x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The UAE is in for a comic turn

We talk to local performers trying to raise the flag for stand-up comedy in the UAE.

Hisham Wyne, a Dubai-based writer, founded the debut comedy event One Night Standup, which shows tonight in Dubai at 8pm. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Hisham Wyne, a Dubai-based writer, founded the debut comedy event One Night Standup, which shows tonight in Dubai at 8pm. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

The Emirati comedian Abdulla "Abz" Ali is not afraid to push boundaries in his stand-up comedy routines. His acts have a tendency to be at times racy and controversial, but he makes no apologies.

For the 21-year-old, it's all in the name of entertainment.

"Comedy is an art and art should never be censored," said the Dubai native. "My comedy style is really just an exaggeration of my personality."

Ali was speaking ahead of the debut comedy event One Night Standup in Dubai Monday night, at 8pm, at 1Up, Boutique 7 Hotel and Suites, Tecom.

Hisham Wyne, a Dubai-based columnist and writer, founded the event, aiming to enhance the UAE comedy scene and give the audience an opportunity to enjoy local talent free of charge.

"My interest in stand-up is a progression of an appreciation for the community and my public-speaking background," said the 28-year-old Wyne, who is originally from Pakistan. "I felt there should be more opportunities and places for people to perform, so I did something about it."

The interest he received was overwhelming and performance slots filled quickly.

"We want to encourage comedy and self-expression, but we don't want people to get offended," he said. "After all, they are showing up to have a laugh."

While their current venue is an intimate space, Wyne hopes it will encourage more establishments to open their doors in support. He also hopes to catapult the careers of comedians, similar to how many Hollywood actors started out in small clubs and bars in the US.

"The issue of finding a venue is huge here because there are quite a few barriers. Our event will hopefully set precedence for others to curate their own events," he said.

Ali, who is currently studying dentistry in New Zealand, shares the same sentiment and stresses the need for more support. He looks up to comedians such as Dave Chappelle, after watching one of his shows at age 13.

"I would love to see the UAE as the capital of comedy in the Middle East," he said. "Feedback is mainly positive, but sometimes I do get the odd question of 'Why are you doing this?' or 'You shouldn't have said that'. It used to make me sad, but I learnt to live with it."

The Egyptian-born stand-up comedian Lamya Tawfik has also had to face some tough criticism. As a 35-year-old Muslim woman who wears the hijab, some found it difficult to understand her love of the stage.

"I was on an Arabic talk show once and one of the hosts said to me: 'You wear the headscarf, shouldn't you not be drawing attention to yourself?' I simply said: 'Hey, I'm just doing comedy.' Besides, it was ironic because her co-host also covers her hair, yet she's on TV."

Without intending it, Tawfik, who was also juggling a doctorate in children's media with a job in advertising and developing her comedy, found herself responsible for exemplifying that one can be a practising Muslim and do comedy at the same time.

"We are always concerned about being politically correct and not offending each other. We don't push the envelope in fear of being attacked," she said. "My humour is observational and I tend to make fun of myself a lot. It's pretty family-friendly, like Bill Cosby."

Both Tawfik and Ali decided to pursue comedy after attending a 2009 workshop in Dubai by Aron Kader, from the Arab-American comedy group Axis of Evil.

Wyne stresses that comedy is undeniably difficult and therefore requires dedication.

"I chose this particular venue because the audience won't be easy to please, which makes it more challenging for the comedian," he said. "But at the same time, I'm not throwing them to the wolves. They have to come with a game plan and know their material inside out because they are here to entertain."


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