Ali Al Sayed and Mina Liccione
Ali Al Sayed and Mina Liccione Image Credit: GN Archives

Mina Liccione and Ali Al Sayed can be considered Dubai’s comedy power couple, having co-founded the comedy institute Dubomedy and being returning performers for the annual Dubai Comedy Festival that kicks off on May 13 in time for Eid celebrations.

However, when they started in the business of entertaining people in the UAE back in 2008, the scene was vastly different from what it is today.

Dubai Comedy Festival 2020-1617610717640

Talking to Gulf News in 2012, Liccione said: “Four years ago people were scared to give us a gig thinking that our humour won’t be clean and it might be a mock satire so it took us 13 months to fix the venue for our first show. But we came a long way since then. For the first performing arts festival in 2010, we got around 200 performers and it has been growing since then.”

Oh, how things have grown! This year’s Dubai Comedy Festival, presented by Dubai Calendar and produced by BRAG, Live Nation and Dxb Live, will see performances over 10 days from personalities such as French-Moroccan star Gad Elmaleh, Iranian-American actor and comedian Maz Jobrani and Hollywood actor Eddie Griffin.

So what has it been like preparing to make the city laugh while amid a global pandemic? Liccione and Al Sayed talk to Gulf News about finding their inspiration and what fans can expect from their shows.

Hailing from New York, Mina Liccione is set to perform her show ‘Growing Up Ringside’ on May 20 at The Theatre at Mall of the Emirates.

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Mina Liccione. Image Credit: Supplied

What can audiences expect from your show?

‘Growing Up Ringside’ is a very special and deeply personal one woman show, combining comedy, mixed media and a whole lotta’ heart. It starts with funny stories from my childhood as a tiny aspiring dancer in New York and bond with my boxing-promoting Italian dad and ends with me performing comedy in Dubai. You’ll laugh, you’ll get teary eyed and hopefully inspired. I’m not shying away from anything in this show, it’s as raw and real as I’ve ever been.

What is it like preparing for a comedy show during a pandemic?

There have been so many ups and downs! The thing that’s kept me sane is having a sense of humour. I promised my self that I’d write everyday to not let this time, fear and anxiety go in vain. Thankfully, I stuck with it!

This particular show allowed me and my dad to work on something together. Even though he is in New York and I’m in Dubai, this project kept us close and his spirits high. Getting to laugh about the old times, wise guys from the neighbourhood, Muhammad Ali, and all the great memories we’ve shared was heartwarming and sometimes quite emotional. I hope this show honours my dad, New York roots, Broadway dreams and newfound home in Dubai.

You use a variety of elements in your shows. How do a find a balance incorporating those elements? And what’s the most fun aspect of it?

I’m an extremely visual person. When remembering the boxing gym and matches, dance studio, New York streets, I could see them in my head and instantly knew it has to be a mixed media show. My dad helped me find old VHS tapes and get them converted. Wow! Watching the footage and seeing all of these old photos brought everything to life all over again. I secretly write a lot of spoken word poetry in my journal, and at two points in the show I decided to include those words. They were the only way to really describe the pain, joy and fear in those moments.

My first love was dance, so it naturally had to make its way into the show here and there. I’m older now so nothing crazy but some of my favourite ‘90s moves will be spotted.

Through your shows you’ve addressed social and women’s issues such a breast cancer. Why is it important to touch upon these issues in your comedy?

I’ve always loved comedians that made me laugh and then made me think. Truth in jest is a very powerful tool and can help see important issues in a different light. The older I get the more I’m drawn to comedy with a deeper purpose and using my talent and loud voice to touch upon things some are uncomfortable to talk about... but really need to.

After being an integral part of Dubai’s comedy scene over the years, what would you like to see in the future?

Less ego. More women!

Emirati comedian Ali Al Sayed, the husband of Liccione, is known for his lightning-fast wit and will be bringing a taste of that to The Theatre at Mall of the Emirates on May 14.

Comedian Ali Al Sayed
Ali Al Sayed. Image Credit: Supplied

What can audiences expect from your show?

The question is, what can I expect from the audience for my show? This is a crowd work special which means that I will be doing improvised stand up comedy based on my interaction with the audience. So please keep it creative audience, I need a good laugh.

What is it like preparing for a comedy show during a pandemic?

Comedy is the only way I know how to think and express myself. Prepping shows, writing and performing has been the best part of all of this.

How do you come up with material when things are so dire?

The only time to come up with material is when things are dire, nobody wants to hear about how amazing things are in your life, that’s what Facebook is for.

You’ve been involved in comedy for many years. How has the scene changed in Dubai since you started?

When we started Dubomedy one of our main objectives was to build a comedy community, we’re very proud of what we’ve done. The scene is not just here, it’s all over the world with our Dubomedy comedians performing in Asia, Europe and the Americas.

After performing all over the world, which place would you say has the best audience? And why?

Dubai hands down! The most diverse and culturally aware crowd I’ll ever know.

Dubai Comedy Festival 2021
Hollywood actor Eddie Griffin, French-Moroccan star Gad Elmaleh and Iranian-American actor and comedian Maz Jobrani are set to perform at Dubai Comedy Festival.

Don’t miss it!

Dubai Comedy Festival runs from May 13 to 22 across various venues. Tickets are available online.