Are Aliens Already Here?

Look up at the stars tonight. Those twinkling diamonds are several thousand light-years away. Our planet is just a grain of sand on a virtually endless beach, a small dot in a gigantic galaxy. Is it the only dot with life on it? That’s a question humankind has been asking ever since we started to understand the basics of astronomy thousands of years ago. Now, we’re closer than ever to finding the answer, as an unprecedented crush of ultrapowerful telescopes and interplanetary missions try to trace where else life might possibly exist. Today’s Daily Dose travels to the far reaches of the universe on that search, taking you through the latest breakthroughs and the people behind them. Curious? You should be.

come out, come out wherever you are

Age-Old Search

Some 2,500 years ago, two Greek philosophers looked to the sky and wondered if humans were alone in the universe. Today, many scientists believe the question is a no-brainer. For decades, one of the fundamental laws of physics formed the basis of our understanding of life on Earth. The law of increasing entropy insists that energy tends to dissipate instead of coming together: pour ink in water and watch it diffuse. If that’s true for the universe, then the sublime marriage of millions of cells and molecules for the creation of life on Earth could be a low-probability fluke that needn’t repeat itself. But some researchers now believe that the existence of extraterrestrial life doesn’t necessarily violate that basic law: In fact, they argue, it could be what drives the creation of living beings.

Count the Stars

And then there’s simple math to consider. There are billions of galaxies in the universe, each one home to tens of billions of stars circled by at least a planet each. See where I’m going? From the first astronomer eager to catch audio signals using radio in the early 1900s to the rovers currently exploring Mars, our fascination with outer space has always in part had to do with the hunt for potential neighbors beyond our planet. Sophisticated new tools, including the soon-to-be-deployed largest telescope in history, are capable of exploring the atmosphere of planets trillions of miles away, potentially bringing us within reach of an answer.

Move Over, Mars

While Mars has long been the poster child for out-of-Earth exploration, (it is, after all, the most similar to Earth in many ways), scientists are expanding their horizons. In fact, researchers at Washington State University have already identified more than 20 planets outside our solar system that could sustain life even better than Earth (don’t pack your bags just yet though; they are all more than 100 light-years away). Meanwhile, even as it waits for a robotic rover to deliver Martian samples by the end of the decade, NASA wants to explore one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa. The agency is planning to send a mission to probe Europa’s frozen oceans and volcanoes as early as 2024. Another moon catching everyone’s attention is Titan, Saturn’s largest, where a mission will be launched to analyze liquid methane lakes in 2027.

Not So Fast

But some scientists are urging caution, saying the broadly accepted global guidelines on how to respond to a potential alien encounter are not enough. Physicist Mark Buchanan worries that these new civilizations could be more advanced and powerful than ours. “Most stars in our galaxy are much older than the sun. If civilizations arise fairly frequently on some planets, then there ought to be many civilizations in our galaxy millions of years more advanced than our own,” he wrote in The Washington Post in June. On the opposite side is a slightly more eerie argument: If these super smart aliens wanted to kill us all, they would have already done it.

Wait, Are They Already Here?

What if we’re the aliens on Earth? While a recently declassified report on alleged UFO sightings by U.S. navy pilots raised more questions than it provided answers, some prominent scientists have been positing a much more interesting theory: that life on Earth could have actually originated on Mars, making us, well, Martians. How? Life forms when planets cool down and liquid water eventually emerges. Evidence is increasingly pointing to the fact that Mars formed and cooled down before Earth, and that it had methane (an ingredient for the birth of life). Add that to the theory that various forms of life travel across the universe through asteroids and other debris, and you have a hypothesis more credible than distant sightings by pilots that could be explained in part by optical illusions.

Who Are the Aliens?

Scientists have recently discovered more than 2,000 stars from where Earth would be visible when it passed in front of the sun. That means that aliens with powerful telescopeson planets near those stars could actually be looking at us without visiting us on UFOs. The good news? Hector Socas-Navarro, an astrophysicist at the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands, says that if there’s life out there, we currently have a good chance of finding it. “The new large telescopes will allow us to scrutinize the chemical composition of many exoplanet atmospheres,” he tells OZY. “With those tools, we could find life elsewhere within the next 10 to 20 years.”

how are we finding them?

alien-ufo-sat

Telescopes

From the moment Galileo Galilei, one of modern astronomy’s founding fathers, pointed his telescope upward in the 1600s, the instrument has been central to our understanding of the universe. It helped early scientists study the surface of our moon and discover Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons. Since then, telescopes have evolved in ways the Italian astronomer probably never dreamed of. In 1931, American engineer Karl Jansky’s giant rotating antennas detected the first radio signal from the center of the Milky Way. And more than seven decades later, NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope identified thousands of planets that orbit around stars other than the sun between 2009 and 2018.

Best Bet

While China and the European Space Agency — apart from America — are investing in new rovers to explore Mars’ surface, modern versions of the telescope represent our best shot at discovering the truth about possible extraterrestrial life. China recently unveiled one of the largest single dish observatories in the world, so sensitive that it can detect anything from dead stars to hydrogen in distant galaxies. Meanwhile, NASA is preparing to send up the James Webb Space Telescope this year. This $10 billion observatory will work from space, its state-of-the-art technology allowing it to look through the gas and dust that usually obscure the view for other telescopes.

The Future

Telescopes are poised to become ever more sophisticated, with the ability to provide better images of smaller planets located farther away. The Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile and the European Extremely Large Telescope (brownie points for original naming) are both due to be up and running by 2025. They promise to deliver images so sharp scientists might be able to identify the fine imprint that molecules leave in the atmospheres of other planets, tracking clues to the possibility of life. Another Harvard University-led project will search for possible technologies aliens might have discarded as junk. Meanwhile, other researchers are developing ultrafast light-driven nanocrafts, similar to the ones aliens could have, to launch toward Alpha Centauri, the star system closest to ours (about 25 trillion miles away) that could potentially harvest life. Why is it so important to search for life elsewhere? Astrophysicist Socas-Navarro tells OZY the answer is simple: “All the life that we know descends from one line. Biology has only one sample to work with in trying to understand life itself and how it originates. It’s like trying to study medicine in a world with only one person.”

the next galileos

Yuri Milner

Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson aren’t the only billionaires locked in a space race. Milner, an Israeli Russian businessman and one of the moneybags behind Facebook and Twitter, founded Breakthrough Initiatives in 2015 and has invested more than $200 million in the search for alien life on Jupiter, Saturn and in the clouds over Venus. The businessman, who was named after the Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human to venture into space, has always been interested in what is out there. “I think it is only appropriate that we, as a civilization, devote at least some resources to try and ask the biggest existential questions; for example, are we alone in the universe?” he told CTech. But his biggest strength might be his proximity to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who heads a state with one of the world’s most sophisticated space programs at its disposal.

Latinas in Nasa

Latinos represent just 7% of NASA’s workforce, though they constitute 18% of the U.S. population. For Hispanic women, making it to NASA can be as hard as getting to Jupiter. Mexican Ali Guarneros Luna is shattering that glass ceiling, remaking the space agency’s reputation for a new generation. Growing up in Mexico, she read about space missions in an encyclopedia — and was instantly hooked. Then, at the age of 12, she immigrated to California with her mother after an earthquake devastated her native Mexico City in 1985. After high school, she gave up on her college dreams to support her four children. After she finally went back to school and earned two degrees, a professor convinced her to try out for NASA. She now works as part of the Agency’s small satellite technology program, which develops new tools for space missions, and is a top safety expert at the agency. Shooting for the stars has paid off for her.

