Ray Addison, left, and Salman Qureshi, founders of Dubai Laughing. Pawan Singh / The National
Ray Addison, left, and Salman Qureshi, founders of Dubai Laughing. Pawan Singh / The National

Comedians share their experiences with the UAE’s growing, diverse comedy scene



When Ray Addison and Salman Qureshi, the founders of comedy troupe Dubai Laughing rounded up a group of resident entertainers for their first stand-up gig in 2012, they had to call on every friend and relative to try to fill up the venue they hired in Tecom.

Four years later, the underground comedy scene in the UAE has transformed into a vibrant mainstream performance circuit, with more than 25 shows in theatres and restaurants every month. The growing appetite for home-grown laughs has encouraged many aspiring comedians from diverse backgrounds and walks of life to grab a mic and start performing at night after their day jobs.

This dedication encouraged Dubai Laughing to launch the first UAE Comedy Awards. The winners in 19 categories, chosen by an online public vote, will receive their awards during a comedy night at Stables Restaurant on Saturday.

“It’s credible for us to be hosting these awards now because there are so many comedians performing regularly and several comedy nights all over the country,” says Addison. “It’s a chance to recognise these people who are doing day jobs then gigging four times a week on top of that, and each time they get better at comedy. It’s also our way to bring public attention to the thriving comedy scene.”

The categories including Male and Female Stand-Up, International Act, Comedy Night, Venue, Compere, Variety Act, Improv Troupe and Improviser. Voting remains open until Thursday, February 25.

Pushing boundaries

Emirati comedians are taking advantage of the growing local comedy scene to highlight cultural and societal issues.

Abdullah Al Qassab, fondly known as “The Butcher”, for example, likes to use comedy to push boundaries. The Emirati has been nominated for the Best Corporate Comedian and Social Media awards. He joins fellow local nominees, the scene veteran Ali Al Sayed and Omar Ismail, who are both up for Best Male Stand-Up and Best Joke Writer.

“Comedy has been around forever but the type of comedy is changing now,” says Al Qassab, who is from Sharjah.

He says a lot of the young Emirati comics use social media to test new material.

“What I’ve noticed is that younger ones prefer online and aren’t refining themselves for stage,” he says. He adds that there are “some really good UAE nationals who work in serious jobs such as the aviation and advertising industry, but once they are on stage they bring the house down”.

Al Qassab says the awards offergreat motivation: “For comedians who dedicate so much time and effort to come up with good sets, this is a good recognition, too.”

Funny and personal

Having a go at stand-up comedy was on Bronwyn Byrnes bucket list of things to try before she turned 40. When she lost her job after becoming pregnant, she decided it was “now or never” .

"This happened about seven years ago, and I enrolled in a stand-up course and drama classes," says the 44-year-old, who lives in Dubai. "But back then there weren't many opportunities and open-mic nights. So I stopped. Two years ago I did another comedy course, with Dubai Laughing and, just like the character in the movie Yes Man, I agreed to do every stand-up gig."

Byrnes, who now makes a living performing comedy and theatre at corporate gigs, says her material revolves around her family and experiences as a mother. She does about two to three shows a month. A nominee for the Best Female Stand-Up award, she says the local comedy circuit has come a long way. “The great thing now is you have a choice of these unlicensed venues that give people the option to watch comedy in family-friendly spaces,” says Byrnes. She says venues such as The Courtyard Playhouse in Al Quoz, Ductac (nominated in the Best Venue category), and new black-box theatre space, The Junction in Alserkal Avenue, have a loyal following. “They are always busy and the turnout to the shows is great.”

Shaking things up

Variety Act nominee Luke Hacker has performed at 150 shows in the past 18 months. But when the lawyer moved from London to Dubai three years ago, a local comedy scene was virtually unheard of. “I’ve always been a comedy fan and when I got here, the main shows were these international acts being brought in,” he says. “The big change I’ve seen is that there are many more opportunities for residents to perform.”

Hacker, who often breaks into silly songs during his routines, says that the diversity in the UAE offers the perfect chance to come up with zany material that a local audience can relate to.

“When you perform, you make certain assumptions and cultural references,” he says. “When I started, I assumed people here would understand certain references that comedians use in London, and they didn’t. So it’s a challenge and interesting to deal with that and work our material accordingly.”

The UAE Comedy Awards are at Stables restaurant on Saturday from 9pm. Entry is free. To vote, visit www.uaecomedyawards.com

aahmed@thenational.ae

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

BACK TO ALEXANDRIA

Director: Tamer Ruggli

Starring: Nadine Labaki, Fanny Ardant

Rating: 3.5/5

Sarfira

Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

The Afghan connection

The influx of talented young Afghan players to UAE cricket could have a big impact on the fortunes of both countries. Here are three Emirates-based players to watch out for.

Hassan Khan Eisakhil
Mohammed Nabi is still proving his worth at the top level but there is another reason he is raging against the idea of retirement. If the allrounder hangs on a little bit longer, he might be able to play in the same team as his son, Hassan Khan. The family live in Ajman and train in Sharjah.

Masood Gurbaz
The opening batter, who trains at Sharjah Cricket Academy, is another player who is a part of a famous family. His brother, Rahmanullah, was an IPL winner with Kolkata Knight Riders, and opens the batting with distinction for Afghanistan.

Omid Rahman
The fast bowler became a pioneer earlier this year when he became the first Afghan to represent the UAE. He showed great promise in doing so, too, playing a key role in the senior team’s qualification for the Asia Cup in Muscat recently.

