US comic Simeon Goodson talks about swapping the five boroughs for the seven emirates
Simeon Goodson: ‘A guy from Brooklyn shows up in Al Ain...’
There can be few greater contrasts in environment than that experienced when moving from the bustling streets of Brooklyn, one of New York’s liveliest boroughs, to the oasis city of Al Ain.
That’s exactly what stand-up comic Simeon Goodson did when he moved his family to the UAE in 2015, seeking new cultural experiences after his wife landed a teaching job here.
Goodson left behind a successful career in the world’s biggest comedy hotspot – his albums were on iTunes and his face was featured in Brooklyn Magazine’s 50 Funniest People in Brooklyn – but the comedian doesn’t seem to have any regrets about relocating to the comedy desert of Al Ain, although he admits the differences could hardly be more stark.
“It was absolutely a culture shock to say the least,” he says. “It’s definitely a lot slower, but that’s great because I have the kids and whole family here. I think it was a good transition to the UAE because you get an idea of the culture, as opposed to heading to Dubai where you’re just overwhelmed by the Burj [Khalifa] and the malls and the brunches and stuff.”
For Goodson, the appeal of the Garden City lies in the fact it encourages reflection more than some of the region’s other attractions. “It’s an excellent place for meditation and self-reflection,” he says. “It’s really not a place you’re going to come to for the nightlife or the recreational activities. You come here to sit on top of a mountain with a notebook, or sit in the park with your family.
“I’ve been learning DJing, reading a lot of books. It’s that kind of place. Get some culture, visit the Sheikh Zayed Museum and learn about his life and the UAE culture, go to the zoo, eat Arabic food, go to a souq, get a tailormade kandura, it’s that kind of a cultural place.”
Of course, Goodson does regularly venture out of Al Ain, not least to continue his comedy career with regular gigs, as well as a weekly DJ slot at the capital’s Marriott Downtown Hotel, but his desert retreat is always at the back of his mind.
“I love going to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but a lot of the reason I enjoy that is because I know I can come back to Al Ain when the city life and the traffic gets crushing. I can retreat back to the Garden City and have some time to get everything reset before I head back out into the fray.” Goodson still keeps in touch with his comedy buddies in New York, and returns there each summer to perform shows. Surprisingly, he says, his new home may have actually helped his career, rather than hindered it.
“There’s oversaturation of comedy in New York. People move from all over the world to do comedy there,” he says.
“Even if you’re very good at what you do it’s really hard to stand out from the field. I found it extra challenging because I was from New York, so I had no fascinating backstory about how I’d ended up in New York among all these people who’d travelled from a small town or a different country and struggled to get here and live their dream. I was just kind of there already, I didn’t have that extra motivation of having fought to get there.”
Now, however, Goodson has created his own fascinating backstory. Rather than being “that guy from New York doing comedy in New York”, he’s “that guy who left doing comedy in New York to move somewhere where there’s no comedy really”.
The UAE’s comedy scene is nascent but it’s growing, and Goodson has been a key player in that growth, through his regular gigs, workshops with the Dubomedy team and now slots on Comedy Central Arabia.
“Maybe it’s somewhat arrogant, but I like to believe that I’ve helped affect change here and helped give people the option of going to a comedy show at night rather than going to the cinema or for a meal,” he says. “In New York you’re just a cog in the machine, it’s all already established. Here you can really do something.”
Simeon Goodson is appearing in ‘Comedy Central Presents’ on Comedy Central Arabia on OSN. He will perform at Dubai’s 24Karat Restaurant on Wednesday, April 11, alongside former Houston resident and fellow US expat comic Tai Paschall