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Arab American comic Dina Hashem has a debut special — but the timing is 'tricky'

<em>Dark Little Whispers</em> leans on Hashem's dark humor and dry sarcasm to land its strongest punchlines.
Chris Palermo
Dark Little Whispers leans on Hashem's dark humor and dry sarcasm to land its strongest punchlines.

Dina Hashem is on a stellar trajectory for a 34-year-old comedian.

She currently writes for The Daily Show and has written for the Max comedy The Sex Lives of College Girls, created by Mindy Kaling. She's set to voice a character on Ramy Youssef's upcoming animated show for Amazon Prime Video. The streamer is also debuting her standup special, Dark Little Whispers, on Nov. 10.

But the timing is frankly terrible. One month after a deadly conflict broke out between Israel and Hamas, and right before her special's release, Hashem's social media isn't saturated with self-promotion. Instead, there's a video compilation of her calling Sen. Lindsey Graham's office.

"Hi, I'm an Arab American, and I just have to say that when I first heard Lindsey Graham's bloodthirsty statements about the Middle East, my first thought was: What's the going price for a pint of my blood?" she asks, as the AC/DC song "If You Want Blood (You've Got It)" plays in the background.

Hashem is referring to Graham's statements on Fox News last month. On a clip shared to his X account on Oct. 10, the Senator said, "We are in a religious war here. I am with Israel. Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourselves. Level the place."

As the Senate staffer on the other end of the line struggles to understand what she's asking, Hashem calmly clarifies, "I know he's really into sending funding to Israel right now. I wanna know why he isn't just sending that money to me and I can just ship him a pint of my blood."

"If he wants Arab blood, I think he should be getting it from Americans here at home instead of outsourcing it abroad," she adds.

Dark humor is an inevitable human response to pain and tragedy. Dark Little Whispers, which taped last December, runs nearly an hour. It leans on Hashem's deadpan delivery and dry sarcasm to land its strongest punchlines. She jokes about growing up Muslim in New Jersey — "Have you ever tried to find the direction of Mecca while you're high?" — and pokes at political divisions in the U.S., claiming she voted for Donald Trump solely to keep her Egyptian dad out of the country.

"My jokes about my upbringing are self-deprecating and somewhat critical of the things I went through," Hashem says. "And I would hate for someone to see those things at a time like this — and then use it as an excuse to be like, 'See, this religion's bad' or 'It's OK to be racist against these people.'"

When asked what conversations she had with Amazon about the content of the special, and specifically, whether there was discussion about changing anything after Oct. 7 — Hashem hedged. "I don't how much to say about that," she says.

But Sam Morril, a standup comedian and an executive producer of Dark Little Whispers, says no changes were necessary.

"I don't think she put anything in there that was ever malicious," he says. "This has been in the can for awhile. So no, there was never even a question of cutting anything. At all."

Of course, Hashem couldn't have predicted that a geopolitical and humanitarian crisis would be unfolding precisely when her project debuted. But it's a difficult time to speak up about anything having to do with the Middle East; some artists and writers have lost work for criticizing the Israeli government. Arab, Muslim and Jewish people are under especially intense scrutiny. And Morril points out, comedians are often seen as speaking "carelessly" about sensitive issues.

"I've definitely been advised to not lead with certain jokes, which is not in my nature to censor myself," Hashem says. "So that's tricky. I just want to not dirty my soul as much as possible in this life, so I just have to say what I have to say, and if there's negative consequences then so be it and I'll figure that out when it happens."

Hashem would love nothing more than for Dark Little Whispers to be taken on its own terms. It's a laid-back debut, full of short, cleverly written jokes that demonstrate why Hashem won the first standup contest she ever entered. She decided to try standup, she says, to impress a crush while studying English, philosophy and Japanese at Rutgers University. Throughout her special, Hashem makes fun of her own shy and introverted personality.

At a time when people are triggered and anxieties are high — Dark Little Whispers shows the value in listening, and thinking hard about when to speak up. In which case, maybe the timing of Dina Hashem's first special is not so terrible after all.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: November 9, 2023 at 11:00 PM CST
In a previous version of the web story, we incorrectly said Dina Hashem was currently writing for the Max comedy The Sex Lives of College Girls. Hashem has written for the show in the past, but is not currently writing for it.
Isabella Gomez Sarmiento
Isabella Gomez Sarmiento is a producer with the Culture Desk and NPR's Book of the Day podcast.