You

But you don’t need to be a space engineer to satiate your curiosity about possible alien life. All you need is a telescope and a ton of time. NASA is recruiting amateur astronomers keen to observe planets from outside our solar system as they pass in front of the sun. The idea is that mass observation will help build a body of data pointing to the time and frequency at which these planets travel near the sun, allowing more experienced astronomers to know when to point the larger telescopes.

in pop culture

Loien2

Fact or Fiction?

If they exist, what do aliens look like? Are they green and cute as in E.T., tall and skinny as in Signs, human-looking like Sally from 3rd Rock From the Sun or perhaps angry and gooey like in Aliens? For decades, popular culture has stepped in where science has been unable to answer questions. Some argue these stories reflect other social fears (think about the many reports of UFO sightings between 1952 and 1969 during the Cold War).

Mirror, Mirror

OK, that’s Hollywood. What do scientists say about the way aliens might actually look? That we should look at evolution, and keep an open mind. They argue that the way we humans look is pretty much a result of necessity (two eyes for wide vision, two ears for stereo audio, two legs to stand up and grab things from high up). Each species is different, based on their own evolutionary needs. So aliens can actually look completely different to us. Where we are going wrong is that we are only imagining beings similar to creatures on Earth.

Man on Mars

What if we could combine scientific research with the spectacle of films? A series of cool new documentaries does just that, exploring some of the questions NASA scientists are asking themselves and offering a front-row seat to their findings. Among them is Nat Geo’s Mars, a documentary-style fiction series that takes viewers on a trip over the next few decades as humans settle on Mars. Spoiler alert: It will take more than finding a new habitable planet to rid humanity of its problems.

18 Comics of Tomorrow

A smile, wry and lopsided, grows into a chuckle — which then escalates to a cackle most improper. It then simmers, bubbles and explodes into gut-churning, rib-tickling guffaws that can only end one way — with you clutching your sides, begging for (no) more.

Enjoyed fully, a diverse, global ensemble of comedians can feel a lot like the buildup to a crescendo in a symphony orchestra. And if punch-drunk punchlines are music to your ears, we bring you an 18-comic lineup that will leave you ROFLing, LMAOing and in stitches. Brash, sassy, punny, political, goofy, sarcastic — or the rare master of all things comedy — these rare talents from around the globe are certainly worth . . . humoring.

crack (up) culture

Mama Does Preach

Lagos-based comedian Chukwudike Akuwudike didn’t have to stray far to dream up his comedy skit. He did what every mom-fearing grown-up living under the reign of a feisty matron does: turn to his mother for inspiration for the character of Mama Chinedu. It turns out that a cheeky, butt-whooping, strict mama has helped the goofball, who goes by the moniker IamDikeh, find global resonance, even if the character’s quirks are taken from local culture and life. Scoring on his animated performances in Nigerian women’s garb, the former soccer player and now jig-worthy musician boasts 450,000 fans on Instagram. For company is younger brother SpecialNedu, who finds himself almost always at the receiving end of Mama Chinedu’s resounding smacks.

Jo-Koy

Reality Bites . . . and Laughs

Filipino American Jo Koy’s sketches are deeply personal, grounded in his experiences navigating a predominantly white cultural milieu with his mixed-race identity. His sardonic humor, laced with squirm-inducing appeal (“Thank you military: If it wasn’t for the army, there wouldn’t be mixed race babies”), has found a large following. With three Netflix specials and a memoir to his name, the 50-year-old, who grew up Joseph Glenn Herbert in Tacoma, Washington, has come a long way. But he has also stayed grounded. His material takes from a childhood racked by confusions around race, an absent father (with whom he’s since reconciled) and a brother suffering from schizophrenia. It also dips into the indignation of token comedy club “ethnic night” spots in the early 2000s. On stage, his struggles translate into head-shaking humor.

Girl Just Wanna Smash Stereotypes

As a legal eagle who turned to comedy to find her wings, Faiza Saleem was a nonconformist from the get-go. But that is to say nothing of her role as a galvanizer of female comedy in Pakistan. Saleem has fueled the rise of women on Pakistan’s comedy circuit by organizing ladies’ nights, rip-roaring events “by women, for women,” and dabbling in celebrity roast shows and TEDx events. “Comedy is, undoubtedly, a male dominated field, not just in Pakistan but the world over. Making fun of women is an easy way to get a laugh, sadly. . . . I’m glad that’s changing slowly but surely,” the founder of Pakistan’s all-women improv troupe, The Khawatoons, said in a 2018 interview. OZY profiled Saleem and The Khawatoons in 2017. Since then, the actor and comedian has drawn audiences with her gibes at patriarchy and customs rooted in gender stereotypes and body-shaming. The 31-year-old will put you in your place sooner than you can forward that wife joke on WhatsApp.

Ready, Set, Offend

“How can he be so average, yet so full of confidence?” mock-puzzled 29-year-old Yang Li in a stand-up performance last year. It led to the emergence of a catchphrase — “average-yet-confident” — used by Chinese women underwhelmed by testosterone, privilege and mansplaining. Unsurprisingly, Yang, who shot to fame in the television show Rock & Roast, has been accused of “gender opposition” on Chinese microblogging site Weibo. Men’s rights activists have voiced their displeasure at her for cracking down on (read: cracking jokes at) gender and sexism. Yang is not necessarily out to offend. She will, however, not be stopped from joking about “anything that is seen as inappropriate to be talked about by women, such as feces, urine and farts” — a conscious attempt to push her audience’s comfort level. Although gentler than Katherine Ryan’s take (read more below) on society’s double standards around single moms versus single dads, Yang’s barbs are unique for their radical message given China’s repressive cultural environment.

pain to power

Sabrina-Jalees

Melting Pot of Mwahahas

Realizing that she could be a “lesbian Ray Romano” is exactly the kind of quirk you can expect from Sabrina Jalees. And it’s not too extreme a comparison. Born in Toronto, the L.A.-based queer comedian draws her lines from a pool of private memories — much like the Everybody Loves Raymond star. As a half-Pakistani, half-Swiss lesbian raising a child with her wife, Jalees knows all about the minority existence. Multiple minority existences. But with a talent for dazzling stand-up performances and writing for diversity-rich shows like Netflix’s Big Mouth, Jalees has turned her intersectional experiences into comedic gold. What started as a desire to rein in post-9/11 Islamophobia has evolved into a frank relationship with her audience. The rule of thumb: No amount of sharing is oversharing — whether it’s posting photos of son “Wolfie” on Instagram or wisecracking about who’s the daddy in the couple.

Palsy Packs a Punch

As she steps onstage, it’s obvious Rosie Jones is unique. Jones informs her audience that she has ataxic cerebral palsy, which affects her movement and speech. True to the singular nature of her comedy, she uses her hurdles to run smooth sets, crafting breezy one-liners along the way. The 31-year-old’s push for greater representation for disabled people in society led her to stand-up comedy and later a television career. Earlier this year, Jones starred in Channel 4’s four-episode Trip Hazard: My Great British Adventure. Her working title for the show was “A Great British, Female, Gay, Disabled, COVID-Compliant Adventure.” It didn’t quite stick. The same cannot be said for her humor.

Don’t Cry for Me, America

Tig Notaro became one of America’s favorite comedians after her brazen 2012 stand-up routine titled I Have Cancer. The show came just days after her breast cancer diagnosis, and everyone fell in love with her heart-on-her-sleeve manner of dealing with the situation. A double mastectomy and a life-threatening intestinal infection later, Notaro’s ability to turn painful situations into laughable onstage anecdotes with almost deadpan perfection has held her in great stead. The 50-year-old now has four comedy specials to her credit. The most recent HBO special, Tig Notaro: Drawn, sees her taking on an animated role. In the cartoon gig, she pokes fun at everyday occurrences, as her character wonders how life would be if she met pop icons in sundry situations.

