TV & Showbiz
Janine Harouni on doing stand-up whilst pregnant, becoming a US comic in the UK and upcoming Manchester show
The Staten Island expat is coming to one of Manchester's most iconic venues in January 2024.
We’re always fascinated by the world of stand-up and, in particular, the very specific sub-set of American comics plying their trade over here in the UK — and award-nominated Janine Harouni is just that.
Tickling us Brits for a few years now and delighted comedy crowds at the Edinburgh Fringe not only on her debut back in 2019 but also whilst well and truly in her third trimester during her most recent show at the 2023 festival, Harouni is one of the fastest-growing comics on the circuit.
Hailing from a Lebanese-American, a mother of Irish and Italian mother and now living here in England for over a decade, her journey not only over the Atlantic but from starting out as a drama student and going on to become a stand-up comedian is a unique perspective that’s made her sets hugely popular.
Taking a break from looking after her baby son, Miles, Janine was kind enough to sit down with and talk about the show ahead of her upcoming date at The Lowry Theatre over in Salford Quays on 14 January.
Ok, first things first, you’re a new mum, how’s it going?
Tired, very tired, yeah. I’ve got a 12-week-old newborn, so it’s been an exact middle point between wonderful and amazing, and chaos and Hell.
I did the night shift last night: it was a grim… He projectile vomited. I’ve never seen so much puke come out of such a tiny baby, so yeah, that’s how I am.
Ha! Well, congrats right from the off. How quickly did you run for that first bear? Now he’s out in the world?
Honestly, me and my husband had a saying, ‘If the baby’s clear, give me a beer’. I also had gestational diabetes while I was pregnant, so I couldn’t eat candy or carbs or anything delicious that you’d want to be eating.
So I think as soon as he was born while I was in the hospital and it was safe for my husband to leave, he came back with sushi, Snickers, just tons of stuff, and I think maybe the first week out of the hospital we had a lovely glass of wine and it was just [*chef’s kiss*]. Fantastic.
Wonderful. So people might have seen you on telly here in the UK — you’ve been here for a long time now — and they might have even seen you a brief cameo in The Batman recently, right?
Yes and yes. Played a prostitute. Got paid less than an actual prostitute. Great.
But yeah, you’re mainly a stand-up and you’ve also been touring whilst you were pregnant and pretty much full-term even whilst you were at the [Edinburgh] Fringe as well. How did you find doing comedy with a literal human inside of you?
Oh my God. I wore heels, which was a mistake, but they were the only shoes that fit me. Your feet grow in pregnancy, I think the bones and your feet sort of expand and they swell, obviously. So they were the only shoes that fit me, so I would pull on those heels every night. It was interesting.
People always asked me while I was at the Fringe — because I did the whole month — they were like, ‘Can you feel the baby kicking while you’re on stage?’ It is distracting but actually, the only time that he wasn’t kicking me was when I was doing the show.
I just think he probably thinks my comedy is very boring, so now if we ever need him to go to sleep, I’m just like, should I just do my hour? It would just knock him out.
Did you find that it changed the way that you perform at all, or even just touring around and actually getting from place to place, did it change how you were on stage?
I’m quite a nervous performer. So normally before a gig, because you’re performing in pubs or clubs or whatever it is, I would have one small gin and tonic just to sort of loosen up a little bit but, obviously, when you’re pregnant, you can’t do that. It’s very frowned upon by the medical community.
So, I know this sounds crazy but I had to learn how to do stand-up without having a drink and very quickly I realized I much prefer doing stand-up completely sober because you’re just so much more present.
You’re just so much more alive and even though the nerves are there, I think they actually help; I think they’re there for a reason. They sort of heighten your senses, so the main thing about being pregnant was I learned how to do standup without having a gin and tonic or Prosecco before getting on stage — and I would burp a lot less too because I wasn’t digesting any alcohol.
Burping for two. And obviously, pregnancy is something you touch upon quite a lot in the new show, Man’oushe; it’s already getting rave reviews pretty much across the board — can you tell us a little bit about the title and what people can expect from it?
I wrote the show during the sort of year or so that it took us to get pregnant and it just kind of follows the journey of trying to conceive. It talks about a miscarriage that I had, getting pregnant again and then eventually having my son.
It just sort of goes through the ups and downs of pregnancy, of deciding to become a parent and specifically becoming a mom, because I think the sacrifices, obviously, that women make to bring a baby into the world are nothing compared to the men who just had to have sex without a condom, a.ka. my husband’s favourite thing in the world.
So the show makes fun of him a lot, it makes fun of pregnancy and touches on the journey around all of that and the title, ‘Man’oushe‘ is the Arabic nickname that my family calls me and it was given to me by my grandmother.
I talk a lot about her in the show too because she was a performer like me. She was a classical Arabic singer, born in Lebanon, and I talk about her journey to motherhood as well; the sacrifices she had to make becoming a mom in the ’50s, being a singer and emigrating to the US when she did.
Wow — and can you tell us what that name means?
I can’t because it’s a big punchline in the show, but I’ll just say I was surprised to learn what it meant.
