‘When you’re pregnant you’re huge. It felt powerful to be big on stage’

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Janine Harouni arrives at her local east London pub with a little white dog, her “furry son” Charles Barkley, in tow. It’s a freezing day and, in an idyllic winter setting, we find seats by a fireplace. Charles seeks pets from me but growls at a passing man.

“He doesn’t like men as much as women,” says the American comedian and actor, “he’s trying to protect us.” Charles has been much more protective lately, even standing guard at the front door, because three months ago Harouni gave birth to her child.

What is maternity leave like for a comedian? “It’s a lot like not taking maternity leave,” says Harouni, a Staten Island native. “A week after the baby was born, she was doing a voiceover. I’ve been to Manchester and Oxford, filming. “You can’t say no to work.”

That hasn’t been entirely negative. “Many people say that you lose your identity. But it is actually changing and it is difficult to adapt,” she says. “Going back to work, which is something I love, it’s like I haven’t lost that part of me.”

Harouni is preparing to take his latest show, Edinburgh Comedy Award-nominated Man’oushe, on tour. A year ago, it began as a program about preparing for parenthood. But as the year 2023 progressed, she experienced a miscarriage and then the death of her friend and collaborator Adam Brace, “it became a show about the worst year of my life and trying to get as much meaning out of it as I could.” ”.

When she committed to last year’s Edinburgh festival, it was shortly after the miscarriage and she had just discovered she was pregnant again. Harouni didn’t know what would happen in the coming months, so she signed up. She wanted to talk about her miscarriage: “I thought I knew what a miscarriage was, but then I went through one. “It is much more painful than I could imagine.”

There was secrecy and shame. “Part of my shame was: Well, this wasn’t a real baby, so why would he be so sad?” she says. “I am very pro-abortion, but what was wanted was a baby. My brain was sending me conflicting signals. In our culture, there is no funeral, there is no naming of the baby, it is as if it never really happened. But I actually felt like my baby had died.”

Harouni’s miscarriage occurred between her eight- and 12-week scans, a time when we are told to keep pregnancies secret. “It is absolutely necessary to tell everyone,” says Harouni. “Because if you have a miscarriage, you need a support network.”

His instinct for probing difficult personal experiences on stage was developed, not innate. Most people think that stand-up is always a solo effort; Harouni worked with Brace, a writer and director who, behind the scenes, shaped hits like Alex Edelman’s acclaimed stand-up comedy and Liz Kingsman’s Olivier-nominated One Woman Show. Brace helped expand his idea of ​​what stand-up could be and encouraged Harouni to allow quiet moments between punchlines. “It’s so unnatural for me to be vulnerable,” he says. “It’s uncomfortable to be serious.”

When you’re pregnant, you’re huge. It felt powerful to be so big.

In Stand Up With Janine Harouni, Harouni’s 2019 debut, which earned her a best new actress nomination at Edinburgh, she explored her complex relationship with her father, the Trump-supporting son of Lebanese immigrants. She also recounted one of the most difficult periods of her life, when her parents nursed her back to health after a car accident that left her unable to walk. Brace urged her to include the car accident story: “I was very resistant. But he pushed me and that show was a lot more fun because that piece is there.”

Harouni started doing stand-up later than most, when he was in his twenties. It wasn’t her first experience with acting, however: when seven-year-old Harouni saw Annie on Broadway, “I turned to my mom and said, ‘I want to do that.'” She participated in a Staten. Children’s theater group on the island up to 18 years old. Eventually, a place at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (Lamda) brought her to the UK. “I thought she was going to do Shakespeare plays at the Globe,” she says. After graduating, she was cast as Julia in the 1984 West End production. When she finished, “I was unemployed for almost a year and thought: OK, this That’s what it is to be an actor. I would say it’s an audition, but you’re lucky to even get an audition.”

She became interested in comedy when she and two Lamda friends, Meg Salter and Sally O’Leary, began writing sketches together as Muriel. About the blockade, She is asking for it – satirizing the victim-blaming phrase often directed at women who have been assaulted – garnered 125 million views.

Standup felt like a chance to regain control of her career after her dry spell as an actress. Her jokes about Trump and his impressions of her New York parents were successful and she was soon in the finals of the competition. Awards provoke mixed feelings among comedians, but “they help you get paid,” Harouni says. “I have a voice in my head that constantly tells me I’m no good. Having external validation helps.”

Last year, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, she performed Man’oushe six nights a week while eight months pregnant, inching closer to her due date. “As women we don’t take up much space in the world and we aren’t exactly encouraged to do so. When you’re pregnant, you’re fucking huge. It felt really powerful to be that big,” she says.

It also gave the material about miscarriage a touch of hope: the audience could see that it was not the end of the story. Harouni was delighted, of course, that her pregnancy continued, but she was also shocked by the inequality: it meant having to have hundreds of injections and pills. “And all my husband had to do was cum!”

On stage, Harouni also finds comedy in the more extreme side effects of pregnancy and how blissfully unprepared she had been for them: “I was one of the most miserable pregnant women. “I complained about everything.” Each night, she asks an audience member to contribute her strangest side effects. “People think this is a women’s problem, but it’s so important to talk about it, especially in front of men,” she says.

It also felt right to start talking about Brace on the show: it matched everything he had taught her about the value of vulnerability. “If anything, it seemed strange to go on stage and not talk about the grieving process.”

He learned of Brace’s death at just 43 years old, from complications of a stroke, while traveling to preview his show last April. Grief, especially in the UK, Harouni says, can feel very private. While that’s okay for some, “I like when people talk about him, I like talking about him, because he’s on my mind all the time anyway,” she says. “Talking about him while we mourned him was incredibly cathartic. “The number of people who reached out to me after the show who suffered a similar loss made me feel less alone.”

Harouni turned pain into a show about love, loss and fatherhood. She reflects on her Lebanese heritage: Her grandmother, after whom she is named, was a successful singer in Lebanon who worked with the great Arab musician Fairuz, but sacrificed her career to move to the U.S., “and give to her children the opportunities that came with no We live in a country devastated by war,” says Harouni. “We are both immigrants. We are both artists. “I wanted to reflect his experience.”

Brace was a father in his own way, Harouni says on stage: he shaped so many comedy careers, so many incomparable shows. “It was very nice to stand on the sidelines and see the echoes of Adam,” Harouni’s voice breaks. “He felt like he was still alive because what he taught us all was still in practice. “He was the best.”

Jokes and joy overcome adversity. “Comedy and tragedy go hand in hand. Even though I talk about losing a friend and losing a baby, I try to end the show with hope and love,” she says.

Now that his son is here, Harouni has added new jokes about him and his arrival by cesarean section. He has reached the age where he smiles and laughs; It’s easy to find hope in that. “I like to make people laugh,” Harouni says. “But I love making him laugh.”

Janine Harouni Sightseeing Tours January 14 to February 26; The tour begins in Manchester.

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