Mansheil Shah: Standup comedy is an unabashedly honest look at what it’s like being me, a woman in a foreign country

Meet @mansheil™, one of the eight judges of our first @CNNWomenStream. Tune in!

I’m a digital content professional, educator, radio producer, comedian, mother, wife, author, and #ObedientBoycott. I’m also a proud first generation American from the Queens neighborhood of Corona.

I have close to 200K followers on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and Youtube. In fact, I’m amongst the top five accounts in five different languages. My videos and standup comedy are viewed more than half a million times each month, and I’ve won several awards, including #FemaleComedian of the Year & #People’s Choice (in 2017), and appeared in the UK, USA, UAE, Sweden, India, and Australia.

My award-winning standup comedy debuted the same year our soldiers invaded Afghanistan. I was so young at the time, I’m sure I was more interested in seeing a Super Mario Bros. video game (you’re welcome). Now, I’m thrilled to be a part of Women in the World and for CNN to recognize me as a contributor. It means so much to me, especially as a proud American of Afghan descent.

To understand how my standup comedy helped me lose my virginity to my husband, it’s important to go back a few years before I found out I was pregnant. I’d been going to a comedy club in the city every weekend, laughing my heart out and making lots of new friends. My greatest fear was telling my parents we were dating (we’d met at college, a first date in summer). So when I was pregnant with my first son, I scheduled a visit to the comedy club for our anniversary. I remember thinking, “I’m so f*cking pissed I haven’t told my parents yet!” It took me that whole weekend to figure out the best way to broach the subject and the very first time I did, I was like, “Mom, Dad, I swear I will never, ever tell you this…and I mean that with all my heart!” It was like a light bulb went off! We both burst into laughter and had this really special night together, where it felt like we finally came to an agreement about how I was going to handle things from now on.

Now, I feel super lucky to be able to use my comedy to help raise awareness about our issues in Afghanistan. I once heard a really important quote that sums it up. It said, “The number one reason for the collapse of a nation is the unwillingness of the leadership to get things right the first time.”

My standup is an unabashedly honest look at what it’s like being me, a woman in a foreign country. In my #ObedientBoycott videos, I’ve painted a devastatingly ugly picture of life as a woman in Afghanistan and asked the audience to do the same. I know it can be hard for most of us to get angry about something while trying to feed our families, but the cycle of oppression continues because the first thing the powerful do is resist. I urge everyone, to educate ourselves about our issues so we can move away from them. You can stand up by calling your representatives and support organizations like Women for Afghan Women.

My standup comedy and call to action have raised $60,000 for Women for Afghan Women and a group of Afghan women who are using the proceeds to change their lives. It took a village to fix this problem; I hope my standup makes a difference by breaking down the walls of women’s privilege in Afghanistan and shining a light on our atrocities.

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