News / Middle East

From Refugee to Stand-Up Queen: A Story of Unconventional Success

Swedish-Iranian stand-up comedian Zinat Pirzadeh
Swedish-Iranian stand-up comedian Zinat Pirzadeh

Multimedia

Tala Hadavi

Zinat Pirzadeh, 41, left Iran for Sweden almost 19 years ago, fleeing from oppression and an arranged marriage. Today, she's a celebrity in her adopted country, with a dream of using her somewhat unconventional success to make changes in society.

It was not until Zinat Pirzadeh took a public speaking course to improve her Swedish that she discovered how she could use her words to make an impact.

The class teacher, who happened to be a well-known stand-up comedian, opened the initial door.

"He said to me 'everything you say is funny, without even trying to make us laugh.' "

And not long thereafter, Anna-Lena Brundin, who happens to be a famous female comedian, got in touch with me and asked me to perform before her show," said Pirzadeh.  "I didn't know anything about comedy at that time.  It wasn't really my intention to get into the field."

That performance went well.  So well, in fact, that Zinat had to quit her day job as a career counselor to have time to tour.  

Today, she is one of the most popular comedians in Sweden.  She was voted "Female Comedian of the Year" in 2010.

"It makes me very proud to have succeeded in a country where they often-times see us foreigners as something negative, rather than positive.  I'm really happy that a door has opened for me to talk about the things that are on my mind."

But Zinat's road to fame has been a long one.  When she moved to Sweden she was initially forced to live in a basement with her three-year-old son and almost no money.  But she never gave up.

"The more down you are, the bigger key comedy and laughter becomes to opening your heart," Zinat added.  "My grandfather used to always say, in each person's heart there's a thumbprint from God that can never become black.  I always think about that.  I think no matter how sad you are you can always look back and see that life is not a dead end, there's another road, and so I see laughter as that new road."

With time, Zinat's stand-up routine has become more and more frank and somewhat controversial.  Despite getting death threats - both from skinheads and from conservative Muslims - or being forced to take police escorts to and from her shows - she is not afraid of talking about racism, women's rights and religious fundamentalism.

"After some time on stage, I began to feel embarrassed about the fact that I didn't talk about anything that could have bearing on society when I in actuality had the stage for it," noted Zinat.  "I thought to myself, it's my responsibility to do something better because otherwise I'm wasting my time."  

Zinat is not wasting time.  While touring with three comedy clubs, being involved in various acting projects and raising five children, she is working on her new monologue, Hungover Under the Burqa.

"It's actually about Swedish women," Zinat explained.  "They talk a lot about equality between men and women here in Sweden.  But when it comes to in-depth life issues, there's not really that much difference between the lives of women in the West or women in Iran.  I use my comedy to talk about these issues."

And as much as she loves performing in Sweden, Zinat often thinks about the possibility of a different audience.

"I really hope to one day perform stand-up in Iran," said Zinat.

It's clear that laughter has not only had an impact on Zinat's wide audience, but also on her own life.  Her comedy has helped her find new roads to take and avoid the dead ends.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid