x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Comedy troupe gives female voice to Dubai's nationalities

The six member, all-female standup comedy troupe have a wide variety of backgrounds. They will bring their act to Coopers in the Park Rotana on Tuesday night.

From left, Susan Strickland, Azza Yehia, Mina Liccione, Sophie Samuelian, Shaima al Sayed.
From left, Susan Strickland, Azza Yehia, Mina Liccione, Sophie Samuelian, Shaima al Sayed.

ABU DHABI // An Emirati, an Armenian American, a Lebanese, an Australian Singaporean, a Brit and an American walk into a hotel …

What sounds like a twist on an old chestnut describes the diversity of the UAE's first all-female stand-up comedy troupe, Funny Girls.

And the wide range of backgrounds is no accident.

They were brought together to bridge the UAE's culture gap, and to reflect and represent the melting pot that is Dubai - with laughter.

That is the beauty of comedy, says Mina Liccione, a professional comedienne and the group's founder. It "brings people together".

Speaking ahead of the group's Tuesday night show at Coopers in the Park Rotana, Ms Liccione says: "If all these women had been British, I wouldn't have put the troupe together. "We are all from such different walks of lives and we pick people purposely from different backgrounds because we want this show to represent Dubai; to show its colour and its flavour."

After moving to Dubai from the US, she noted the lack of a local comedy scene. Three years ago, she and her business partner and fiance, Ali al Sayed, created the UAE's first comedy school, Dubomedy.

In recent months Dubomedy launched the country's first improvisation troupe, which is in training, after forming Funny Girls last year. Plans are for the troupe to change members every year to give voice to the city's different communities.

So far, so good - even in the UAE's conservative environment, says Ms Liccione.

"Comedy is known for being brash and women are brought up to be prim and proper, but we let people know they can do comedy that is halal," she says.

"We don't swear, we don't talk about sex and we don't talk about certain other things, but we are still extremely funny."

The troupe has already received positive feedback from female audience members, adds Susan Strickland, the Brit, who was new to comedy before taking classes at Dubomedy several years ago.

"Women come up to me and say they are proud," Ms Strickland says. "The troupe is another way of giving women a voice - a strong, powerful and funny voice."

There have been a few kinks. Last week the group's Emirati member, Ms Liccione's soon-to-be sister-in-law Shaima al Sayed, had to barge past a reluctant bouncer to make her professional debut.

"I was heading down the stairs at one of the Rotana venues to go to the pub we were performing in, and the big bouncer stopped me," says Miss al Sayed. "He wouldn't let me in because I was wearing an abaya and shaila.

"I kept telling him I was part of the performance, but he just kept saying I wasn't allowed in 'dressed like that'. I ignored him, walked down, and was followed by another bouncer."

The troupe will perform at Coopers in Abu Dhabi as part of the Rotana Comedy Tour. The show runs from 8.30pm to 10pm. Entry is free and open only to those over the age of 21.

zalhassani@thenational.ae