Award-winning comedian, artist and author Alia Ceniza Rasul understands the power of comedy, particularly as a form of therapy. Through her hilarious solo show Moro Girl, which is currently running at the 2022 Toronto Fringe Festival at the Tarragon Solo Room, Alia spotlights her journey as a Muslim Filipina immigrating and settling in Canada.
“Moro” refers to the Muslim population of the Philippines. Moro Girl delves into Alia’s story of growing up in a half-Muslim, half-Christian household. Recently, I had the privilege of chatting with Alia about what inspired her to create this show, what audiences can expect, how she pushes beyond mere Filipino representation and more.
This interview is condensed for length and clarity.
Melody McCune: We at GGA love a good origin story. What’s Alia Ceniza Rasul’s origin story?
Alia Ceniza Rasul: I’m a shy person. I started taking improv classes to eliminate my fear of public speaking. I enjoyed my first class because it was an opportunity to be silly. I’d graduated at that point, and I was working on my career, living that corporate life. To me, playing and being silly weren’t important. The only reason I sought it out was for professional development. It unlocked something. I’m like, “Oh, we can have fun this way.”
So, I kept taking classes. I got into the Conservatory Program at The Second City in Toronto. From there, I fell in love with writing comedy.
MM: Let’s talk about Moro Girl. Can you tell me what it’s about and what inspired you to create it?
ACR: Moro Girl is a storytelling show where I share stories from when I was growing up. I grew up with a dad who is Muslim and a mom who is Christian. We’re all Filipino. As a child, you don’t realize how your experience is compared to everyone else’s. Looking back, it’s a lot of interesting things, especially when those identities get in the way of each other.
This is me telling stories, reflecting on how sometimes fun and confusing it was and how that shaped me into who I am now. We delve into a lot of history on who the Moro people are, which is ultimately my main goal of this project — that people will ask what the word “Moro” means.
MM: That leads to my next question. What do you hope folks glean from this show?
ACR: There are three things I hope people are curious about. Number one is that they know Moro people exist and who we are. Two is doing more to learn about your family’s story. Making a practice out of it. Number three is realizing we deserve more than the representation we’re getting in the stories we see every day.
Life is cooler than that. The world is diverse and amazing. I hope this show stokes people’s curiosity about how strange and wonderful the world is.
MM: An important point for you is showcasing the diverse identities within the Filipino community and highlighting the importance of not lumping cultures into one stereotype. Can you expand on that goal and how Moro Girl explores the nuances of the Filipino community?
ACR: The topic of revision of history keeps coming up. Once you pay attention to who writes history, it’s like history’s written by the victors. It’s interesting to think about what actually happened. Once we know the full story, that is what will prep us and the generations following us to move forward into the future in a better way.
Ultimately, that is the key — that we know the whole story. As people start telling their stories and celebrating their differences, we’ll have a better idea of the picture, as opposed to what is convenient to the people in power.
MM: What can audiences expect from Moro Girl?
ACR: A lot of silliness. I feature my parents. I find with solo shows that people expect vulnerability. However, I don’t think there’s enough therapy in the world to wait for folks to process their feelings before they can start telling their stories. This is why I’ve taken the comedy approach. It gives me a bit of distance, and it’s more fun.
MM: Do you have a fun story you can tease from the show?
ACR: My dad loves karaoke. His favorite song to sing is Hoobastank’s “The Reason.” He loves karaoke so much that he hired a classically-trained vocalist so that he could get better at karaoke. He also hired a classically-trained vocalist so I could get better at karaoke. Then, when I got better at karaoke than him, he resented it. I always end that story with, “My dad is a Gemini.”
MM: That is a very Gemini trait.
ACR: He says, “I’m a Gemini.”
MM: Do you have advice for aspiring creatives looking to break into the industry?
ACR: Ambition is important, but find time to play and remind yourself that you do this because it’s fun and nourishes you. Make sure you have that balance and space to play.
MM: What else is on the horizon for you, career-wise?
ACR: I accepted a role as the artistic director at Bad Dog Comedy Theatre.
ACR: Thank you. That’s where I’m at right now — the Bad Dog education space. I’m looking forward to diving into that after Fringe.
MM: Have you binge-watched anything interesting lately?
ACR: I love Selling Sunset. I have many questions about the characters. It’s easily binge-able. I’m like, “Wow, you’re so different than me. What is your life?”
MM: Name the top five comedians you’ve watched recently.
MM: Alia, thank you so much for chatting with me today! Congratulations on Moro Girl!
ACR: Thank you, Melody!