Nadia Manzoor and Radhika Vaz are changing the game of comedy on a whole new level. Taking the young, white, hipster shows that we all know and love so much, and contributing another with a new shade of hilarious is just what “new-Brooklyn” centric television (or web-vision) needed. In their web series Shugs and Fats, we are given a glimpse into the everyday life of roommates Shugufta (Shugs) and Fatima (Fats) as they propel through their days dipping their hands in the progressive, snake person lifestyle while simultaneously having influence from their traditional upbringing. Though neither women are practicing muslims in real life, the two characters wear hijabs in the show, revolutionizing the way people look at muslim women and the assumption of how they live their lives.
After a glorious win at the Gotham Independent Film Awards this past November, Manzoor and Vaz have overtaken prestigious ground. They recently premiered season 3 of Shugs and Fats last week at part of Tribeca Film Festival’s Tribeca N.O.W. You can watch all hilarious episodes at their site here.
When “Shugs and Fats” was first conceptualized, how did you expect the response to look?
Nad: I didn’t have any expectations of how it was going to be received. I knew that I loved the characters and the idea, and that was enough to make it and move forward. Of course, I did think that if I think it’s this funny, then other people would also enjoy the content – but never I expected this!
Rad: And that is how it always is no matter what I am working on. The projects I least expect to work out will pop and then on the other hand when I think ‘oh we have a big name collaborator – this will make waves’ and then it never does!
What is most symbolic about this new representation of Muslim women in New York?
Nad: The fact that it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world! I think that’s one of the reasons we were drawn to creating this. Because of the exiting stereotypes about women – that are mostly still determined by how a woman looks. We wanted to flip that, and show that regardless of appearance women are complicated, and nuanced, AND funny! Also I think the hijabs appearing in Brooklyn is looking at exploring the immigrant experience, and how we try and reconcile our cultures and traditions with the new climate in which we live.
Rad: I agree with Nadia. Obviously! I haven’t seen this type of content anywhere else yet I see women in Hijab all over New York so why aren’t they on screen?
Have you received backlash for this bold yet awesome project?
Nad: Not really. For the most part people love it. We do have people asking why we [play] the characters in hijabs, and if our intention is to mock – which it is absolutely to NOT Do. But yes, we have definitely been in some intense conversations about the intention around this series, and we think about it all.
Rad: No, I think for the most part we have found an audience that is smart and appreciates the humor…although I don’t doubt that as the show gets more of a viewership we will encounter lots of different points of view that will not necessarily agree with our own – but that’s also partly the point of doing work like this – to allow different opinions to surface.
What important message within the slapstick do you want people to truly understand when they watch Shugs and Fats?
Nad: Simply, that they are 2 women, who are struggling with issues that all woman face. Whether it’s the struggle of being empowered in one’s sexuality, or finding self-acceptance – they are all the same issues that we deal with as humans. In spite of Shugs and Fats’ difference, their friendship is what allows them to grow and get stronger, and that’s a big part of the message. Female unity and friendship.
Rad: That you should never judge a book by its cover. Women, more than men, are subjected to that no matter who you are or what job you do. Hillary Clinton may be our next President, why do we care if she wears make-up or not? Its like when it comes to women we are always doing a one step forward two steps back kind of dance!
After winning the Gotham Independent Film Award, what other goals have you set for Shugs and Fats as it becomes more widely known?
Nad: We just launched season 3 on our YouTube channel, and we screened some episodes at the Tribeca Film festival – which was a total hoot. Currently, we are working on a pilot for the long form TV show. We are going to start pitching very soon, so are excited about that!
Rad: We are working on expanding the scope of our work and the first step is our work on a pilot episode for a TV show length series. I also think a movie – like an action-comedy type thing would be a great idea for these two characters. I would love for Melissa McCarthy to be in it with us!
Who are some other talented female comedians around the world that you think everyone should know about?
Nad: Ilana Glazer and Abby Jacobson are killing it, in terms of self-created female driven comedy. I also love what Samantha Bee is doing, taking the female perspective on the late night show is one thing the world needs right now.
Rad: Jessie Kahnweiler who writes a show called The Skinny on Refinery 29 is amazing. On so many levels. I can’t get enough of her level of honesty and commitment to the cause. She is like Lena Dunham but harder!
Do you envision the work of another writer/producer/actor when you create new episodes of Shugs and Fats? If so, who? What about them and their work do you think correlates with your own work?
Nad: In terms of character work, I am definitely inspired by Ali G, and in terms of looking at the female perspective, all female comedy right now is inspiring to me.
Rad: AbFab, Broad City, even Golden Girls are all inspiring! Anything about female friendship really because that is so central to the themes we look at. As far as being out there and edgy go I think Ali G is a great model. We do live interviews and the outcome of those interviews are so like what would happen on his show!
Do you have any other shows or projects in production?
Rad: I am also in the process of promoting my book ‘Unladylike, A Memoir’.
Written by Annie Paul