Dallas fest celebrates comics and culture with roots in the Middle East and South, Southeast Asia.

After doing stand-up for years in Chicago, Raza Jafri is based in Austin and tours nationwide. He’ll be performing Friday at the Kufiya Comedy Festival. Source: Raza Jafri

The Kufiya Comedy Festival grew out of a tiny salon whose owner turned it into a stand-up stage with some very diverse comedians. Now she’s adding food, films and live music.

The festival will present local comics such as Sheridi Lester, who’s opened for Jeff Ross, as well as touring talent like Kiki Young, who founded Crazy Woke Asians. It’ll offer short films, food, live music, dance and a marketplace inside the Apprentice Creative Space in Oak Cliff, 919 Morrell Avenue.

Marena Riyad is the festival’s founder. A Palestinian American who wanted to be “a non-starving artist,” she opened an Oak Lawn salon, the Haus of Henna, last year. But performing was her real drive; she’d already been doing stand-up since 2018. The salon gave her a room and a stage.

But not just for her. Once a month, Riyad hosts a comic showcase. The comedians have not been solely Middle Eastern (sometimes she’s the only one on the bill who is). She’s presented Latino, Black and Asian comics as well as gay and nonbinary artists.

Her purpose, she says, is “to bring comedy and community together for under-represented people.” It also fuses the different halves of her own identity: When she was 10, her Palestinian family moved to East Texas: “We were the first Muslims who’d ever moved there.”

That’s why the Kufiya Festival is more than just a lineup of stand-ups. Every day, it’ll offer short films, food, live music, dance and a marketplace at Oak Cliff’s Urban Arts Center. Friday, the focus is on South Asian comics and material (Desi), Saturday is Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) and Sunday is Southeast Asian. People can attend via daytime passes, nighttime passes, all-day passes, even a three-day pass to the entire festival.

Kufiya Comedy Festival, May 10-12 at the Apprentice Creative Space, 919 Morrell Ave., Dallas. Tickets available online at eventbrite.