Meet the Toronto woman who wants to be the next Mindy Kaling, but with a hijab

A Q&A with Salma Hindy, a female Muslim comedian from Toronto performing at MuslimFest in Missisauga Saturday.

Salma Hindy, a University of Toronto engineering student, is one of the few female Muslim comedians

Salma Hindy, one of the few female Muslim comedians, is set to perform at MuslimFest in Mississauga on Saturday. (Tania Mehta/CBC News)

She wants to be the next Mindy Kaling — of the Mindy Project — but in a hijab.

Salma Hindy is one of a few Muslim women in comedy, and she only took up standup last year.

The budding comedian is also a masters student in clinical engineering at the University of Toronto.

Hindy is a recent graduate of Stand Up Comedy from Second City Toronto, and has been performing at various comedy venues and events since November.

CBC Radio's Here and Now spoke with Hindy before she takes the stage at Mississauga's MuslimFest on Saturday.

This interview has been edited for length, clarity and context.

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Why do you want to be the next Hijabi Mindy Kaling?

SH: I think it's important for there to be representatives of all identities in mass media, and I find that one of the most consumed forms of mass media is entertainment, whether that's in the form of comedy or specifically acting. I've always had a love for acting, putting on impressions, telling stories or trying to entertain my friends, but just looking at Hollywood, that's predominately white, I never thought it was achievable.  But Mindy Khaling made me think twice, because she is somebody who defies the standard look of Hollywood. She's very funny and so many people relate to her because she's giving a voice to the many others who watch Hollywood shows, not just white people.

Hindy appeared on CBC's Here and Now Friday afternoon ahead of her performance at Missisauga's MuslimFest on Saturday. (Tania Mehta/CBC News)

You use stereotypes about Muslim women as part of your work. Why do you start there?

SH: When I sat down to do my first set and thought about what to talk about, I decided to look at it from the audience's perspective. The audience, they're looking at someone with a hijab, so right away they are going to want to know your story, so I started to write in that way. My first set was mainly about growing up in my family, then I moved on to talk about my experiences being born and raised in Canada as an identifiable Muslim. Now I don't know if I'm very dramatic with how I perceive things, or if they are true, but one stereotype I talk about is what happens if I injure myself. If I trip and fall and hurt myself, immediately everyone looks at me like I'm getting beat up at home. Or if I go to a doctor they look at me and question if it was mine or my family's doing. These types of stereotypes are part of my lived experience, so I definitely write about them and joke about them as well.

Why do you think it's important to be a visible, female Muslim comedian?

SH: I think it's very important for Muslim women to be in the face of mass media because women are identifiably Muslim. With Muslim men, it's not always clear if they are Muslim unless they say so, whereas with women its clear because of the hijab. Similarly whenever there is a rise in Islamophobia and there are attacks against Muslims, it's always Muslim women who bear the brunt of these attacks, so I think it's important for Muslim women to be the ones at the forefront dispelling these stereotypes.  

Do you feel that minority groups making jokes about the stereotypes is a way to make change in culture?

SH: Comedy is universal, and when you come in and share this universal joy with everyone else, you are humanizing your minority group, which otherwise isn't usually done.

Muslims' portrayal in media and Hollywood is very problematic. In Hollywood too, it's so easy to cast a Muslim person in roles of crime, but when you are looking for a main character for Aladdin it's impossible. Why is it so easy to cast them in the former and not the latter? And that question is why its so important for Muslims to get into mass media, and comedy is the best way to break through. In comedy it's easy for Muslims to come in because we are telling our own stories showing the same problems everybody goes through and it's not in a preachy way, but in a fun way and people are very receptive to that environment.