Registry Theatre investigates after Muslim comedian faces Islamophobic heckling

A Kitchener venue is investigating after a Toronto comedian endured Islamophobic heckling during her performance Wednesday night.

Three times during Nour Hadidi’s 45-minute set at Kitchener’s Registry Theatre the same man piped up from the audience. 

“The first time he heckled me, it was the beginning of the set and I just laughed it off. He said, ‘I have a joke about Muslims if you want to hear it,'”  Hadidi told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

For the first time ever, I cried on stage.– Nour Hadidi

Then in the last five minutes, she said he yelled from the crowed that he “didn’t like Muslims.”

“Comics want to end on a big laugh. I’m getting ready for my big closer, and all that material is about me being Muslim. And he just, I guess, couldn’t handle it, and he started shouting at me.”

The incident was so overwhelming she had to stop the set and address the man.

“I think a lot of comics experience heckling and I think a lot of Muslims experience hate, but when the two happen in person, that’s a rare occurrence and something that I was not expecting,” said Hadidi.

Over the seven years she’s been doing comedy, Hadidi said she’s developed skills to handle heckling on stage and hateful messages online but the two never collided before until Wednesday night.

“That’s why for the first time ever, I cried on stage and it was such a scary moment,” she said.

Nour Hadidi, writer from ‘This Hour Has 22 Minutes,’ on stage at the Good Robot, Jan 29, 2019. (Emma Wilkie)

Once it became evident the man had upset Hadidi, he left the theatre.

Sam Varteniuk, executive director of the Registry Theatre, said The Registry’s anti-harassment policy says that an individual is to be asked to leave in such situations.

“I know our front of house staff were preparing to intervene, but before that was necessary, the individual left,” Varteniuk told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

“The Registry needs to be a safe place, a welcoming place, where people can share stories and thoughts. It’s a place of coming together, it’s a place of understanding.” Varteniuk said. “And we’ve really struggled with that.”

He added the theatre “needs to be a place for everybody, but obviously we have to attach a caveat to that: it can’t be a place for people who make it an unwelcoming place for other people.”

Varteniuk said the man had been invited by a volunteer “as part of a program to make the theatre and what happens here more accessible,” and that he is trying to get in touch with the man involved.

Varteniuk said The Registry is also in the midst of preparing more training for staff and volunteers. 

A feeling of being ‘unwelcome’

Sarah Shafiq, with the Coalition of Muslim Women of KW and co-ordinator of the Islamophobia Project, said experiences like Hadidi’s can make a person feel like they are not welcome.

“That one experience really shakes you up,” she said.

“Particularly as a woman, you have a barrier genderly and culturally on a societal level. Then being an immigrant, a visible minority, then a Muslim and if you are a black Muslim, that’s another compounding factor.”

Hadidi said she knows most communities are not Islamophobic but she encourages people to stand up if they witness this kind of situation.

“It’s so much more powerful when it comes from someone who looks and sounds like them … versus me having to battle through tears on stage to explain to this man that Muslims are just like everyone else,” she said.