Jennifer Jajeh, the comedienne behind the one-woman show “I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I’m Afraid to Tell You,” will stand up in Beirut (and the Middle East) for the first time this week for a performance at Metro Madina. Beirut-based NGO Masrah Ensemble, led by Eyad Houssami, invited her as part of its International Theatre Series, and to mark the launch of its new book, Doomed by Hope: Essays on Arab Theatre.

Beirut.com conducted an interview with Jajeh via email to find out more about her personal, politicized, and sometimes life-threatening show.

Beirut.com: Why did you choose Hamas as a symbol? What does it represent vis-à-vis your show?

Jajeh: Hamas represents a couple of different ideas in the show: first off, the expectations and stereotypes the West has of all Arabs, but it’s also used as a means to question what is considered terrorism vs. resistance. However, the show really isn’t about Hamas, but my own experiences grappling with violence and the Occupation.

Beirut.com: While your show seems to seek to debunk stereotypes in America of Arabs, Palestinians, and the Israel-Arab conflict, how do you think your show will be received in the Middle East, where your audience is often fighting the same battle? Is there any ground you are hoping to break in Beirut?

Jajeh: Audiences respond strongly to the show for a variety of reasons. Often they relate to my experiences of being between cultures and it reflects their own, or because the show presents a new perspective on the issues for them. I think Beirut audiences will see a lot of themselves in the show, and enjoy the way I’ve recast my struggles through comedy while allowing a lot of the difficulties to be there as well. It may also be interesting for them to get an account filtered through my upbringing as an American.

Beirut.com: Do you consider yourself an activist for the Palestinian cause? How do you manage to balance the political implications of your show with the personal?

Jajeh: The show is deeply personal, but as Palestinians, everything about us is politicized by those on the outside looking in. It’s impossible to divorce the two in peoples’ minds. That’s part of the point I’m making. It’s exhausting to represent the “Palestinian” perspective, as if that’s even possible or it’s just one thing. And if I’m expected to do so, I’ll need a promotion and paid vacation time ASAP.

Beirut.com: Have you ever received any threats?

Jajeh: Threats, yes. I’ve often thought about doing a show just reading the crap emails people send to me because the mere existence of my show and its title offends them. Just reading “DIE DIE DIE DIE!!!” (and other not so nice, un-printable messages) in a really melodramatic fashion feels like a fun way to deal with these lunatics.

Beirut.com: Is there ever a time you feel like addressing a different topic entirely?

Jajeh: YES. I’ve been touring this show for five years and am ready to take on some new topics. I’d like to try something a bit lighter, and more comedic. Maybe something that deals with a sunnier reality.

Beirut.com: Have you ever performed in Palestine? If not, do you plan to?

Jajeh: I haven’t, and have no immediate plans to, but my schedule changes pretty quickly so anything is possible.

Beirut.com: What urged you to go to Palestine in 2000 and how did your visit change you? Your show?

Jajeh: I can’t give everything away. Let’s just say it was my first trip to Palestine and it pretty much solidified a huge part of my identity. The second half of the show retells a lot of what happened to me there and the impact it had on my life.

Beirut.com: You’re currently at work on an Internet talk show called, "In Bed With Jen Jajeh." What’s the premise of this show and how is it the same or different as/from “I Heart Hamas”?

Jajeh: I launched "In Bed" a few years ago as a way to keep performing, but doing it in a much more fun, light-hearted way. Basically, I interview artists, thinkers, activists, musicians, and generally interesting cultural figures in pajamas and in their beds, which puts a whole new spin on the on camera-interview model. My touring schedule over the last year pretty much put a halt to the show, but I’m working on starting it up again.

To find about more about Jajeh's performance at Metro Madina on Thursday night, click here.

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