Nearly got you haha. You debuted it at Edinburgh this year as well, having already been nominated before for Best Newcomer last time out and now Best Comedy Show as well. What’s the reception been like so far? Everything seems to be hitting, doesn’t it?
It’s been so nice. I mean, when I did my first show, I didn’t really have any sort of online presence, now this time around I’ve been posting things on Instagram, so I have a bit of a following, and so it’s been really nice to see what people are posting about the show.
People have been DMing me and sending me really beautiful personal messages about how much the show means to them and about how they’ve had similar experiences with grief and loss and pregnancy.
A lot of Arabs have been messaging me too saying it’s really nice to see themselves reflected in some standup comedy, so it’s really been a very strangely bonding [experience], which is nice because when you do standup, it’s quite a lonely thing. It’s been nice to have people message and see what their reactions to the show are.
Nice. And yeah, you’ve got a proper fan base here now. I know you’ve been in the UK for a decade now and I’m sure you get asked this stuff all the time but what are some of your favourite things about living here?
Yeah, that’s crazy too: I’ve been here for coming on 12 years and I have to say my favourite thing is a roast. I LOVE a Sunday roast. It’s just basically Thanksgiving every Sunday, It’s amazing. I don’t know how people here aren’t gigantic.
We all love a roast, for sure — and what about the differences between comedy audiences here and back in the US?
I think the comedy audience here are more discerning. I think it’s actually a tougher audience and I just think British people in general are just funnier — the sort of level of funny amongst the general population is a lot higher than it is in the States.
It’s great as a comedian because it means you have to work really hard and hone your jokes and make sure that you’re bringing your best stuff each time you get up on stage because you want to make sure you’re funnier than the people who are sitting in the audience.
In the States they laugh a LOT, and at everything, which is also nice, but is a lie because not everything is very funny.
It’s so strange but I think the best way around for me is to do it here where it’s a lot harder. It’s kind of like training with weights on, and then after touring the UK and doing the show and the Fringe and stuff like that, bringing it over to the States and just sort of reaping the rewards of all the hard work of trying to make British people laugh, basically.
— Reginald D. Hunter had something very similar to say when spoke to him earlier this year —
Good to hear. So you’re playing The Lowry Theatre over in Salford, is it a venue that you’re familiar with or do you have any standout memories of gigging in Manchester over the years?
You know what, it’s unbelievable but I’ve never gigged in Manchester. My first time going there was two weeks ago to film an advert and my first experience was I got off the train and just saw a puddle of blood in the street, so I started to panic and was wondering if it was a violent city and whether I should cancel these tour dates!
Oh gosh! Nah, we’re nice people but just like anywhere you’ll see some stuff — and hey, it’s always material for the next tour haha. But I mean, I’m sure that’s new material for the next tour, I’m sure. What was the advert?
Yeah haha, but no the venue looks gorgeous and I’m excited. The ad was for Peroni and I’m actually wearing the shirt that I was wearing in the advert because I really liked it and I just asked the costume woman if I could steal it and he was like, ‘Yeah, just take it’.
Oh, so you love a freebie and a Peroni — you’re already one of us! On a more serious note, you’ve obviously dedicated the show and your baby’s middle name I believe to the director and your close friend, Adam Brace, who sadly passed away.
Not to get too deep if you don’t want to talk about it, but how special is it to be able to honour him with these performances and also have his memory live on through the show, all whilst welcoming this new life into the world as well?
Yeah, hugely, Adam and I were working on the show when he passed away, so I think I worked as hard as I could to try and make the show as good as I could because I knew it was going to be one of the last things that had his name on it, so I just wanted to do him justice.
Also to get nominated for the main award [at the Fringe], for the show to get good reviews and for it to really connect with people — because I actually speak about Adam in the show as well — that’s just been really, really rewarding and it’s just been a really nice feeling.
Adam really loved when people took their real-life experiences and were truthful to them and created shows based on that, so I think he would be (if he’s anywhere), hopefully watching the show and laughing.
And I also think he’d be slightly annoyed that I named my son after him because he really didn’t love kids. So that also kind of makes me happy too haha.
Brilliant, and last but not least: if you could describe the new show in three words, what would they be?
Heartfelt, funny and personal.
I was going to say hilarious, but is that weird to say that you think your own stuff is hilarious?…
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For the record, it’s not weird to say that all — if you’ve seen any of Janine Harouni’s stuff in the past, you’ll know ‘hilarious’ is just the tip of the iceberg.
From appearances on the Russel Howard Hour, ITV2’s The Stand Up Sketch Show, Dave’s Comedians Giving Lectures and, of course, her own specials on the likes of Amazon Prime, this Staten Island-born stand-up has taken to life and comedy here in the UK like a duck to water and is well tuning in for.
Janine’s Manchester date for her critically acclaimed Man’oushe show arrives at The Lowry Theatre on Sunday, January 14, 2024 and is sure to go down a storm.
You can grab your tickets for HERE.
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Featured Images — Supplied/Janine Harouni (via Instagram)