An Iranian American Walks Into a Bar

In the wake of 9/11, many comedians from minority backgrounds took to the stage to relay stories of discrimination. Many shied away from politics entirely. But not Maz Jobrani. The Tehran-born comic took the opportunity to educate the world about his culture through laughter. In 2005, Jobrani joined the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour — a name derived from then-President George W. Bush’s infamous 2002 speech — and set off on a mission to create levity using a colorful gamut of cultural and political experiences. Topics such as relations between Middle Eastern countries, how someone’s political alliance is revealed by the number of kisses they offer at hello, or how Jobrani’s kept on his toes by his Indian father-in-law and “Guatemalan” son all make it into the comedian’s repertoire.

Watch Maz Jobrani at OZY Fest 2021

political chuckles

Race You to the Stage

A comic who’s up-front about his sociopolitical qualms, Loyiso Gola lays into the mic to make his point, but subtly. From jokes about apartheid to understated British racism, Gola is now poised to become one of the most successful African comedians since fellow South African Trevor Noah. Gola calls out racism with a wide smile and a chuckle in his Netflix special, Unlearning, the streaming platform’s first African comedy special. Whether drawing from experiences of being stopped from swimming at a whites-only beach or as the only Black person at a party, Gola’s humor elicits mild shock, peals of laughter and every un-PC emotion in between.

No Laughing Matter. Or Is It?

Well-known across the Spanish-speaking world, Colombian comic Santiago Rivas’ political satire is held in high esteem. While he may not fall into a particular comic style, his forte is targeting politicians vis-à-vis pranks, sketches, skits and other forms of comedy. With the (now off-air) television show Los Puros Criollos, referring to Latin Americans of mostly Spanish descent, and his follow-up YouTube show, Incorregibles, Rivas expresses his political dissent on the small screen. At the core of his message is the need to hold governments accountable. For Rivas, satire and tongue-in-cheek performances are the way to go.

A Heart for Change

Unlike those who go the stand-up route for fun and fame, Bassem Youssef took up comedy in 2011 as a way to highlight the massive challenges facing Egypt. At the height of the Arab Spring, Youssef ditched his career as a heart surgeon to dabble in political satire, and his TV show Al Bernameg became the most popular in the country. Dubbed the “Jon Stewart of Egypt,” Youssef drew attention to the range of problems his country faced amid political unrest, even inviting the actual Jon Stewart to be a guest on his show. His approach poked fun at conservatives and liberals alike. Youssef was eventually forced to flee Egypt for the U.S. in 2014 after mocking then-presidential candidate and now head of state Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In America, he continues to work as a stand-up comic, author and podcaster.

Defined by Haha-bilities

When Maysoon Zayid walks onstage, she promptly addresses the circumstances that make her a “sit-down” stand-up comedian. Zayid has cerebral palsy, which means she performs while seated. She frequently opens the conversation with a little self-deprecating humor, joking that she is a bit like Shakira and a bit like Muhammad Ali. Born to Palestinian parents, Zayid also makes it clear that she is quite possibly the queen of the dispossessed as a Palestinian, Muslim female with palsy . . . who lives in New Jersey. Her quick wit couples with sharp punchlines as she invites audiences into her world, allowing them to imagine that they are living her life. Zayid’s journey into the limelight started with her wanting to be an actor just so Hollywood could cast actual disabled people in roles for disabled characters. But jaded by the lack of support, she turned to comedy where her star kept rising. A big win for her — and us!

Thorny Topics

Joyelle Nicole Johnson never needed to make a name for herself — her mother did that for her, giving her a “French-sounding” name because of her own fascination with Paris. While it’s a name that many mispronounce, it’s also one that’s rapidly rising in the comedy charts. The Atlanta-based comedian has opened for Dave Chappelle and appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night with Seth Meyers, while also earning credits for appearances on Comedy Central and HBO Max shows. Next, she’ll star on the fifth season of HBO Max’s Search Party. But Johnson’s greatest strength lies in her ability to use humor to address thorny topics like female reproductive rights and vaccine skepticism, especially among Black Americans.

Read more on OZY

mixed bag mavericks

Bad(ass) Mother

Katherine Ryan has what it takes to be a single mum, and crack hilarious jokes about it. The Canadian Irish comic with a proper little “British daughter” can make just about anything funny. Singlehood? Funny! Bumbling through Britain? Hilarious. Struggles at the PTA? Fodder for side-splitting Jane jokes. Ryan spares no one — from “young, young, young” dads who put in bare-minimum parenting effort, to Jane’s imaginary husband to her own obsessive love for the musical Hamilton. Perhaps that’s the reason her work has a strangely empowering quality and why she is not as universally adored as some. Which is just as well, considering that her near-autobiographical Netflix comedy-drama The Duchess makes clear that this “bad mama” couldn’t care less about niceties. The show was canned after one season, but it is safe to say that Ryan herself will stick around.

Let Me Play My Piano, People

There were few comedians as in tune to their medium as Bo Burnham was when he shot to fame in 2007. Then just a kid behind a piano, Burnham performed haunting melodies about the highs and lows of the internet, with a sprinkling of humor thrown in for his largely millennial audience. Now 30, he’s the author of five comedy specials which lean on a cutthroat, abrasive humor that makes his audience cringe as well as smirk. His latest special, Bo Burnham: Inside, which he shot, directed, edited and produced from the guest room of his home during the pandemic, leaves viewers perplexed by what they’ve witnessed, and what it means in the grand scheme of things.

Meet My Favorite Things

Julio Torres threads the line between stand-up and prop comedian. Having written for Saturday Night Live, Torres’ signature style is deadpan humor, whether in stand-up or while inventing lifelike stories for inanimate objects. Among his early work was a mock Fisher-Price advertisement called “Wells for Boys,” which he created with friend Jeremy Beiler. The skit plays on experiencing life differently from “mainstream” society, with Torres having grown up as a homosexual male in El Salvador reflected in the material. He’s known for his wistful imagination and wonderment of the world, particularly visible in his 2019 HBO special, My Favorite Shapes, in which he displays unique shapes and invents hilarious backstories for each of them.

Laugh, Then Think

Indian stand-up comedian Kenny Sebastian’s jokes border on goofy, but listen closely and there’s something almost profound going on. The 30-year-old wears a straight face throughout most of his acts, heightening the sense of the absurd in his everyday observations — from the peculiar habits of middle-class Indian parents to questionable nicknames shared between couples. It’s an approach that has earned him a loyal following alongside fellow Indian comics like Kanan Gill, Abish Mathew and Dolly Singh.

final1s

Music? No. Comedy? Sure.

The son of a Pakistani British mother from London and a father from Pakistan, Ali Malik’s first comedic turn unfolded in that most nonjudgmental of spaces: the shower. The first-generation American’s experiences have been similar to many others in his shoes, with his parents spending much of their time working to create a secure future for their children. Now 28 and based in Los Angeles, Malik’s upbringing not only features in his material but also contributed to how he discovered his love for comedy in the first place. Rarely allowed to listen to music as a child, “I was able to download comedy albums instead, and I would obsessively listen,” Malik tells OZY, citing legends like Russell Peters, Dane Cook and Gabriel Iglesias as inspiration.

