imbalances between Israelis and Palestinians, and between the Jewish elite. European Union of Israel and its Middle Eastern Jews.
After graduating from Brandeis University, a liberal arts college in Boston, Massachusetts, Shuster worked with a women’s health organization in Rwanda before becoming co-director of the Israel program of Interpeace, an organization of peacebuilding created by the UN. Shuster focused on a project working with Jewish settlers, ultra-Orthodox, and other groups resisting or excluded from standard peace camp initiatives. For Shuster, reaching out to these communities was a key part of conflict resolution, but the UN disbanded the project in 2017. “I knew then that I couldn’t continue doing this international peace work,” says -she. “I was exhausted and people needed to hear something different.”
She began to write jokes, in Hebrew, Arabic and English, trying to communicate topics and ideas that she had felt unable to address within the confines of the peace industry. “You start with open mic slots, you bomb, you land on your face a million times, you sharpen your gear,” she says. But there was a receptive audience for a half-Iranian Israeli woman who joked about the absurdities and injustices of the decades-long Israeli military occupation. The turning point came in 2018 with a set at the 1001 Laughs Palestine Comedy festival, founded a few years earlier by the American-Palestinian comedian Amer Zahr. It was a risky reservation: she was the first Jewish Israeli to perform at the festival and her name was not even on the promotional material. On stage in occupied East Jerusalem, Shuster broke the ice with his opening line: “Don’t worry, I’m only here for seven minutes, not 70 years,” in reference to Israel’s presence in the city. region. “I cried afterwards, the laughter and the welcome I received were overwhelming,” she says.
This sparked a wave of reservations. She secure TV locations on Israeli news channels. She received the award for New Jewish Comedian of the Year in 2019 at the JW3 Jewish Comedy festival in London. She was invited to Harvard and toured the American stand-up circuit, opening for comedians she had long admired, like Iranian-American Maz Jobrani. Then the pandemic turned Shuster’s email inbox into a “festival of cancellations,” as she puts it, a moment captured by the Al Jazeera documentary in all its relatable pain, conveying the frustration of a career. booming that stops disconcertingly.
When she caught Covid and was sent to quarantine accommodation (quickly dubbed Hotel Corona), Shuster was part of that other coexistence experience, with Jewish and Palestinian Israelis at the hotel together under the same circumstances, receiving the same treatment and same bad food. , while creating links around Zumba classes and musical evenings. “It was a radical compassion, a radical understanding,” says Shuster. “With every decision made, the choices made by the people at the Corona Hotel were for friendliness rather than separation.”
Shuster’s journey to quarantine presented logistical challenges for filmmaker Amber Fares, whose previous work includes the documentary Speed Sisters, on a team of all-female Palestinian race car drivers. Fares found recruits at the hotel and gave them advice on the camera via Skype so they could film his protagonist. The Lebanese-Canadian filmmaker says Shuster’s appeal lies in his ability to use his Jewish-Israeli comedy character to start debates that might otherwise be closed. “Noam is that perfect example of a political ally, and that’s really important,” she said. “It transcends this conflict and can be applied to other movements, like the BLM and more.”
During the recent escalation of violence, many Israeli voices opposed to the country’s bombing of Gaza – in which 245 Palestinians, including more than 60 children, were killed – have been marginalized and subjected to verbal abuse. But it’s in these times of political isolation that Shuster says she feels most compelled to speak out, to connect with others feeling silenced, and to insist, as she puts it in Reckoning. With Laughter: “There is nothing radical in demanding equality between Jews and Arabs.
Counting with laughter is a Witness documentary available on Al Jazeera Français