5 Minutes With: Jersey City Comic Dina Hashem
Dina Hashem is a local comic residing in Jersey City. You can catch her at the Shut Up & Laugh Comedy Show which she co-hosts at The Lamp Post Bar & Grill in Jersey City on Tuesday, March 11 and the second Tuesday of each month. I spoke with Dina about her comedy and we shared a few laughs.
What sparked your interest in stand up?
Just tell me your life story.
Well, I mean, I had always been interested in comedy. I grew up watching The Simpsons and just stand up on TV, but never really thought of trying it until college at the New Jersey Comedy Festival. It was like anyone could just audition to be in this contest for college kids all over the state. My friend was doing it and I had just watched the movie Funny People (laughter) and I was like yeah, I’m gonna be Aubrey Plaza. So I just wrote five minutes and tried it, and then I did well and then I ended up winning the competition.
Yeah, it’s a really stupid, weird, interesting story to how I started.
What was your best joke?
I didn’t have any, I mean, I had jokes but they weren’t good, in retrospect.
Then what was the most well received?
Oh God, I don’t use any of those jokes anymore. There’s one joke I remember, I can’t remember any of them, but there’s one. Um, you want me to tell it?
Yea, just say it.
Oh God (laughter). Um, it’s like my mom is…all of my jokes were about my mom being mean to me, they still are. She was like, “Dina you should wear makeup so that boys will like you?” and I’m like, “Wait, what Mom, what did you say?” and she says, “You should wear makeup so that boys will like you,” and I’m like, “Oh, oh makeup, so boys like me. Oh no, I just wear a vagina all the time Mom.” (my laughter) That’s like one halfway decent joke that I had. But I was just telling such shitty jokes and they were laughing at all of them. So now in retrospect, I’m like, that competition wasn’t really…
Basically just a bunch of stoned college students.
Just a bunch of college kids who thought they were funny so it wasn’t like a huge accomplishment, but I won a thousand dollars. I got a MacBook (laughter).
(Laughter) And that’s the most money I’ve made so far. I peaked in my career.
(laughter) First time doing stand-up you made it. You hit the ceiling.
I’ll probably never make that much money again.
What’s it like for you to write a joke? Is it spontaneous or do you take your time?
I mean, it’s different these days. I think the longer you do it, you have to sort of change your process. I’ve only been doing it…well, this is my fifth year, I guess. First starting, you have all these ideas, and you’re flooded with things in your brain cause you sort of don’t know what’s out there. You’re still naive and you think you can just joke about anything, so usually it would just come to me. Jokes would just come to me fully formed which was really convenient cause I’m lazy, like I’ve never worked that hard at anything (laughter), but now these days it’s harder. I feel like all the stuff that just had come to me, has probably come to me and now I have to sit down and try to work on a joke which usually doesn’t work. So it takes a long time. Like right now I’m kind of in a rut, cause it’s been a while since I thought of something really good, but it takes a long time.
How often do you cycle out jokes? Do you have jokes on stand by as backups or one to close with? How often do you throw out a set and make up a new one?
So there’s like my solid set that I have in my head. I probably have like fifteen minutes of solid material right now that I can always just go to, but other than that I always try to just do new stuff and polish that. Like if I’m at a mic or something, I won’t do any of my solid jokes, cause it’s a waste of time.
Yeah, open mics are basically for trying out new stuff.
Yeah yeah, I mean, if I want to change something about one of my older jokes, I’ll try it again, but usually I just do new things.
How often do you try to perform?
Uh, I mean I want to perform every day, but I try to perform at least three or four times a week, but I should be doing it more.
Where do you usually perform? Jersey City, Hoboken area, or mostly in the city?
More so in the city, I mean there’s not a whole lot of mics near here. There’s like one that I go to weekly, in Jersey City, the rest is mostly in New York.
Where is that one?
That one’s at The Dopeness which is a taco restaurant. There’s also the Stress Factory which I do sometimes, but that one’s a trek for me. I try to do the free ones mostly and that one’s five dollars.
What do you consider your best stand up moment?
Best in terms of best I did or best…
Best you felt after a stand up show.
Okay, um, probably…there are these shows at the Comic Strip in New York City which are called the Brown Comedy Show which is a themed show of people of Arab descent and they always sell out, so there’s always at least 200-300 people. I did that show and they were just so good, they just really loved me and were on board with everything I was saying. So when you have a crowd you that you could feel like you can just be yourself and they accept you and like you, it’s just awesome.