Read More On OZY

The Next Maz Jobrani? LA’s Ali Malik

  • Others might sing in the shower. Ali Malik grew up imagining performing standup comedy.
  • Now the Pakistani American comedian is rapidly emerging as a performer in Los Angeles comedy clubs, marking a dramatic journey from a conservative upbringing and a past life as an Uber driver.

Showing up at North Hollywood’s Ha Ha Comedy Club with friends late on Monday night, we were struck that the venue was packed. But then again, what better way to cap off a Monday than with a drink and a barrel of laughs. And after all, this iconic Los Angeles venue has been home to rising stars and big names such as Maz Jobrani.

One such rising star is 28-year-old comedian and host for the night Ali Malik, who I’d come to meet. Malik warmed up the crowd with a bevy of jokes mostly at the audience’s expense. Then, stepping up to the mic in between performances, Malik, who’s been in comedy for just three years, maintained the crowd’s energy even as the show crept into the early hours and some patrons ducked out to head for bed.

So who is Ali Malik and why should we care? To start, his path so far has been one of battling against the odds. He describes himself as the poorest kid in the wealthy LA suburb of Chino Hills in his youth. “I grew up with a very conservative family,” the comic recalls. 

Ever since I was a kid, I would be in the shower, imagining myself performing.

Comedian Ali Malik

While some sing as a child, “ever since I was a kid, I would be in the shower, imagining myself performing [standup],” he says. “Sometimes I didn’t even have jokes! … I just had the feeling that I wanted to entertain.” 

As dreams of performing onstage continued to exist only in his mind, a teenage Malik attended California State University to study business management. But one night, while Uber driving as a side hustle, a pivotal moment came to pass while dropping off a passenger at the aforementioned Ha Ha Comedy Club. “Immediately, my whole childhood flashed through my eyes,” Malik recalls. “’Oh, my God! This is something people actually do!?‘” he thought to himself. A light went off in his head.

It was time to make the jump from the shower to the stage. “I don’t even remember what I said. It was probably really stupid,” he recalls of his first performance in 2017. “But I did it.” Comedian Justin Hires happened to be in the audience that night and encouraged him to keep getting up onstage to find his comedic voice. After that, Malik dropped out of school. 

When he broke the news to his Pakistani British mother and Pakistani father, “I mean, they weren’t necessarily happy that I dropped out of college. But for some reason, they were way more supportive than I thought they would be,” he says. Malik’s mother works as a grade school assistant teacher. His father, an accountant, “always wanted to pursue something in theater, drama, improv or impersonation,” Malik recalls. “But he never could have in Pakistan.”

Surprisingly, the pandemic hasn’t spelled complete disaster for his budding career. When it comes to comics who are new to the scene such as himself, comedy clubs have not been taking a cut of gate receipts. What’s more, because big-name comedians have had their own gigs canceled due to health restrictions, they’re instead spending their free time attending shows by new performers such as Malik. (He credits South Asian comics Neel Nanda, Hasan Minhaj and Aziz Ansari for paving the way for him and others.)

Still, being a comic of color is no easy task. “I could talk about terrorist jokes all day long. And yeah, it’ll get laughs. But it’s also been said so many times,” he says. “Sometimes you just want to be known for being a funny comedian.” With his Pakistani American identity, “there’s this balance of knowing how to use it to your advantage and knowing when not to use it,” he says.

But Malik’s identity is something he enjoys featuring in his content. His shows in Chicago, where there’s a large Indian and Pakistani population, are some of the most fun he’s had. “I get to do material that really hits with my people. My ethnicity and culture, people would recognize those things; they’d be able to relate a little bit more.” 

So what’s next? Though he’s been auditioning for TV and comedy acting roles recently, his sights remain firmly set on standup. He hopes to film full performance sets at some point, though that’s a process that can take years to see through.

It may sound cliché, but the reason we’re likely to see Malik on a TV screen in the near future is simple: It’s because he’s only in it for the giggles.

“It’s the idea of making people laugh and be happy” that fuels him, he says. “Even if just for a second.”

Her Name’s ‘French.’ Her Humor’s Universal.

  • Joyelle Nicole Johnson has opened for Dave Chappelle and appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night with Seth Meyers.
  • But the Atlanta-based comedian is also using her unique ability to make people laugh to counter vaccine skepticism and advance female reproductive rights.

What was the first illegal thing you ever did? If you’re like most people, it was probably underage drinking or illegally downloading music. Joyelle Nicole Johnson’s first offense was going to a New Jersey school that was in a different district than the one she lived in, so she could get a better education. 

“It’s like the first gangster sh*t I ever did,” Johnson says. She got caught and even had a private investigator following her for a while. Her mother then hired a lawyer who managed to ensure that Johnson could continue studying in the school of her choice. 

Now 39, the Atlanta-based Johnson has taken that lifelong appetite for taking risks to the comedy stage. There, she’s a fast-rising star with a rare gift: She doesn’t take herself too seriously. Moreover, she doesn’t take things that really matter — like gender rights and public health — lightly. 

She has opened for Dave Chappelle and appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers and Comedy Central’s digital series Comics to Watch. She also acted on the final season of HBO Max’s Crashing and will be on the fifth season of Search Party. Yet when a post on Twitter promoted a show describing her as someone seen on Fallon & Meyers, she was quick to quip that it sounded like she had been seen “at a personal injury law firm.” 

Johnson’s mother, Joyce, always wanted to visit Paris. So she decided to give her daughter a French-sounding name, Joyelle. But the curse of having a one-of-a-kind name is that it is almost sure to be mispronounced. 

“I think my favorite is Julia,” Johnson says. “I’ll say my name and people will be like ‘Julia’ and I’m like ‘you just don’t listen.’”

Johnson’s debut comedy album, YELL JOY, is an inversion of the syllables in her first name. It was released this year on Juneteenth, the recently named federal holiday and a special day for her and many Black people throughout the United States. Choosing June 19 — which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. in 1865 — for the album drop was intentional. 

It is OK to talk about race, every single moment of the day.

Joyelle Nicole Johnson, comedian

The record label, in fact, preferred to drop it on a Friday. But Johnson knew it would be significant to set the release for the Saturday of Juneteenth. “I am a descendant of slaves, and . . . not that far back,” Johnson says. “We’re talking about a great-grandparent. That’s crazy.” 

Johnson is proud of her Blackness and loves that it reflects in her jokes. “It’s how I feel, I can make it funny,” she says. “[Comedian] Paul Mooney taught me that it is OK to talk about race, every single moment of the day.” She is content with having her routine exude her Blackness because “America is always reminding” her of it. 

She is also passionate about female reproductive rights. Johnson is a part of Abortion Access Front, a team of comedians and writers who use “humor to destigmatize abortion.” The group was formed by Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show.

“I wanted my comedy in some way, shape or form to inform people politically of something,” Johnson says. “This is exactly what I wanted in life: to be able to use comedy to tell people [to] not make women feel ashamed about having abortions.”

She’s also been using her witty social media presence to push back against vaccine skepticism, especially within the African American community. Following news reports of zoo animals receiving experimental COVID-19 vaccines, she wrote on Twitter: “Dear Black people, white people are giving it to animals. It’s safe.” 

Yet Johnson’s comedy style isn’t geared toward topical subjects in general. Her storytelling strategy primarily involves telling unique, personal accounts that people will find humorous. “One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was, if you’re talking to someone and you’re making them laugh, you should write it down because you could probably use it on stage,” Johnson says.  

On her comedy album, YELL JOY, expect to be enthused by her off-beat anecdotes. Say, the story of a former roommate, who was a dominatrix, bringing a patron with a foot fetish to their home. There’s also a joke about the time Johnson was on a plane with a “chatty” 90-year-old white woman naming old Black people from her past or as Johnson calls it, “throwblacks.”

