Did you hear the one about the guy in the khandura? Nope, us neither. And while the local comedy scene may not yet be thriving in the UAE, one man has made it his mission to prove Emiratis know how to have a laugh.
Not that telling jokes has always been Ali Al Sayed’s thing. Having quit his job three years ago to focus on comedy, Ali set up Dubomedy Arts with fellow funnyperson Mina Liccione. Together, they’ve set about nurturing the region’s aspiring gag-merchants, culminating in a one-off trial-by-fire show at Cooper’s this week. Ahead of the gig, we spoke to Ali about what we can expect from him and his comedy prodigies.
Do crowds across the Gulf react to your comedy in different ways?
In the UAE, it’s a bit of a challenge because there are a lot of different nationalities and you have to make sure the show is relevant to everybody. Performing in the UAE makes you tough, but the challenge is what makes it fun, because you really never know who’s going to be in the audience. The British and Americans are used to comedy, so it’s not as easy to make them happy. But that’s the kind of audience you want – an audience that makes you work for your laugh.
Are there any nationalities you find are particularly hostile? Who heckles the most?
I wouldn’t call it heckling, but the British love to participate, they love to be a part of the show in one way or another. But when one of the British audience members yells something out, they laugh the hardest when you come back, so it’s fun.
So how would you describe your style of comedy, what kind of things do you cover in your typical set?
I like to tackle stereotypes, especially about the different nationalities that are living here in the UAE. I make fun of my culture, too – the things we Emiratis do.
So which stereotypes of Emiratis do you think are particularly true?
Arabs are always late – I make fun of that. I make fun of reckless driving, I make fun of… well, I don’t want to give any of the jokes away! I like taking the things that aren’t 100 per cent true as well, and sort of twisting them in the end. But not just about the Emirati culture, but about other cultures too – like Filipinos for example. They get a lot of stick from people, and there are a lot of assumptions about them, but I like taking that and twisting it round.
So tell us a bit about the other guys on the bill. What are their backgrounds and what can we expect from them?
The other guys on the bill are all graduates from the Dubomedy Arts School, which I run. We have an upcoming Emirati-British comedian, we have an American from Texas and an Indian guy.
Are you confident they’ll be able to handle the rowdy audience at Cooper’s?
The only way to gain experience is by doing it. When you’re starting off in events like this, you have really good nights and sometimes it’s really difficult. And if you go through the difficult ones from the beginning, then you’re lucky because then you’ve got those out of the way, so you know how to handle everything.
Who are your comedy heroes?
One of my favourite comedians is Chris Rock because, you know, take away all the foul language and he’s talking about society, he’s talking about his culture, he’s talking about how people need to get along. And eventually that’s the kind of comedian I want to be – a comedian with a cause, not just going up on stage to get a few laughs. I really want to go out there and have a message.