We speak to the Lebanese actor and comedian about his new show, which is set to break boundaries here and abroad
From Netflix honour to the Oscars: Adel Karam's big week ahead
Actor and comedian Adel Karam – star of films including Caramel (2007) and Where Do We Go Now? (2011), host of TV chat show Hayda Haki (That’s Talking) and centrepiece of stages across the Middle East with his live show – is already a familiar face to Arab audiences. He was in Dubai this week to promote his latest outing, this time with streaming behemoth Netflix, at the beginning of a week that could lead to him becoming recognisable to audiences around the world.
When his show Adel Karam: Live from Beirut begins streaming on Thursday, he will lay claim to the title of Netflix’s very first original one-off show from the Middle East. From there, it is straight off to Hollywood, where Karam will be attending the Oscars to find out whether his latest movie, Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult, has picked up the award for Best Foreign Language Film, for which it has been nominated. Karam admits that it looks likely to be quite a week.
“It’s all made my profile so much bigger, the Oscars and the Netflix show, too,” he says. “Thursday, I go live around the world on Netflix, and on Sunday, I’ll be at the Oscars. It’s a big week for me – the biggest.”
I ask Karam how the streamed show came about. “They were looking for an Arabic talent to produce a comedy special, and I’m that talent,” he says matter-of-factly. “They just approached me through my agent.”
It will be interesting to see how wider audiences in the Middle East respond to Karam’s show. His stage shows have been somewhat controversial in the past for tackling contentious issues. Will he be taking the same road with this gig? “Anyone who’s watched me knows me, and knows my style,” he says, suggesting that he won’t be pulling any punches. “I say things as they are – I have no taboos. It’s going to be a little bit shocking for Arab audiences, just a little, because it’s new. I use insults; it can be surprising. They’re not used to an Arabic comedian using insult – it’s shocking for them.”
Despite his sometimes abrasive style, Karam insists he has never had any issues on account of his work. “It’s never caused me any problems because they know what to expect,” he says. “Everyone who comes to my show is already expecting that.”
Karam says that he is a huge fan of the comedy available on the streaming service, citing Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle as particular favourites, and that he thinks his appearance on the platform could prove a watershed moment, not just for him, but for Arab comedy in general. “I think my show could be a turning point for stand-up comedy in the region,” he says. “I’ve already seen changes in the comedy scene over the 15 years I’ve been performing and it is getting better, but Netflix could be transformational. It’s the future of television.”
Karam adds the caveat that to have the desired positive effect on the regional comedy scene, his fellow comedians need to be familiar, and comfortable, with the concept. “Netflix is very open, they have no boundaries. That’s something we’re not totally used to here, and the comedians have to adjust to that. It’s going to be a huge chance for me personally. I’m going to be international, to be seen on screens all over the world, and people will get to know this kind of comedy, Arabic comedy. But, sure, I hope it has a huge effect on the whole scene, not just me.”
Karam will barely have time to check the viewing figures for his streaming debut before he boards a plane to Los Angeles, and in a year of high points, he admits that working with critically acclaimed director Doueiri was another one. “It was a huge step for me. Working with Ziad is one of my biggest achievements and working on such a movie with real international standards. It was a real dream come true to work with such a director.”
Karam has thankfully avoided the visa issues that have affected many filmmakers with Arab links hoping to attend this year’s Oscars ceremony and will be attending the glittering event. He has a special personal ambition for the evening beyond winning the award, however. “I hope I get to meet Monica Bellucci,” he reveals. “That would be another dream come true. I don’t know if she’s going, but if she is, I just hope I can meet her. What a week that would be.”