Yamina Khouane: Finding Yourself Playing Somebody Else

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Photo Credit Bonica Ayala
Interviewer Valerie Lopez
Article Richard Goodwin

 

We’re blessed at Comedy Wham to have performers come to speak with us, carrying credit lists a mile (or two) long. Today’s guest is no exception, but she brings us something else we also love: a “first”. In this case, Yamina Khouane graced us as our first “Best Actress” award winner, having taken the title in the Austin Chronicle’s 2018 season.

 

Khouane, a Valley girl of the South Texas variety, is of course much more. Trained in the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York, and star, host, and co-host of multiple well-known creations, she’s wasted no time making her name in comedy. It was something that came to her in early school days, where she says: “I was very much shamed for being interested in bettering myself academically; I used comedy as a way to fit in and melt into the crowd.” Khouane, speaking with Valerie Lopez, has the kind of diction, memory, and improvisational ability that leaves no doubt about the dual personas she learned early to marry. 

Comedy Sports was new to me, but this improv team-on-team concept is a key beginning in Khouane’s memory as well. “I think a lot of improvisers sneer at short form,” she says, of the informal contest’s format, but readily states “I love doing short form; it’s how I got started doing comedy…conveying ideas without saying your words.” In building the ability to deliver these characters rapid-fire, she had to learn to approach performing in a new way. “I stopped worrying about being funny, and…focused on just being present. It changed everything for me in my life.” It was, as Valerie notes, a profound change, and one many of us could learn from. 

“I love doing short form; it’s how I got started doing comedy…conveying ideas without saying your words.”
Yamina Khouane

With lofty dreams of institutions like Julliard in mind, Khouane opted to make the fiscally conservative choice, moving to Austin and attending The University of Texas for a theater degree. After graduating, she split her hours between working at a movie theatre and improv at the now Fallout Theater, it took only about a year and a half before she decided to move with a roommate to New York City. And if you’re in the NY improv scene, there’s no higher pinnacle to reach for than the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, and that’s where she soon found herself taking classes at the famed school. 

It was a striking difference for Khouane. “The [Austin improv scene] fostered togetherness…there was a lot of pride at being a local scene,” she recalls, whereas the UCB scene “felt like a step…you could see the hunger in people’s eyes.” After a time of feeling the unfamiliar grind, her motivation sank and a decision was in the making. Seeking a return to herself, and becoming the “performer [she] wanted to be”, a return to Austin soon seemed like the natural choice. (Recent guest Ron Lechler called his own return to Austin a bit of a “detox”, a sentiment Khouane agrees with.)

“The [Austin improv scene] fostered togetherness…there was a lot of pride at being a local scene”
Yamina Khouane

Since Khouane has been back, she’s definitely found her stride. She’s been a member of not one but two B. Iden Payne award winning groups, Latinauts and the always-packed Fuck this Week (every Monday at The Fallout Theater). Week asks audiences for a recent less-than-ideal experience, big or small, which the show transforms from a past crisis into a cathartic experience. “It takes so much to…throw yourselves on stage…not know…how the audience is going to react. We could have [the audience] tell us something really triggering or intense,” she admits, and believes the transformations they achieve are a testament to the power of improv that even skeptics should see. 

Khouane’s return also resulted in a reunion with the Latina Comedy Project (which featured previous guest and friend of Khouane, Vanessa Gonzalez), and creating an unforgettable rap duo with Gonzalez under the moniker Glorias. Glorias released several videos including the fantastic “I Don’t Have a Dad”. She continues to perform as a member of the long-running Coldtowne improv groups SheSheSheShe and Outside Job. The continued exposure and confidence led to branching out into local plays, which she hints may be the source of that Best Actress award we mentioned. It’s quite a different experience, because–even though she says “I don’t feel like I’m acting when I’m doing improv…[in acting] you find yourself moving in a space that isn’t yours,” living in the confines of a carefully constructed story with innumerable moving parts.

““I don’t feel like I’m acting when I’m doing improv…[in acting] you find yourself moving in a space that isn’t yours,”
Yamina Khouane

The muscles involved are ones that Khouane wants to continue to build and flex: “I would love to take a script and immediately fall into the world I’m reading…understand what it’s going to take.” In the same vein, she hopes to write long-form pieces of her own, and take other performers through the worlds she creates. 

Khouane is clearly on her game, and with shows like SheSheSheShe and Fuck This Week playing at the upcoming Out of Bounds Comedy festival, and her group Prima Doñas playing every third Friday at Coldtowne Theater, you have zero excuses to get out and see her work. And it’s not just her own work she wants you to see, as she notes you should check out Latinauts member Laura De La Fuente’s solo sketch show Liz Behan: One Woman at Dusk also at Coldtowne (check theater for dates and times). 

With this kind of momentum, and that kind of giving and centered spirit, we hope that Khouane continues to call Austin home for quite some time, but wherever she goes, we’re looking forward to the worlds she’ll create.

Catch Yamina Khouane at one of these many upcoming opportunities:

  • Fuck This Week – Mondays @ 8pm at Fallout Theater (follow @fuckthisweek)
  • Prima Doñas – Every 3rd Friday at Coldtowne Theater
  • Out of Bounds Comedy Festival, SheSheSheShe and Fuck This Week
  • The short play Double Tap with Vivian Meyers, written and directed by Franny Harold and Mase Kerwick, the first three Fridays in September at Fallout Theater.

And catch Laura de la Fuente perform at Coldtowne Theater as Liz Behan: One Woman at Dusk on Saturdays @ 7pm through September 21!

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Yamina Khouane

Valerie Lopez

Richard Goodwin

Comedy Wham

 

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