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Women in Focus

Why You Need to Start Watching the Brooklyn Version of Amy Poehler & Tina Fey, 'Shugs & Fats'

Emma Goddard
by Emma Goddard Published on March 10, 2015
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If you've seen two loud women dressed in hijabs roaming the streets of New York City recently, you were probably graced by the presence of the hilarious duo, Nadia Manzoor and Radhika Vaz. Better known by their stage names, "Shugs & Fats," the comedians have started their own web series on YouTube about two Muslim women exploring Western culture as residents of Brooklyn. The results are pure perfection.

After meeting through their coach Holly Mandel and Improvolution, an improv school in NYC, the two immediately knew they wanted to work together. Sharing a mutual respect for each other's work and that feeling of true connection, it didn't take long for Manzoor and Vaz to brainstorm the concept for their YouTube show.

"We were just dying to find a way to work together," Manzoor says. "Creating characters for the web was the perfect way for us to collaborate, and then using traditionally dressed women to talk about non-traditional issues is so aligned with who we are as people."

Making the mundane interesting by poking fun at things like jury duty and juice cleanses, examining feminist topics, and generally just being a barrel of laughs, Manzoor and Vaz are definitely the latest YouTube stars to watch.

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Combating Stereotypes Through Comedy

Manzoor and Vaz, who are of Pakistani and Indian descent respectively, know all too well the hardships that women from their cultures, as well as others across the globe, experience every day. Yet despite coming from backgrounds where women are often looked upon as inferior to men rather than their equals, both women challenge the stereotypes and prejudice by using humor as the ultimate platform.

Working closely with a small team, Manzoor and Vaz typically work on quite the deadline — about a week — since Vaz currently lives in India. Though viewers might find that their episodes are usually filmed within the confines of an apartment, the duo also navigates the streets of the city as well. Recently, "Shugs & Fats" collaborated with Moral Courage TV to create a brilliant video called "How to Spot a Feminist."

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Taking It to the Streets of NYC

"I grew up in a very strict Muslim environment, and so have a lot of thoughts and questions about certain traditions and customs and want to use comedy and art to explore them," Manzoor says. "People are really amused when they see us filming, and want to know all about it, and also people love the characters themselves and the chemistry that they share."

Vaz agrees, similarly noting the overwhelmingly positive feedback they received from most New Yorkers with the creation of "Shugs & Fats" (short for Shugufta and Fatima).

"At the end of the day it is simply about two friends who happen to be Hijabis," Vaz says. "My reason for coming up with the character was simply because I was horrified by the stereotypes of women in general and of women from cultures like mine in particular. As an actor and comedian I enjoy sinking into a character that is so different from who I am yet someone I could have easily been."

Strolling through the city, the duo stopped numerous passers-by, asking them questions like "Do you think Kim Kardashian is a feminist?" "Do we look like feminists?" and "Can you know what someone believes by looking at them?" Although Vaz says she wasn't that surprised by the fact that one woman said she didn't look like a feminist based on what she was wearing (her hijab and jellabiya), she was shocked when an Iranian man claimed that they "should dress like a human being," so not to stand out in America.

Unsurprisingly, it's moments like these (and of course their love for comedy) that have inspired both Manzoor and Vaz to continue on this journey, to educate both men and women about feminism, as simple as the concept might seem.

"If every man in every part of the world just supported [women] things would be different," Vaz says.

Feminism with a Twist

​​Additionally, Manzoor and Vaz hope that with their work, women who claim not to be feminists learn the true meaning behind the word and the movement.

"We are both feminists and talk about this stuff all the time, and use feminist themes in our work, so it was really an extension of that intention," Manzoor says. "I think we have a long way to go in understanding the pervasive objectification of women."

Likewise, the two friends feel that more women need to be educated about the word "feminism" as it seems to carry a negative connotation with it nowadays, with some women shying away from the label.

"I think either that they are ill-informed about what feminism is or that they are in denial," Manzoor says. "I don't think you can care about humanity and not be a feminist. I think if people actually understood what it is, they wouldn't be against the notion. The word has become stigmatized in a negative or extreme way, and so some people are running away from it."

They're Just Getting Started

Despite the critics they come across from time to time, Manzoor and Vaz are more than ready to further explore the traditions of the Western world as Shugs and Fats. With the first season already on YouTube, the team will release Season 2 on April 13. Season 3, already in the works, will begin in June, according to Manzoor. Additionally, the team will once again collaborate with Moral Courage TV, releasing a video on March 23.

Basically, these ladies are on fire, and if you want a good laugh every week, you know who to turn to.

Who are your favorite female comedians? Tweet us @wewomenUSA!

This article was written by Emma Goddard. Follow her on Twitter @egoddardhokie.

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