Stand-up comedy is one of the few forms of entertainment where the people of Abu Dhabi are not spoilt for choice. But all is not lost, The Laughter Factory is holding its final show of the year and three well-respected stand-up comedians from the UK will be making an appearance. Time Out had a chat with one of them, Markus Birdman – who has appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well as several times on TV and the radio in the UK – to see what makes comedians tick.
You do a lot of edgy humour that may be considered offensive; do you find you have to tone it down when you come to the Middle East?
No. We’re told we should do, and often the promoter looks a little green around the gills, but it’s my estimation that the audiences don’t seem to want that. I like to sort of push the boundaries. I utterly understand that it’s not the UK and people have different sensibilities, and I would certainly treat it accordingly. I don’t think people mind having the Mickey taken out of their beliefs, or gender or whatever it is, as long as it’s not done with any either ignorance or indeed, malice.
Some comedians, I’m thinking of Louis CK or Stewart Lee, seem to be of the opinion that to be a good comedian you have to be a bit miserable, do you think that’s true?
I think it helps to be slightly at an angle to the rest of society; slightly at odds with it, and slightly outside it. Those things are very real, you know. Death or disappointment or hope or failed marriages – these are things that happen to people, and people often need these things expressed in a way that is funny. So I think it doesn’t hurt to be a bit miserable.
Do you find you can tell the same joke in different parts of the world and get reactions that you wouldn’t expect?
It does change, because I think certain sensibilities slightly alter, but I think it’s quite universal. I’ve found that most people ‘get’ British humour, so I don’t have to change it massively, except for little references. For instance I do a joke about Velcro, and I did it in Holland and they don’t know what Velcro is – well they know what it is but they don’t call it that. So, things like that obviously change, but not the sentiment.
I notice you don’t have a Wikipedia page. Have you considered writing one?
It feels a little bit like cheating, you know what I mean? It’s a bit like putting yourself in ‘Who’s Who’. I know a lot of people have put themselves into it, so I’m not innocent enough to think that it hasn’t crossed my mind and that I might not still do it, but what’s stopped me is a certain amount of pride.
I’ve also noticed your personal website, ‘The Wonderful World of Markus Birdman’ and it hasn’t been updated since December of 2010.
It’s kind of weird because I think people are in two minds about the web. A lot of people are really embracing it and go ‘Yeah, this is really where comedy’s at’ and doing stuff on the web, but lots of people are a bit like ‘I don’t want everybody to see all my stuff before they’ve come and seen the show’. It probably is an age thing, depending on when you were born whether you embrace it or turn your back on it.
Are you looking to doing anything in the UAE besides your work?
I’ve enjoyed going wadi-bashing when I was here last. So if it’s at all possible a bit of a wadi-bash and a belly dance and a hookah pipe would be great. Obviously the nightlife is very good in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and in Qatar so maybe a bit of clubbing. So yeah, the beach is quite good in Abu Dhabi isn’t it? I was last there 18 months, two years ago and I hired a bike and had a right old plod up and down, it was great.
Do people at parties ever ask you to say something funny when they find out you’re a comedian?
I think in fairness, I think most people don’t really know what to say to the answer ‘I’m a comedian’ because they haven’t already met one, generally, and everyone’s got a preconceived idea of what a comedian is. Everybody might have an idea that a comedian is like the life and soul of the party, and is just waiting for someone to say ‘Tell me something funny!’ but the reality is the polar opposite: actually comedians tend to be social idiots you know, miserable, and that might be the motivation for being a comedian; it’s the one time we can hold court and be charismatic. [laughs]
If you weren’t a comedian, what would be your dream job?
Do you know what, it’s based on nothing, but just because we’re talking about a ‘dream job’ I’d like to be a professional tennis player. I don’t even play tennis – I just love it, and I love to watch it. That’s something I can do in Abu Dhabi, try and sneak onto court. Brilliant!
Tuesday December 13, Heroes, Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi. Dhs 130. Tickets can be purchased at the door from 7.30pm or at www.timeouttickets.com.