x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The Abu Dhabi 'butcher’ who keeps a clean line in comedy

The Life: Abdullah Al Qassab has found a creative outlet for his chat by performing off hours as a stand-up comic. He even finds inspiration for jokes in his own name, part of which translates as 'the butcher' in English.

Standup comedian Abdullah Al Qassab performs at the American University of Sharjah. Satish Kumar / The National
Standup comedian Abdullah Al Qassab performs at the American University of Sharjah. Satish Kumar / The National
Abdullah Al Qassab is an environmental engineer at Gasco in Abu Dhabi. During his spare time he performs as a stand-up comedian.

How did you get into comedy?

I couldn't put it in a poem and I can't paint, but I do talk too much. So [I thought] why not make some people laugh and make some money out of it at the same time? I started during my college days. We would stand around after prayers and tell jokes. Actually, I'd be the only one telling jokes. The others would listen. I did one show in 2010, stopped for two years. Then I was promoting [a group of comedians] for an event at UAE University for charity. But they kept delaying. And I said to the university, 'Look, if they don't respond by tomorrow, we'll do it for you'. I have one friend who is the youngest and the first comedian in the UAE: Abz Ali. He and I and a guy called Khalid Yasin performed instead. We made good money and we made people laugh. Universities now get in contact and ask us to perform. The challenge is to convince the administration that we do good, decent comedy because the image is that comedians swear [or] it's not a joke unless it's a dirty joke. But a lot of comedians don't swear.

So what do you joke about?

I joke about my life. Anything can be funny. My name is funny. If it's translated into English, it's not a good thing. My name is Servant of God, The Butcher. The worst thing is, I was a medicine student. You don't want to do an operation with someone called The Butcher, do you? 'Go and see Dr Butcher.' 'No, no, I'm good.' I wouldn't get paid. We don't do racism, dirty jokes, politics or sex. Religion we don't touch. But I joke about the police, parking rules. We do up to three shows a month for free in bars. No more than that, otherwise people get used to you.

And do you perform in English or Arabic?

Both. We mix it up. I learnt English from TV. I love television and it taught me English.

You also use the performances as a way to teach students about business, right?

Yes. We tell them to put the event in the auditorium and to sell tickets. Then to make a report afterwards and work out how much money they've made. Anyone can give advice. But you have to stay with [the students] and help them out. Give them the basics and once they have shown you the results, you can walk away. But only after they have shown you the results. And comedy is a funny thing. It's not a boring lecture. So they will stay with you until they learn. It's also about marketing. Creating a Facebook page [for an event] and getting a 'Like' is no good. Neither is putting up flyers. I think the best way is word of mouth and sending out broadcasts via BBM. Emiratis love that.