"Comedy is a serious business. A serious business with only one purpose — to make people laugh." The teary-eyed laughter that flooded the American University Dubai's (AUD) auditorium could certainly confirm this old W. C. Fields' quote.
Making an audience of 700 people laugh to their heart's content is no easy feat, but Ahmad Ahmad, Maz Jobrani and Aron Kader, on the Middle-Eastern leg of their pioneering Axis of Evil comedy tour, made it seem effortless.
They each took to the stage for a few minutes of the show as a preview of what was to come, getting straight to the laughs by using a mixture of physical comedy (which Aron undoubtedly has a penchant for!), contemporary stories (Maz had Dubai traffic nailed!) and a commanding audience appeal (Ahmad did not even flinch in the face of hilarious, unexpected technical failings).
Competing for comedy
The boys then had the tables turned on them as they watched more than a dozen AUD students express their comic talent at the open-microphone event held on December 1. Organised by the AUD's Palestinian Cultural Club (PCC) with a little help from Showtime Arabia, the programme gave the students a chance to air their talents on international television.
While an Arabic-speaking South Korean who can belt out an Abdel Halim Hafiz number is not a sight you see everyday, the students collectively stole the show. Performing in front of a tough crowd they bravely awaited on-the-spot feedback from the Axil of Evil judges and the announcement of the winner.
The students, an eclectic mix of nationalities including Egyptian, Pakistani, Lebanese, British and Iranian expressively used their comedy to counter stereotypes and tackle various issues, drawing on family, friends, education, politics and other life experiences to make the audience laugh.
The stand up scene
"We don't have much comedy going on and I would love to see more of this happening," said Dr. Linda, the coordinator of the PCC. "It breaks the tension and I hope this is the beginning of more shows where we can use humour as a powerful, effective tool to deliver ideas."
Ahmad said, "This is an under-developed industry in the region. Despite that people do have a sense of humour and do laugh at themselves. Comedy is simply about having a point of view and going for the funny." Kader added that "there was a lot more potential in Dubai" than he had seen in other places.
The winner of the night, George Saad, earned a 25 per cent scholarship for AUD's Spring 2008 semester and got the chance to perform with the boys at their sold-out show at the Mall of the Emirates.
"This was an amazing experience, but you still want to win even if you're happy with doing well on stage. It was very tense and very exciting. I couldn't believe it!"
Advice to budding stand-up comedians
Maz: Get on stage as much as you can, and write a lot, keep writing.
Ahmad: Stay interested, be animated with your story telling … and know that you will be married to this career.
The worst stand-up faux pas:
Aron: Don't blame the audience!
The purpose of comedy:
Maz: It's when you try to expose hypocrisy, but you do it in a funny way.
Ahmad: It's like the saying, there's nothing funny about comedy — it is always taken from real life. For us, we add humour the whole concept of being from the Middle East, bearing in mind that we can't be too one-sided because we are also from the US, and owe it to this country to be fair.
Comedy — is it nature or nurture?
"Both. It is important that you have it from within."
— Manisha Hirani, AUD
"Nature. Making people laugh is a talent inside the person."
— Karim Soubra, business, AUD
"Nature, because it is not what you say but how you say it."
— Mina Botros, electrical engineering, AUD
"Some people are funny, some aren't. It's how you portray it."
— Ahmad Sadawi, marketing, AUD
"It's nature. You don't need to prepare material."
— Rany Metri Deskoores, engineering, AUD
Biggest on-stage faux pas for a comedian?
"Being abusive when on stage."
— Shilpa Asnani, AUD
— Anshul Purohit, management finance, AUD
"Things that shouldn't be talked about, comedy is funny, certain topics just aren't."
— Khalid Jasmi, IT, AUD
"Being rude on stage, there is a difference between crude and funny."
— George Saad, communication, AUD