'We want to create a platform for comedy'
Ahmed Ahmed is planning for comedy domination of the Middle East. It's a careful orchestration that has been two years in the making. In 2007, he brought his Axis of Evil comedy show on a 30-day tour that included Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon and the UAE. Shows sold out every night. "We sort of made comedy history in the Middle East, humbly speaking," he says. Now he's back with three other American comedians, currently playing in Abu Dhabi and moving on to Beirut and Bahrain before he proceeds solo to Saudi Arabia. He's also fostering his young multimedia company, Comedy Arabia, to encourage other comedic talent in the region.
"I get e-mails from people here all the time saying, 'I know I'm funny'. Last year I realised there were millions of eyeballs waiting for us, watching us on YouTube, but previously there hasn't been an umbrella to capture it. "We're right in the middle of finalising the [Comedy Arabia] deal here, but we want to create a platform for comedy entertainment with live shows, the website, TV show ideas, even film and merchandise."
One of his most recent efforts was last Saturday's open-mic comedy audition in Abu Dhabi Mall. He failed to find any brilliant new talent. "The hunt for Abu Dhabi's best comedian continues," he said afterwards. "It was an experiment," he says. "The mall wasn't quite right but it was a good crack at it. It's going to be an uphill trek but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm out there everyday handing out flyers, shaking hands, kissing babies. It's really like being a politician, getting the word out there."
It was the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that initially helped Ahmed establish his name on the international comedy circuit. Together with three other comedians from the Middle East, he spent seven years touring the world. The group disbanded last year. "We started bickering and egos got in the way. By nature, comics are not very collaborative people," he says. "Plus, Bush was coming to the end of his term so it was like, OK, do we continue to use this name that was cool and hip for seven years or abandon it?"
Abandon it they did. And they seem to have lost some good material with Bush. "It is sad," Ahmed laughs, adding that comedians may have to take a different approach to Barack Obama. "He makes fun of himself, so he's beaten us to the punch, really." Should he feel at a loss for comedy material, Ahmed has a blossoming acting career to fall back on. Last year, he took on roles including a part in the comic book-based film Iron Man. After his current round of stand-up is over, he will start work in Dubai on a new film called City of Life, written, produced and directed by the Emirati filmmaker Ali Mostafa.
"He's a young, brilliant director who wrote a part for me and I just really loved the script," Ahmed says. "It's a great feeling being here after the entertainment industry in Hollywood because I was exhausted before - networking this person, schmoozing this producer, just being at everybody's beck and call." It's a long way from his start in life. "My parents were very poor, they grew up in a poor village just outside Cairo. But my Dad wanted what every immigrant family wanted, the classic American dream. He got our immigration papers for America on the day I was born. He came to the hospital waving them."
Ahmed's family moved to California, where he has remained ever since. "At the moment I'm trying to focus my efforts on this region, to capitalise on things here," he says. And if he had to choose between comedy and acting, Ahmed says he'd probably choose comedy. "It's instant gratification. You don't have to wait nine months for a movie to come out. Most comics are impatient. We want to cut to the chase."
Ahmed Ahmed and Friends is tonight at the Beach Rotana Hotel at 9.30pm (www.comedyarabia.com).
Updated: January 29, 2009 04:00 AM