Work and Money
This Arab-American Comedian Brings Laughter and Culture Together
Alyssa Al-Dookhi (they/she) has a very important job: making you laugh. This Girl Scout alum can throw down a stand-up set, create a game show with nothing but an audience, or host a comedy festival online. For those looking for a bit of fun in the Philadelphia area, and now online, Al-Dookhi has a clear message: there’s definitely room for a 32-year-old, Kuwaiti-American comedian, and they’re only getting started.
Al-Dookhi’s mother grew up in the Middle East. Their father was from Kuwait, their mother was American, and both were teachers living abroad. They fell in love with performing arts at a young age while living in Kuwait. “Like Girl Scouts,” Al-Dookhi tells CircleAround, “the theater was a place where different types of people came together to work toward a common goal. I loved that team spirit and culture of lifting one another up to help the community.”
During the first Gulf War, their family was living in Oman. “I have some fuzzy memories of being there with my family, but mostly of my Big Bird big wheel and my favorite princess dress,” they say. It wasn’t until they went to Kalamazoo College in Michigan, however, that their passions and identity crossed paths.
“I majored in history, with a focus on gender and race. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the development of gender identity in Arab-American communities in the 20th Century.” This interest in their culture paved the way to their eventual career on stage.
They started doing stand-up in 2014, using comedy as a way to answer the same repeat-questions they were asked about being Arab: Where are you from? What is your ethnicity? What’s it like to be Arab in America? What is Kuwait like? Why don’t you have an accent? They’ve been able to turn these questions and their answers into a lively set that informs and entertains. Al-Dookhi often includes anecdotes from their childhood and personal identity into their acts. “I even wrote a rap about my life,” they tell CircleAround.
Al-Dookhi has opened for national headliners, such as Moshe Kasher and Hari Kondabolu, and got the chance to tell jokes to the audience in an episode of Queer Eye. But some of the more unique acts they've helped produce are game shows: Make Up or Break Up, a Newlywed-style game show where they and another host try to break the couples up; and Eat Your Beats!, a comedy food-themed rap-battle game show.
Before COVID-19 shuttered most of their usual spots, they were regularly performing in the Philadelphia area. “This past year was one of the most exciting yet,” they explain. “I got to travel all over the country making people laugh, I was asked to be a part of that episode of Queer Eye, and I wrote and starred in my first feature-length film project, Phriendsgiving.”
Al-Dookhi says they’ve found new challenges translating their work to a digital audience, but has been making it work. “I produced a benefit show called Devilish Grins for the bar that I work at, The Devil’s Den, which has now moved on to being a bi-weekly online show,” Al-Dookhi tells CircleAround. “The great thing about going digital is being able to work with comedians from all over the world. It is such a new format, and we are all learning how to do comedy when we can’t always see or hear the laughter we all crave.”
Al-Dookhi says you can support rising stars simply by following their social media channels. “Artists are showcasing their work for free until they can get paid for it,” they add. Following, commenting, and especially sharing content can help build awareness for your favorites. And, of course, if they have merch/albums/artwork, BUY IT!”
But at the heart of it, Al-Dookhi understands how important diversity in the comedy scene can be. “Seek out underrepresented voices in comedy,” they stress, “and engage with them, encourage them to succeed.” Without that, the world really isn’t as funny.