Comedy and acting are her priorities in life. But if she wasn’t telling jokes for a living and in front of the camera, she says she would still want to be in entertainment, behind the scenes in production. Next, she has a commercial with Subway on the way. “[I’m] going from 0 to 100 real quick,” she says. “I mean, I never related more to a song.”

Accidental Genius: 10 Surprising Inventions

Bulletproof fiber. Reusable glue. An insanely potent cleaning product. Athletic running shoes. The World Wide Web. Even the “little blue pill.” What do each of these everyday products have in common? Well, first off, they all exist today thanks to individual genius, but even more spectacular: They are all accidental finds.

In today’s Daily Dose, we take you through some of the most shocking, wonderful, serendipitous moments that changed the course of history and offer insight into the inspiring brains behind these products. We promise that when you’re done, you’ll never look at them the same way again.

gifts to the world

inventionsGifts

Athletic Running Shoes

In case you didn’t know, NASA deals with more than space. Much more. The technology used in everything from memory foam mattresses to portable computers to freeze-dried fruit is all the work of the agency’s stargazing scientists. But here’s one innovation that’s particularly surprising: Looking to build astronaut helmets that could better absorb shock, space engineers back in the 1970s came up with a revolutionary process to mold rubber. It involved inserting melted plastic into a mold and pumping compressed air into it, creating an air-filled bubble inside. The air absorbs vibrations while keeping the shape of the plastic. Great for space helmets and great for . . . running shoes. At least that’s what the late Frank Rudy, a NASA aerospace engineer at the time, thought. Nike loved Rudy’s idea so much it began fashioning shoes with the design. Judging by the company’s balance sheets decades later, you do too!

The World Wide Web

Ever despair at the sight of your messy desk? In the early 1990s, British physicist and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee did and, without realizing it, came up with one of the greatest inventions in human history: the World Wide Web. Originally, Berners-Lee designed software to connect bits of information from the many files he was often working with, trying to imitate the connections our brains make. Then, he proceeded to use the same system to connect files from different computers and . . . eureka! “It would be akin to a carpenter building a little cabinet for himself and suddenly discovering he could store the entire world inside the thing,” says Arthur Molella of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Fast-forward three decades and Berners-Lee (who, incredibly, somehow never directly profited from his creation) says he is not done. His next mission? Fix the internet. He, and others like him, want to decentralize the web and clean it of fake news and toxicity. How? By taking power away from corporations. “There are people working in the lab trying to imagine how the Web could be different,” he told Vanity Fair, referring to his team’s work on a new platform, Solid.

The Paw-fect Inspiration

A dog inspired the creation of Velcro. No, really. Thanks to his Irish pointer, Swiss engineer George de Mestral came up with the idea in 1941. While walking in the mountains, his pooch became covered in burrs after an encounter with a particularly difficult bush. Slightly annoyed, de Mestral took the burrs to a lab and put them under a microscope. The irritating seeds held a fascinating secret. In order to hook themselves onto certain surfaces to help them disperse, they boast an intricate system of thousands of small hooks. Inspired by this natural phenomenon, he wondered if it could be replicated. It turns out it could. But not everyone was a fan of the invention at first. In fact, six fabric companies in Europe rejected de Mestral’s invention, saying it was too difficult to produce on a large scale. Eventually, he found a producer and received a patent for his invention in 1955. The now famous Velcro (a portmanteau of the words “velvet” and “crochet,” or “hook” in French) was born.

Post-it

Up there with pens and staplers as one of the most popular office products of all time, these sticky notes are also the result of a serendipitous moment. In 1968, Spencer Silver, an American chemist at the consumer goods and health care company 3M, was trying to formulate a super strong adhesive to hold plane parts together when he invented the first reusable glue. But it wasn’t until many years later that someone came up with an actual use for it. While attending church, Arthur Fry, a 3M engineer, struggled to bookmark a page on his Bible, but then an idea came to him. Some reusable glue and paper and his problem was solved. The company now produces an estimated 50 billion Post-it notes a year, worth around $1 billion. And although the patent expired in 1997, no one else is authorized to make sticky notes in that specific shade of yellow. But that’s not all — scientists at 3M recently reengineered Silver’s glue to create a new, waterproof sticky note that they promise will stay put even in freezing weather.

scientific mistakes

Bulletproof Fabric

The late Stephanie Kwolek never wanted to be a chemist. Instead, she dreamed of following in her mother’s footsteps and becoming a fashion designer. But when her mother told her she was too much of a perfectionist to work in the fashion world, she turned to the research lab instead. And thank God she did. Kwolek is the brains behind Kevlar, the ultrastrong material that makes bulletproof jackets, well, bulletproof. How does it work? Kevlar is made of very tightly woven molecules that can only be separated by a lot of energy, more than can even be generated by a bullet. But when Kwolek invented the lightweight, malleable and heat-resistant synthetic fabric in 1965, she was actually looking for a way to make car tires more fuel-efficient. Instead, she found that the super plastic became the poster child for protecting human bodies. The science pioneer also invented fabrics such as the flame-resistant thermoplastic used in firefighters’ suits and contributed to the development of spandex (thank you, madam!).

Artificial Sweetener

Working in a lab and forgetting to wash your hands is a no-no. That’s unless you are Constantin Fahlberg and the breach leads to one of the most revolutionary gastronomic discoveries in recent history: artificial sweeteners. The year was 1877 and the young Russian chemist had joined professor Ira Remsen at Johns Hopkins University to conduct experiments. One evening, when Fahlberg was having dinner at home, he realized all his food (and even his hands) tasted strangely sweet. At first, he had no idea why. Retracing his steps, Fahlberg tasted all the compounds he and Remsen had worked with in the lab that particular day and found that, when combined, the mixture of substances produced a flavor he described as “even sweeter than cane sugar.” How? Saccharin, a molecule, has a very particular shape that triggers sweet-taste receptors on our tongues, which, in turn, trick the brain into thinking it’s tasting sugar. This story, however, has a sour ending, with the two chemists falling out after Fahlberg filed a patent in 1886 naming himself as the sole brain behind saccharin.

Matches

If you’ve ever tried lighting a fire without a match, you’d definitely understand why John Walker became such a sensation upon inventing the first friction prototype in 1826. Luck had a lot to do with it. The British pharmacist had, in fact, been attempting to make a paste to be used in . . . guns. The eureka moment arrived when the wooden instrument he was using to mix the paste accidentally scraped against the floor and caught fire. The invention was a hit and Walker earned a place in history, although not as a businessman. He failed to patent his invention and copies of his matches quickly emerged, with hundreds of factories sprouting up in England alone. While the small sticks changed society, it isn’t an entirely happy story. The first matches were made with white phosphorus, a dangerous chemical that made many of the factory workers extremely sick, suffering from conditions akin to leprosy. Since then, a different mix of chemicals (including potassium chlorate, sulfur and glass powder) is used to make matches.

domestic accidents

DomesticAccidents

Cleaning Where?

“She was a jewel of a wife … with just one flaw,” read one of the many cringeworthy Lysol ads produced in early 1900s America. That’s right, the ultrapowerful disinfectant today at the forefront of the domestic fight against the COVID-19 virus was marketed as a female hygiene product. Up until the 1950s when the formula was finally changed, commercials advised the product as the best way to fix marital problems. But read between the lines and another entirely different message may be deduced: Historians say that “female hygiene” was actually a covert way of saying “contraception.” Frighteningly, Lysol was a popular form of birth control in the U.S. during the early 1900s, and an extremely dangerous one too, with several recorded deaths. To be clear, this disinfectant’s only place is in the cleaning cupboard.

