10 Questions: This comedian and Oregon lawyer stands up against sexual harassment
Who thinks Mitra Shahri is funny? For starters, her colleagues and judges—she’s twice earned the coveted title “Funniest Lawyer in Oregon” at the statewide Campaign for Equal Justice’s Laf-Off lawyer comedy competition. An amateur humor writer and stand-up comedian, she also extends her funny business to keynote and corporate legal speaking.
Who doesn’t think Shahri is funny? Defendants who have lost to her in cases involving sexual harassment and whistleblowing. As a solo practitioner in Los Angeles for many years, Shahri took on the movie industry long before the Me Too movement, and she continues her advocacy as head of the Mitra Law Group, a three-lawyer firm in Portland.
Have you always been funny, or did you develop your sense of humor over time?
In Los Angeles, I was known as the “casting couch lawyer.” In no time I developed a loud sense of humor to survive the weight of my clients’ pain and the abuse and sexism in the male-dominated and chau-vinistic legal profession. Perfecting my stand-up routine on defense lawyers and the court was my clever way of dealing with the problem without affecting my clients.
I later used my talents to cheer up and empower my clients during litigation, most of whom were disappointed when the process ended because they were having so much fun! That’s when I realized I’m good with people—I know how to make them laugh during tough situations. To hone my craft, I started doing stand-up. My best moments are when I use comedy to torment sexual harassers during depositions. Payback is a bitch!
I imagine being a litigator is a little like being onstage, right?
Absolutely. I love talking to an audience that can’t talk back. I just wish the opposing counsel wouldn’t heckle me so much.
When you’re competing for Funniest Lawyer in Oregon, do you just go up and riff or do you have a prepared routine?
For the Laf-Off competitions, I usually take off a couple of weeks to write my jokes. I have so much fun crafting my jokes that I consider it a vacation.
What do you talk about? What really slays the crowd?
I talk about everything from racism and sexism to reversing the roles. My stage personality is a strong female attorney who kicks corporate butts with designer shoes. Being Iranian, I also have a whole set about foreigners and national origin discrimination. I love living in Oregon because it’s the only state where I brag about being Iranian just to hide the fact that I’m from California.
Do you ever incorporate humor into your law practice?
It really incorporates itself. When you go against rich and powerful offenders, you bring on the wrath of several big law firms. The only way to survive their legal tag-teaming is to have your wits about you. Early in my practice I learned that my Order of the Coif, law review and moot court certificates did not sway the mentality of opposing counsel who only saw me as a young, weak minority female and an easy target to demean and intimidate. The joke was on them, however, because my strong, kick-ass, take-no-prisoner side slayed their clients’ reputations and dipped deep in their coffers.
My first case was against a lawyer I idolized. He called to discuss the case and began with insulting my legal ability and intelligence. He laughed at my client, whom he called average looking, for claiming sexual harassment against his rich client. He then attempted to get me to accept his $5,000 settlement, which he claimed was enough fees to pay my rent and buy me a nice pair of shoes.
When he finished, all I said was ‘OMG, I have to go because I just realized that my toenail polish doesn’t match my outfit!’ and I hung up. Fast-forward, we settled the case for mid-six figures, and he later told me he often calls young lawyers to intimidate them. But when I hung up on him, I really got under his skin.
This article was published in the September 2018 ABA Journal magazine with the title "Funny Business: This stand-up comedian and Oregon lawyer stands up against sexual harassment."