Ahmed Ahmed brings new weekly show Comedy Oasis to Dubai
“I met my match,” a beaming Ahmed Ahmed says as he greets me at Andreea’s. Tomorrow, the Dubai fusion restaurant will host the launch of Comedy Oasis, a new stand-up night produced by Ahmed, headlined by the American funny man Vincent Oshana. There is a second show on Saturday and the showcase will run fortnightly before moving to a weekly schedule later in the year.
Ahmed’s greeting is more than just a term of endearment – the 45-year-old American-Egyptian is referring to the fact we share a double-barrelled name.
“Oh man,” he says, genuinely excited. “I thought I was the only one with a name like that. We are special.” Naturally, we share how our names came to be. As it turns out, we both have long unwieldy monikers that required trimming to fit our respective government immigration papers.
“My full name is Ahmed Abubakr Ahmed Mohammed Ali Abdul Wahab Kawaidia,” he says. “So when my dad was immigrating to the United States when I was a month old, the man said: ‘Hey, you can’t put all these names in there.’ They said just pick a first and last name and my mother picked Ahmed because she loved that name and it was also the name used by the Prophet Mohammed.”
Not everyone appreciated the tribute. Ahmed remembers crafting his first comedic material in the California schoolyard as defence against bullies.
“I got picked on every day – kids telling me my parents had a stuttering problem and how they were not creative,” he says.
“It taught me to use comedy and jokes to help myself. But the really funny thing is that when I eventually started performing in Hollywood, people kept remarking about how I had a cool stage name. I had to always say: ‘No, this is my real name.’”
On the screen
Whatever people think of his name these days, there is no doubt that it now holds cache in the entertainment industry. Since moving to Hollywood as a 19-year-old, Ahmed has built a steady career as an actor and stand-up comic. He landed a series of small roles in the mid-1990s in film and television, including playing a cameraman in the 1995 Denzel Washington sci-fi thriller Virtuosity and sharing a screen with Halle Berry and Kurt Russell a year later in the hijack thriller Executive Decision.
Ahmed was also enlisted by Emirati filmmaker Ali F Mustafa to appear in his celebrated 2009 debut feature film, City of Life.
But it was that role in Executive Decision that persuaded Ahmed’s hostile father to finally approve of his son’s career, despite the fact that he played a stereotypical Arab terrorist in the movie.
“I grew up in a strict environment and it was all about getting an education and a job,” he says. “So when I told my dad that I was moving to Hollywood to become an actor and stand-up comedian, he was upset and he didn’t really speak to me for, like, seven years.
“When Executive Decision came out he was, of course, happy and told everyone: ‘Look, that’s my boy.’”
The comedy producer
But it was on the stand-up stage that Ahmed made the biggest impact. His observations on race relations, Islamophobia and the Arab-American experience resonated with crowds.
Before long, he became a regular performer at Hollywood’s prestigious Comedy Store and joined the pioneering Axis of Comedy tour, alongside fellow Middle Eastern comedians Maz Jobrani, Aron Kader and Dean Obeidallah on multiple world tours.
What is not as well known is that Ahmed was also behind one of the hottest comedy nights in Hollywood.
As the producer of a weekly comedy showcase in the Sunset Boulevard venue Dublin’s, which ran from 1999 to 2003, Ahmed was responsible for hand-picking the big names that performed.
“It was every Tuesday, rain, hail or shine,” he says. “I ran it with a partner and we had big names such as Dave Chappelle and Dane Cook performing. It also became this regular hangout for Hollywood personalities and we had people such as the guitarist Tommy Morello and [actor] Matthew McConaughey becoming regulars.”
Fun in Dubai
Ahmed’s event-producing skills didn’t go to waste when the club closed.
In the years that followed, as he toured the UAE as a solo act and as part of the Axis of Evil, he realised Dubai was a prime location for a regular comedy night.
“I remember when I came back in 2005, as part of the Axis of Comedy, I was asking people why there was no comedy club here,” he says. “It felt strange that you could ski indoors, have these beautiful malls, the best restaurants in the world – but no comedy club.”
Three years later, his idea started taking shape when he teamed up with Rashid Al Habtoor to launch a short series of events, featuring comics Whitney Cummings and Dwayne Perkins, in Lebanese restaurant Al Barsha at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort & Spa.
“It was a small place, about 100 seats,” he says. “While it worked, I don’t think it was ultimately conducive for comedy – and financially, there was no real profit to gain from it.”
Fast forward to five months ago when Ahmed, who was in transit in Dubai after a private show for a Saudi prince in the Seychelles, contacted the Habtoors, this time Mohammed, to see whether the idea of the comedy club could still fly.
“Mohammed actually had some great ideas for a comedy club himself,” says Ahmed. “He spoke to some people in Los Angeles but they didn’t get back to him. He wanted me to use the new restaurant Andreea’s as a venue.”
Strolling around the spacious, circular restaurant, with its coastal-themed bright walls and creamy sofas, Ahmed says the venue is an apt setting to deliver big laughs and a relaxed vibe.
“It’s nice and intimate and at the same-time spacious,” he says. “People can sit and can see the act from most angles.”
Ahmed and friends
As for the comics who will be making their way to Dubai, Ahmed says they are all regulars on the North-American comedy circuit, with plenty of show business credits to their name.
However, don’t expect to see him on the Dubai stage any time soon. After another polished set in Abu Dhabi, as part of the Comedy Friday event at Al Raha Beach Theatre last Friday, Ahmed says he is content to manage Comedy Oasis. His appearance this weekend will be limited to introducing the headliner Oshana.
“I may do a show once every six months but that’s about it,” he says. “I reached a stage in my career now where I want to create content and run events and basically be behind the scenes.
“Where before I was bringing the funny, now I am satisfied in facilitating the funny.”
• Comedy Oasis, at Andreea’s restaurant at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort & Spa in Dubai, featuring Vincent Oshana and Ahmed Ahmed is on Thursday and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets start from Dh100. For details visit www.andreeas.ae
Updated: September 8, 2015 04:00 AM