Viagra

The popular blue pill is the result of pure chance and one very observant nurse. In the early 1990s, scientists looking to treat high blood pressure and angina began testing Sildenafil, a drug that works by increasing blood flow to targeted areas. When human trials began, one of the nurses noticed something strange. “They found a lot of the men were lying on their stomachs,” John LaMattina, head of research at Pfizer at the time, told STAT’s Signal podcast. “They were embarrassed [because] they were getting erections.” The good news was that the drug worked, just not in the places scientists were hoping. Instead, they had inadvertently found a treatment for a condition that affects one-third of adult men across the world. After going to market in 1998, Pfizer’s famous diamond-shaped product quickly rose to stardom, becoming an object of popular culture and an eye-watering moneymaker. Fun fact: Viagra’s main component is still used to treat some heart conditions affecting men and women.

Disposable Sanitary Pads

What do wounded soldiers from World War I and female periods have in common? Cellu-cotton. The product, invented by the American paper company Kimberly-Clark in 1914, was made out of wood pulp, making cellu-cotton many times more absorbent than regular cotton bandages. And much cheaper too. Legend has it that when the war ended and Kimberly-Clark company executives were looking for new clients for their products, a group of American nurses said they had been using the super absorbent cotton as sanitary pads. Believe it or not, this was a revolutionary concept at a time when menstruation was considered taboo and left women with few options. While the idea of single-use products is somewhat counterintuitive today (menstrual cups and all), in the early 1900s, they allowed women to carry on with their daily lives at any time of the month. But there was a catch: the price tag. At the equivalent of nearly $1 per pad, the convenience only applied to the rich.

Tschüss: OZY’s Angela Merkel Retrospective

When the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989, then-35-year-old Angela Merkel didn’t rush to the border as many of her fellow East Germans did. Instead, she kept her weekly Thursday date at a local sauna, coolly confident that she had time on her hands. She did: 16 years at the very top of European politics, in fact. That calm patience is a leitmotif that has defined the journey of a woman who has arguably become the most important politician of the 21st century. A quantum chemist whose father was a Lutheran pastor in the communist East, Merkel has led Germany, Europe and — many would argue — the world through rare tumult since she became her country’s first female chancellor in 2005.

Now, as she prepares to step away from politics when her current term expires with Germany’s federal elections on Sept. 26, this Daily Dose tracks her legacy and introduces you to leaders vying to gain Merkel-level clout. Recall what world leaders have said about her and let one of modern history’s most straight-faced politicians leave you with a laugh-out-loud moment.

the chemist’s magic potion

Getting Germany Fit

At the time Merkel took office in 2005, Germany was derisively known as the “sick man of Europe.” Its economy had barely crawled forward since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and by 2005, it faced an unemployment rate of more than 11%. It took a special woman to cure the sick man. Today, that jobless rate is just above 6%. Germany’s gross domestic product has grown by a third under Merkel and living standards have improved, unlike in France and Italy. Critics point out that she hasn’t pushed through the economic reforms Germany’s economy will likely need in the long term. But throughout a period of serial economic crises, her trick has been simpler than any grand policy shift: a steady, reassuring hand guiding the country through challenges as they unfold. “Her whole style of politics is reactive and driven by a desire to find solutions to emerging problems,” Kai Arzheimer, a professor of politics at the University of Mainz, tells OZY. “‘We are driving on sight’ was one of her catchphrases.”

In the Zone

As Italy joined Greece in a deepening financial crisis that threatened to spread like contagion in 2011, questions mounted over whether Merkel might need to amputate the eurozone currency union, severing countries that had become akin to infected limbs. But the German leader was clear throughout. “If the euro fails, Europe fails. We can’t let that happen,” Merkel said. She meant it. Initially hesitant to open up Germany’s purse strings, she eventually led an ambitious financial aid and recovery program for struggling European nations. And though Brexit has since inspired populist parties across Europe to similarly seek to break from the European Union, Merkel’s leadership has kept the bloc largely intact. Meanwhile, it’s the U.K. that increasingly faces the threat of separatist referendums in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Democracy’s North Star

It was one of the defining images of 20th-century international politics. At the G-7 summit in Quebec in June 2018, Trump sat in a chair, arms folded as the leaders of a group of longstanding U.S. allies he was at loggerheads with stood before him. But only one among them was leaning forward toward Trump purposefully, her hands on the table, the look of a stern teacher speaking to a recalcitrant kid on her face. The moment captured Merkel’s rise as the new leader of the West, with America receding from that role under Trump. From keeping the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate change pact alive to her firm opposition to protectionist policies, nativism and racism, the politically centrist Merkel has helped keep the world on an even keel in the midst of multiple storms.

Migrant Messiah?

Yet Merkel’s most challenging political moment came in the summer of 2015. A flood of refugees escaping Syria and other areas of conflict left their lives and possessions behind to risk death on the open seas in the hope of reaching Europe. The continent they hoped would welcome them was bitterly divided. Nations like Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia pushed them out and a humanitarian crisis was about to explode when Merkel stepped in, opening Germany’s borders and allowing in more than a million refugees. Her decision was divisive within Germany then and is opposed by many in her country even today. But Merkel stood firm. “We can do this,” she famously said. And Germany did, without adversely impacting jobs or the economy.

Beating Back the Far Right

In fact, one of the richest state’s in Germany, Baden-Württemberg, has used the surge in migrants to fuel an economy that was otherwise stuttering due to an aging workforce. That win-win model has helped the state emerge as a bellwether for the future of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which dramatically gained vote share in the initial years after the refugee influx by pandering to often xenophobic fears. Merkel herself has continued to defend her 2015 approach, insisting that she’d do it all over again if necessary. And her leadership has, in some ways, been instrumental in keeping the AfD in check, says Arzheimer. By September 2019, when it was still recording gains elsewhere, the AfD was slipping in Baden-Württemberg, and the pandemic has cemented that slide nationally over the past year — despite slipups by Merkel’s administration in its handling of the crisis.

Read More On OZY

mistakes or missteps?

angela_inline_2

Greek Tragedy

In Germany, she might be known as “mutti,” or mother, to many, but in Greece, Merkel’s reputation has shades of The Godfather’s Don Corleone when he threatens to “make an offer he can’t refuse.” As the southern European nation stumbled through a devastating debt crisis, Merkel insisted on austerity measures in exchange for aid, first in 2012, and then in a shakedown of Greece’s government in 2015. She was widely blamed for the tough demands placed on Greece, which was forced to cut back on social security programs for some of its most vulnerable citizens as part of its deal for EU assistance. Within Greece, Germany and Merkel have been compared to the Nazis, accused of using the crisis to steal the smaller nation’s fiscal sovereignty.

Turkish Trade-off

Greece isn’t the only country where Merkel’s legacy is considered far from spotless. Faced with growing criticism of her pro-migrant policy and the political threats coming from both the AfD and within her own ruling coalition, the German chancellor has handed Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a gun to point at Europe. Through a deal struck in late 2016, the EU, effectively led by Merkel, paid Turkey billions of dollars to hold refugees who might otherwise be headed for Europe. Apart from the fact that many refugees in Turkey end up working in conditions that amount to modern-day slavery, the deal limits Europe’s ability to challenge Erdoğan’s own poor human rights record: All he needs do is threaten to open up Turkey’s borders.

