Zainab Johnson: Hijabs Off Review – Baby voices and big laughs

By Romey Norton
Published: October 24, 2023 (Last updated: November 16, 2023)
Zainab Johnson takes to the stage for her debut stand-up special, Hijabs Off.
Pictured: Zainab Johnson in her stand-up comedy special, Hijabs Off.


Zainab Johnson’s debut stand-up comedy special is a stylish, sassy surprise. Everything is covered, uncovered, and uncensored. 

If you haven’t heard of Zainab Johnson already, well you’re in for a treat. The comedian, writer, and actor is known for telling stories about dating, being a Black Muslim in America, and her enormous family (12 siblings, where most people can barely cope with just one.) Johnson is already in the third season of the Prime Video sci-fi comedy series Upload, but she’s also gracing the platform with her debut stand-up comedy special, Hijabs Off.

Like so many aspiring comics, Zainab began her career doing open mics several nights a week, which she covers in this special. Johnson had a big break in 2014 when Wanda Sykes and her producing partner Page Hurwitz invited Johnson to compete in the NBC series Last Comic Standing.

Johnson’s debut hour flies by with her stories about her family, and friends, her identity as a Black, female Muslim living in America, growing up in Harlem, and more. 

Zainab Johnson: Hijabs off review and plot summary

In walks Zainab, to a loudly cheering, quite intimate crowd, with a bold, beautiful outfit and a big smile. The location is a striking one for a comedy special, what looks like an underground vault, like the ones at Waterloo. Zainab makes a joke that it’s like a set from the series 24. Her set is in the round, where she has to actively move and engage with the audience which makes a dramatic change from the classic theatre stage. 

The shots of the audience constantly engaging and laughing are comforting to see. However, this then takes the focus away from Zainab, and we sometimes miss her facial expressions when she’s telling a story. Also, with the camera keeping up with her movements, sometimes the punchline is said and we’re looking at the back of her head. There were just a few times it felt like the viewers couldn’t engage with her as they would at a live show — and a comedy special should make you believe this. 

What works about Johnson’s style of comedy is how she can be silly, and then hit you in the face with a punchline that’s impactful and poignant. It’s not all fun and games in this comedy special, there are some hard-hitting stories, but these are welcomed as they give you the chance to see the real hardships behind what has brought your performer to where they are now. It’s also a great tactic, to make your audience feel low so you can pick them back up, baby. 

Is Zainab Johnson: Hijabs off worth watching?

Zainab Johnson knows how to pull off a one-hour special in style. Entertaining throughout, her comedy is fresh, relatable, and undeniable. With jokes from how her name is pronounced (feel you, girl), her family, her dating life, and much more, there is something for everyone.

Johnson’s storytelling style, mixed with quick one-off punchline jokes is a healthy mix and has a smooth flow. The show doesn’t feel over-rehearsed, or scripted from joke to joke, but as if you’re having an evening with your funny friend who’s got all the best stories.

What did you think of Zainab Johnson: Hijabs off? Comment below.


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