Now what do you think is your worst stand up experience?
That one’s easier to answer (laughter). I mean this is the weirdest in terms of being the worst. At Rutgers they had…you know Showtime at the Apollo? They had a parody at the Haitian club of Rutgers. So basically anyone could go up — musician, comedian, whatever — and it was a full auditorium, packed with like 300 people. I was literally the only white person there, and there weren’t a lot of comedians. It was just me and my friend doing comedy and the rest was mostly music and dance. And they had screens up on the stage where people could live tweet about you as you're performing, so it was just the perfect setup for a horrible situation. Well first of all you know how Showtime at the Apollo works? You have the guy with the cane and he can drag you off stage when people start booing.
So I go up and I thought it would be funny to call attention to the fact that I’m the only white person to go up and be like, “Howdy pardners!” and the entire room started booing immediately, literally without missing a beat, everyone started booing me. And the guy had to come out and be like, “Guys you have to give them a 10 second grace period before you can start booing” so I had to restart my set and it was just a nightmare. Everyone was talking so maybe they heard a couple of jokes. People were tweeting horrible things behind me. Someone called me Roseanne. After I performed and I went down, I was so furious that I looked up on Twitter who had tweeted the Roseanne thing about me, and I found him in the auditorium and I passed him a note that said, “I hope you die in a fire” (my laughter) And then I found out I passed it to the wrong guy, he was like, “That wasn’t me” then I found the actual guy and passed it to him and then I left. And you wanna know who won?
Nobody, because a fight broke out. That’s the kind of show it was.
That’s a great experience though. You can’t always have a good set. That’s unfair.
Oh, I’ve paid my dues. I’ve had my share of horrible, horrible shows.
In your experience is there any way to salvage a bad show? Is there a way to win back your audience? How do you deal with that?
It’s really hard to do. There are few comics that can do that really well, I mean that’s the whole game of it. When you first start doing stand up, you’re supposed to do these terrible open mics because that’s where you learn to handle these situations. Bomb your first few years basically. So like I started out at this place Piano’s in Bloomfield. It was just a rowdy sports bar, I mean no one wanted you to be there. So if you could turn that room around you’re golden, you can handle a comedy club crowd that’s there to see you. But in terms of being able to do it, it’s hard, if they’re being hostile and just not interested in you.
Do you just finish your set and get off stage?
It’s a choice. You can call attention to the fact that you're bombing and do crowd work, usually, I’ll resort to talking to people and trying to make them laugh, just by making fun of them or getting to know them.
I like when comics do that.
Yes, I mean, not everyone can do it right.
What have you learned from doing standup?
You have to definitely learn to be less hard on yourself I think. Doing standup is basically a slow erosion of your ego, so it’s like you have to believe in yourself while having evidence that you shouldn’t (laughter) if that makes any sense. You can’t let either the success or the destruction to get to your head. You have to be stable.
That’s a good lesson.
Like Dan Harmon has a good quote that hating yourself and loving yourself, they’re both narcissistic. And in comedy especially, I think it’s true.
Yeah, I’ve known comics who would usually do well, but when they didn’t, they could be pretty self deprecating.
Exactly, and you have to get over that. Well when you’re first starting you take it the hardest, which is ironic cause that’s when you should be taking it the least hard cause that’s when you’re supposed to be bombing. You’re new at this right? But then as you keep doing it, it gets easier to handle.
I guess the fact that a person is going on stage in the first place, there’s some egotism there, that you believe you can make all these people laugh.
That’s how it is in the beginning, but you very quickly learn that’s not how it works, although some people don’t learn. I mean I’m sure you’ve seen bad open micers. I see them every day and they keep doing it for years. I just want to know what’s in their head. Do they think they’re doing well? Cause they don’t change either. It’s strange, it’s really interesting.
What do you want to achieve ultimately, in your career?
I mean, I just want to be Bill Burr (laughter). I mean, my goal I guess, is to write for my own show. That’s my ideal goal, to write a really funny show. But performing, I mean it’s like whatever I can get. If I have the chance to perform nationally, internationally, whatever. I just want to be funny and have people enjoy my point of view, whether that be through standup or writing a show.
If you had a show, would you prefer animated or live action?
Well actually, I think both would be fun. I mean I’m really interested in doing voice work. I would love to be a Marie Bamford type who just does these awesome voices for all these cartoons. If I could do a show like that and do the voices for that, I would really love it. But I would write for either as long as it’s my point of view and is funny.