Putting Up With Putin

There has been no shortage of provocations from Russia — whether the hacking of Merkel’s email account in 2015 or the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who sought treatment in Berlin. And who can forget Merkel’s famous eye roll at Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2017 G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany? Still, Merkel has maintained equilibrium between her Western allies on one hand and a working relationship with Putin on the other. She has withstood U.S. pressure to give up on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline transporting Russian gas to Germany. And last month, she defied the majority view within the EU to argue that Europe should seek a “direct meeting” with Putin. Is her search for a middle ground with Russia a mistake Europe will come to regret?

Too Cautious

But Arzheimer, the University of Mainz professor, argues that Merkel’s biggest failings lie not in what she did wrong — instead, they center on what she didn’t do at all. “Thanks to her gradual approach to politics, she took very few rash decisions and has constantly corrected her course,” he says. “The broader pattern is not one of missteps but rather one of missed opportunities.” When she was at the peak of popularity, he says, Merkel could have moved more aggressively against climate change and towards transforming the EU. She could have acted more forcefully on better integrating migrants and elevating women, he adds.

next merkels

Armin Laschet

The candidate picked by Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party to contest the position of chancellor in September’s federal elections is the front-runner to replace her as Germany’s next leader. But he’s learned the hard way these past few days that getting over the line will be no laughing matter: He was caught on camera sniggering during a sober ceremony at a town devastated by recent floods, and faced a backlash. The 60-year-old is often described as a Merkel loyalist and has backed her approach with Beijing and Moscow, warning against a new cold war with China and seeking more dialogue with Putin. But will he command Europe’s respect the way Merkel has?

Annalena Baerbock

Laschet’s principal challenger, Baerbock is the candidate of the Greens for Germany’s top job post-Merkel. After rapidly rising in polling earlier this year, the Greens have slipped — in part because of a plagiarism controversy involving Baerbock. Still, Merkel has paved the path for women like Baerbock to battle the odds and win. And the 40-year-old is convinced she has what it takes to reach new heights — after all, she was an elite trampolinist in her youth.

Emmanuel Macron

Beyond Germany, the French president has his own designs on leading Europe. From a prolonged, strategic handshake with Trump to his outreach to Putin, and from a promise to rebuild Lebanon after last year’s horrific explosion in Beirut to an acknowledgment of France’s dodgy — even criminal — past in Africa, Macron is a man on the move. But he faces elections in 2022. “If he is reelected and manages to come across as slightly more agreeable,” Macron is the most likely candidate to lead Europe after Merkel, says Arzheimer.

Ursula von der Leyen

As an economics student in 1978, von der Leyen fled West Germany, fearing she was being targeted by communist kidnappers. More than four decades later, the former German defense minister is now boss of the European Union. Once touted as a potential Merkel successor, she’ll now get to lead the EU without any European national leader of Merkel’s stature to overshadow her. It won’t be easy. In April, she was ruthlessly snubbed when Turkey’s Erdoğan and European Council President Charles Michel took the two chairs meant for leaders during diplomatic talks, leaving her to sit on a sofa. But she didn’t take it quietly.

Read More On OZY

angela_Inline_3

Sauli Niinistö

For years, Niinistö’s now deceased, photogenic Boston terrier Lennu was almost a bigger celebrity than the Finnish president himself. But while every dog has its day, Niinistö has had nearly a decade in power — longer than most European leaders. He has both the German chancellor’s and Putin’s ear, and is believed to have been responsible for convincing the Russian leader to allow poisoned dissident Alexei Navalny to receive treatment in Berlin. He’s a robust defender of European values yet a pragmatist who offered Helsinki as a venue for the Biden-Putin summit in June, although it eventually took place in Geneva. China too sees Finland as a partner it can work with in the EU. And the 72-year-old boasts a secret weapon few in the world can claim: the ability to make the usually stern Merkel burst out laughing.

pop icon?

Angela Barbie

Pop culture thrives on excitement, and there’s nothing remotely thrilling about the German chancellor, who has built her career and reputation on carefully thought-out policies, patience and a wait-and-watch approach. Yet such is her unique stature in the world that in 2009, toy manufacturer Mattel unveiled a Barbie doll modeled after Merkel.

Sketch Star

Her stoic personality is ready fodder for comedy and sketches. And there, she’s been a star, played for years by Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live. My favorite portrayal of Merkel is by British comedian Tracey Ullman. Check out this sketch — you never knew just how much “Merkel” can make you laugh.

Frau Fashion

From the academic, almost professorial look that she donned in her early days as chancellor to the more colorful choices she has worn in recent years, Merkel’s deliberately understated fashion sense is actually carefully cultivated — and executed by a handful of German designers. But behind that poker face, she had a sense of humor too. When a German newspaper said she looked indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton, Merkel got the article framed and presented it to Clinton — a gift from one powerful woman to another.

Spot the Difference — July 29, 2021

Answers: The ball by the man’s foot, the hat on the man, an extra button on Pikachu’s jacket and the inverted logo on Pikachu’s hat.

Winners: Dario A., Jacqueline T., Shari O., Catherine L., Ernest H., Robbie B., Gary G., John P., Phil F., Louanne V., Nancy C., Bill R., Hashim K., Cindy P., Brandi M., Nathan A., Stephen F., David B., Joanna S., Robert D., Geraldo O., Patrick R., Ronald C., Dominique G. and Zubin L. — congratulations!

A Wednesday Treat: Your Fall Fashion Guide

You’re never fully dressed without a smile, a mask … and maybe another mask, just in case. But now that we are starting to emerge from our home offices, shed the sweatpants and venture back to the streets, you might be asking yourself: What should I wear? Is tie-dye still cool? Can I still wear high-rise jeans? Welcome to the great reopening, which will have you second-guessing your outfit like you’re back in middle school. But never fear, OZY is here to introduce the Black rising stars in the world of fashion, help you foresee future industry trends, show what you need to up your game for the fall and the global trends in a glamorous but sometimes grubby industry.

Black rising star fashion designers

Tadiwa Mashiri

Africans are used to being sold dreams. Mashiri, a 24-year-old from Zimbabwe, is trying to offer up a dose of creative reality to his country and the continent through Soul’d Dreams, a brand he started with his co-founders four years ago with a name that references those dashed promises. Mashiri tells OZY Soul’d Dreams’ work can be described as “Unisex street fashion with their inspiration stemming from the marriage of African history, fashion, art and postmodern culture.” But there’s a strong social ethos behind the brand, which holds an annual blanket drive where profits are used to buy blankets for families in need in Zimbabwe. To Mashiri, fashion’s about more than appearances. “Even though design can be seen sometimes as being purely aesthetic, the functionality of it sometimes is more important than we give it credit for,” he says.

Dapper Dan

In 1989, Olympic sprinter Diane Dixon was photographed wearing a puff-sleeve, fur-lined jacket featuring the iconic Louis Vuitton pattern. Then in 2017, Gucci created its own rendition of the jacket but did not credit the original designer — Harlem’s Dapper Dan. The incident sparked controversy but ended up spotlighting Dan’s incredible career as a pioneer of hip-hop fashion. He was forced out of business in the ’90s after being sued for using luxury brands in his designs, and admittedly, beating them at their own game. Since being called out, Gucci has put money behind Dapper Dan’s atelier. Given his history, we’d say that an apology is also a smart investment.

Yvonne Jewnell and Tandra Birkett

This powerhouse mother-daughter duo is the driver of Harlem Fashion Week. Yvonne is a designer herself and attended Parsons School of Design. Her mother, Tandra, is a New York University-educated history teacher. So it isn’t surprising that their work bears the stamp of delicious design married with a sense of history. The fashion week is aimed at showcasing global designers of color and giving Harlem its day in the sun as an international nexus of fashion. It highlights trends that originated in communities of color — especially in Harlem. It’s a counterforce to cultural appropriation that designers and sponsors have flocked to in droves.

