The UAE's diverse audience is a welcome challenge for visiting comics, and British old-timer Jason Manford is up for it.
“You get such a mixed bag of audience here,” he tells The National, ahead of his gig at the Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
“You get all sorts of people, so it means your brain is on fire. You're having to think all the time — you think of what you want to say, and then you think, is everyone going to get it? I love that. It's exciting,” the Manchester-born comic adds.
Like many other comedians, Manford draws material from his own experiences, from growing up in Manchester to being a father — light-hearted themes that should resonate with a diverse audience.
Manford said he's been exposed to a variety of audiences over his more than two-decade career and this has allowed him to refine his comic allure.
But the UAE takes audience diversity to the next level.
“Now I would say, the UAE is one of the destination places for comics. It's not a place that you avoid,” he says.
“It helps you become a better comic because you are having to think about all the people in the room — whether it's an British banker, an Emirati, a Danish teacher or an Australian nurse, whoever it is.
“All these people are suddenly in one room, and are listening to what you have to say, and you have to make sure that your stuff is relatable to people who don't necessarily relate to each other,” Manford adds.
It helps, he says, that there is a “much more relaxed nature” in the UAE right now, with comedians being allowed to push their creativity further.
Comedy and political correctness
“Leave your worries, your stresses and all these things outside, because for the next couple of hours, we will have a good laugh.”
These have always been Manford's first words when he performs on stage. His act is often described as easy and light-hearted, unlike those of edgier comics with a more controversial tone.
Most often than not, a comedian's success has a lot to do with their ability to relate to people. Whether or not that's through mundane observations or sarcastic hits, Manford says it all boils down to one thing: actually being hilarious.
“There are so many comics that slip into becoming almost like preachers, or thinking that they can change the world. You're just another person with another opinion, that's all you are, but what you've got as a comedian is that you're funny,” he says.
Making people think is one thing, but making people think while also enjoying their time at a gig is another, adds Manford. He says being an “offensive comedian” is easier than getting “every single person to feel included and have a laugh”.
“I would be mortified if anybody left my show feeling upset, angry or offended with something that I talked about,” he adds. Comedy has changed over the years, he says, and comics have always had to adapt, whether it's the language or any other devices used in the craft.
“This is not to say that comics shouldn't be testing boundaries, of course we should, that's what comedians have always done,” he says, but adds there's a whole discipline to comedy, and a crucial entertainment element that people are looking for when they attend gigs.
Comedy happens best “in the moment”, says Manford, a well-rounded performer with wide experience in television and radio presenting, as well as acting and singing.
To those who aren't sure about showing up to Friday's gig, Manford says: “If you have seen me before over the last 15 to 20 years, and you enjoyed it, you will really enjoy this one too, because I'm better than I've ever been.
“If you have seen me before and you didn't like it — you still won't, because it's still me,” he adds, with a contagious cackle.