Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Middle Eastern youth find comic relief through stand-up

May 7, 2013 -- Updated 0224 GMT (1024 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A handful of young Egyptians find relief from the country's turmoil in stand-up comedy
  • The group, Hezb El Comedy, also teaches the art of stand-up to other aspiring comics
  • Young people in Qatar have also started a stand-up comedy group
  • For comics in the Middle East who don't censor themselves, comedy can be a risky business

(CNN) -- It has been a rocky couple of years for the people of Egypt. Since the 2011 revolution, the economy has tanked, street protests are an almost daily occurrence and the political situation remains volatile.

However, a handful of young Egyptians have found that the best way to take a stand against the turmoil is with stand-up comedy.

"We are like a little beam of sunlight, coming through and reminding people, 'Don't worry! When this cloud passes, it will be brighter. It will be happier,'" says Rami Borai, a comedian in one of Egypt's first home-grown comedy troupes, Hezb El Comedy.

The group, whose name means "The Comedy Party," was formed in 2009 by Hashim Al Gahry, who admits he started up with "zero capital." Al Gahry and some friends pooled their savings, and started marketing the group through social media. When they're not performing, Hezb El Comedy teaches the art of stand-up to other aspiring comics, instructing them on things like timing and body language.

Qatar embraces stand-up comedy

"We're not the funniest people in the world, but it's the experience that has put us in a position to give them advice and tell them, 'These are our mistakes, and this is what you can do to avoid what we did,'" says Al Gahry.

Read more: Book shows collection of Iran's political cartoons

You have to push the limit, but you have to be very careful
Hashim Al Gahry, comedian

Other Arab nations are similarly investing in grassroots comedy. In Qatar, a few young comics have come together to form SUCQ (an acronym for Stand Up Comedy Qatar).

"It's an American art. We took it from the Americans. We have reshaped it to adapt to our culture and society and people," says Hamad Al Amri, 24, a comedian who is also a banker by day. Mohamed Kamal, who also performs stand-up with SUCQ, notes that given Qatar's political climate, there are limits to what he can joke about.

"We can't talk about politics, or very sensitive topics, like sex or religion," he notes.

For those comics in the Middle East who don't censor themselves, comedy can be a risky business.

Earlier this month, Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef made headlines after he was charged for mocking both Islam and Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsy. Other comics in the region have faced similar fates. Sami Fehri, a Tunisian producer of a political puppet show, was imprisoned for corruption charges, and Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was jailed last year for mocking religious figures.

Read more: Syria's "freedom graffiti" amid devastation of war goes viral

Al Gahry admits that as a comic, he must proceed with caution.

"You have to push the limit, but you have to be very careful," he says. Borai, meanwhile, finds humour in the prospect of facing arrest.

"If I ever read a newspaper that said, 'Ramy was indicted,' I would say, 'Yo, mom, this is it!' I'll fly out of here, but I would be like, 'I got kicked out of my country for being too damn funny!'"

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
Where better to start a record-breaking solar powered flight than the desert?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Ahmed Eldin is the 18-year-old behind the prog-rock band's new album cover. Shine on you crazy diamond.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
The Humans of New York photo project exposes the hopes and fears of ordinary people in Iraq and Jordan.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 0247 GMT (1047 HKT)
At first glance, the UAE seems ill-suited to ice hockey: the only snow and ice to be found is usually in fabricated form in a shopping mall.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 0206 GMT (1006 HKT)
Dubai's appetite for construction continues with multi-billion dollar boost to build the world's largest airport.
September 8, 2014 -- Updated 0440 GMT (1240 HKT)
Does faith have a place on the sports field? One Muslim NFL star believes so.
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 0302 GMT (1102 HKT)
The UAE is becoming a hub for plastic surgery with more Emiratis going under the knife each year.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1120 GMT (1920 HKT)
Meet Erdal Inci, a digital artist from Turkey who is transforming the medium.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1339 GMT (2139 HKT)
Iran is pumping billions of dollars into a scheme to save a lake. What's so important about it?
August 8, 2014 -- Updated 0218 GMT (1018 HKT)
A volatile Middle East has changed the tenor of Ramadan programming in Egypt. Now, no topic is too taboo.
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 0253 GMT (1053 HKT)
Dubai has got some big animal attractions in its mega malls. But not everyone is wild about the idea.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 0314 GMT (1114 HKT)
Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's Nobel Prize-winning author, is neither afraid to confront the human condition nor the state his country is in.
ADVERTISEMENT