Letesha Renee

The designer behind Chicago’s unisex, streetwear-inspired Eugene Taylor Brand is much, much more than a fashion entrepreneur on the rise. Once a victim of abuse, she started writing essays to help heal from the trauma. Upon realizing how powerful the experience was, she founded Safe House, a collaborative space for survivors to come together and share their stories. Renee joins them, reading her essays in front of other women. The self-described tomboy’s collections have been dedicated to icons like Diana Ross, but the brand itself is an ode to Renee’s grandmother — her middle and last names were Eugene and Taylor — who taught her how to sew.

shaking up the industry

fashion2

Rihanna X Fenty

By nature, fashion is an evolving industry with new styles, designs and trends emerging every day. But for much of its history, it’s been shrouded in exclusivity, barring those with darker skin complexions and curvier body shapes. This time, Rihanna hopes to leave no one behind. The singer’s Savage x Fenty lingerie line shuns the picture-perfect sentiments of brands like Victoria’s Secret, promoting inclusivity by featuring underwear for people of all skin tones and body types. What’s more, as people of color consistently struggle to find makeup that matches their skin, Rihanna also founded Fenty Beauty, a makeup brand that features a wide range of products to match skin tones of all kinds. While social media campaigns like #savagesummer continue to bring on the heat, keep an eye out for new drops from Rihanna’s brands this fall.

Step Aside for Black Designers

Musicians turned brand owners like Rihanna and Kanye West helped break the glass ceiling of what’s possible for Black designers in fashion, and now others are rising to the occasion. This includes Louis Vuitton’s first Black artistic director, Virgil Abloh, Shayne Oliver of Hood by Air, and Kerby Jean-Raymond, who earlier this month hosted a high-profile, all-ages fashion show at the estate of Madam C.J. Walker in Irvington, New York, for the release of his brand Pyer Moss’ Fall 2021 couture debut, which paid homage to Black heritage and innovation.

Read more on OZY

Harlem’s Fashion Row

For decades, Harlem has been an epicenter of Black culture. Yet until recently, Black designers had few avenues to gain broader recognition. Memphis-born Brandice Daniel has been on a mission to change that since 2007, when she founded Harlem’s Fashion Row, stirring up the industry years before diversity and inclusivity initiatives were at the forefront of the fashion world’s radar. HFR serves as a platform for designers of color by hosting fashion shows, including some that are part of New York Fashion Week, which takes place in September. It also organizes exhibitions and summits that help small designers of color promote their work and build vital industry connections. The company’s trailblazing work has garnered significant community support, including a collaboration with Nike and LeBron James in 2018.

The Disruption of the Traveling Pants

Though most clothing tags list the country that the article was made in, that doesn’t tell the whole story. From sourcing the raw materials to shipping the product to a home or store, most clothes take a journey around the world, reliant on a network of supply chains for all of the pieces to come together. But the pandemic caused a significant disruption in these supply chains, from retailers canceling orders to changes in consumer habits. The brunt of the impact, though, has fallen on fast fashion’s garment workers, many of whom have gone without wages amid the pandemic. As the world slowly opens up and supply chains crank back up, is the time right for fast-fashion reform so that workers’ rights are protected?

fab fall pieces

Go-to Heels

Nothing is more essential than a shoe that goes with everything. Nude heels are perfect for that purpose and are a staple for the office or a night out. But, not every brand makes nude heels in every shade of nude. The lack of shade diversity impacts everything from Band-Aids to bras to ballet shoes. So, designer Salone Monet decided that she would make nude heels for every woman after working on a department store floor in D.C. Enter her New York-based eponymous brand, Salone Monet. It offers six shades of nude heels, making it an industry standout. The brand was endorsed and worn by Beyoncé for its commitment to inclusivity.

Banging Bag

If you are headed back to the office or are frantically running through airports again, you need a bag that works for you … and ideally, one that will last a long time. Materials like leather are ideal for longevity and the cool factor. Look no further than Made Leather Co. Lenise Williams founded the company after visiting leather tanneries in Morocco. All the leather for the bags is sourced from artisans in the “land of colors,” so you can feel good about where your bag comes from and who your purchase is supporting. It’s time to make going back to the office fun, unique and sustainable.

Skateboarding’s in

Not ready to brave the subway or public buses just yet? Have you considered a skateboard as a means of transportation for 2021? Maybe you learned to skateboard during the lockdown as a hobby, or perhaps you envy how cool skateboarders look whizzing by you. If you live in New York, you might have noticed more and more skaters taking to the streets. One NYC resident described skating through the empty streets as “flying.” If you’re looking for a board, you should try Proper Gnar. Black skater Latosha Stone started the brand in 2013, and her boards have even been on TV: They were featured in HBO’s Betty.

fashion3 2

Good for the Planet and You

Seattle-based designer Valerie Madison uses recycled diamonds and metals to make her jewelry guilt-free and stunning. Making jewelry sustainably and ethically is no easy feat, so it helps to have a degree in environmental science from the University of Washington. One of the largest gold mines in the world lies in Utah, and the mining has caused such a large crater that it is visible from space. But eco-friendly jewelry is increasingly an area of focus for designers. By using recycled metals and gemstones, Madison is at the cutting edge of this sparkling revolution.

stylin’ around the world

Cool Weganool

Nature often has the best answers. Amid calls for green products and fabrics in the pollution-heavy fashion industry, Indian fashion entrepreneur Gowri Shankar found an eco-friendly and vegan alternative to wool in the form of a wasteland shrub that grows throughout much of South and Southeast Asia. Coined “Weganool,” the plant’s fibers can be extracted without chemicals and it can be grown in soil with high salinity and little water — plus the liquid leftovers can be made into insect repellent. European firms are already embracing it. Could America be next?

Read More On OZY

Designer Dubai

Step aside, Milan. Amid a sea of white kandura robes worn by men and dark abaya cloaks worn by women, desert city Dubai is becoming an emerging capital of fashion. International, modern and wealthy, the Emirati city has the tools for success, headquartering Vogue Arabia, boasting gargantuan, luxury shopping centers and even featuring a design district dedicated to hosting galleries and studios for high-end brands like Christian Dior and Burberry. But can the oil-dependent city compete with the culture-rich fashion hubs of New York, Paris and London?

Read More On OZY

Lolita Fashion

Reminiscent of Victorian and Edwardian aesthetics, founded in Japan and now spreading around the globe? Welcome to Lolita fashion. Popularized through the ever-booming anime and manga industries, the knee-high socks, pastel ruffled skirts and frilly flower-laced bonnets of Lolita “makes me feel feminine, creative and unique,” American Lolita fan Ashlyn Smith tells OZY. And with its global spotlight booming thanks to Lolita conventions, annual “Lolita Days” and appearances on the New York Fashion Week catwalk, the Lolita industry is bursting at the seams, bringing in more opportunities for its designers to rake in the big bucks.

Read More On OZY

Viet-glam

“Made in Vietnam” is taking on a new meaning. Once synonymous with the export of fast fashion, Vietnam is now giving birth to a generation of homegrown fashion designers. They’re starting to make waves globally, such as Do Manh Cuong, who has worked with brands including Christian Dior and Dominique Sirop, and Nguyen Cong Tri, whose daring ’fits have cloaked A-listers like Rihanna and Katy Perry. And other designers might soon follow. Just over a decade ago, there were a mere four fashion education institutions in the country. Today? There are over 15 schools in Ho Chi Minh City alone. Count the country in for the future of fashion and glam.

Read More On OZY