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

The specs: 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

Price, base / as tested: Dh101,140 / Dh113,800


Engine: Turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder


Power: 148hp @ 5,500rpm


Torque: 250Nm @ 2,000rpm


Transmission: Eight-speed CVT


Fuel consumption, combined: 7.0L / 100km

Herc's Adventures

Developer: Big Ape Productions
Publisher: LucasArts
Console: PlayStation 1 & 5, Sega Saturn
Rating: 4/5

The specs

Engine: Single front-axle electric motor
Power: 218hp
Torque: 330Nm
Transmission: Single-speed automatic
Max touring range: 402km (claimed)
Price: From Dh215,000 (estimate)
On sale: September

Forced Deportations

While the Lebanese government has deported a number of refugees back to Syria since 2011, the latest round is the first en-mass campaign of its kind, say the Access Center for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization which monitors the conditions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

“In the past, the Lebanese General Security was responsible for the forced deportation operations of refugees, after forcing them to sign papers stating that they wished to return to Syria of their own free will. Now, the Lebanese army, specifically military intelligence, is responsible for the security operation,” said Mohammad Hasan, head of ACHR.
In just the first four months of 2023 the number of forced deportations is nearly double that of the entirety of 2022.

Since the beginning of 2023, ACHR has reported 407 forced deportations – 200 of which occurred in April alone.

In comparison, just 154 people were forcfully deported in 2022.

Violence

Instances of violence against Syrian refugees are not uncommon.

Just last month, security camera footage of men violently attacking and stabbing an employee at a mini-market went viral. The store’s employees had engaged in a verbal altercation with the men who had come to enforce an order to shutter shops, following the announcement of a municipal curfew for Syrian refugees.
“They thought they were Syrian,” said the mayor of the Nahr el Bared municipality, Charbel Bou Raad, of the attackers.
It later emerged the beaten employees were Lebanese. But the video was an exemplary instance of violence at a time when anti-Syrian rhetoric is particularly heated as Lebanese politicians call for the return of Syrian refugees to Syria.

Tips for avoiding trouble online
  • Do not post incorrect information and beware of fake news
  • Do not publish or repost racist or hate speech, yours or anyone else’s
  • Do not incite violence and be careful how to phrase what you want to say
  • Do not defame anyone. Have a difference of opinion with someone? Don’t attack them on social media
  • Do not forget your children and monitor their online activities
THE BIO:

Sabri Razouk, 74

Athlete and fitness trainer 

Married, father of six

Favourite exercise: Bench press

Must-eat weekly meal: Steak with beans, carrots, broccoli, crust and corn

Power drink: A glass of yoghurt

Role model: Any good man

Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

Anxiety and work stress major factors

Anxiety, work stress and social isolation are all factors in the recogised rise in mental health problems.

A study UAE Ministry of Health researchers published in the summer also cited struggles with weight and illnesses as major contributors.

Its authors analysed a dozen separate UAE studies between 2007 and 2017. Prevalence was often higher in university students, women and in people on low incomes.

One showed 28 per cent of female students at a Dubai university reported symptoms linked to depression. Another in Al Ain found 22.2 per cent of students had depressive symptoms - five times the global average.

It said the country has made strides to address mental health problems but said: “Our review highlights the overall prevalence of depressive symptoms and depression, which may long have been overlooked."

Prof Samir Al Adawi, of the department of behavioural medicine at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, who was not involved in the study but is a recognised expert in the Gulf, said how mental health is discussed varies significantly between cultures and nationalities.

“The problem we have in the Gulf is the cross-cultural differences and how people articulate emotional distress," said Prof Al Adawi. 

“Someone will say that I have physical complaints rather than emotional complaints. This is the major problem with any discussion around depression."

Daniel Bardsley

Avatar (2009)

Director: James Cameron

Stars: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver

Rating: 3/5

SPEC SHEET: SAMSUNG GALAXY S23 ULTRA

Display: 6.8" edge quad-HD+ dynamic Amoled 2X, Infinity-O, 3088 x 1440, 500ppi, HDR10+, 120Hz

Processor: 4nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, 64-bit octa-core

Memory: 8/12GB RAM

Storage: 128/256/512GB/1TB (only 128GB has an 8GB RAM option)

Platform: Android 13

Main camera: quad 12MP ultra-wide f/2.2 + 200MP wide f/1.7 + 10MP telephoto f/4.9 + 10MP telephoto 2.4; 3x/10x optical zoom, Space Zoom up to 100x; auto HDR, expert RAW

Video: 8K@24/30fps, 4K@60fps, full-HD@60fps, HD@30fps, full-HD super slo-mo@960fps

Front camera: 12MP f/2.2

Battery: 5000mAh, fast wireless charging 2.0, Wireless PowerShare

Connectivity: 5G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC

I/O: USB-C; built-in Galaxy S Pen

SIM: single nano / nano + eSIM / nano + nano + eSIM / nano + nano

Colours: cream, green, lavender, phantom black; online exclusives: graphite, lime, red, sky blue

Price: Dh4,949 for 256GB, Dh5,449 for 512GB, Dh6,449 for 1TB; 128GB unavailable in the UAE

Company Profile

Company name: myZoi
Started: 2021
Founders: Syed Ali, Christian Buchholz, Shanawaz Rouf, Arsalan Siddiqui, Nabid Hassan
Based: UAE
Number of staff: 37
Investment: Initial undisclosed funding from SC Ventures; second round of funding totalling $14 million from a consortium of SBI, a Japanese VC firm, and SC Venture

Iran's dirty tricks to dodge sanctions

There’s increased scrutiny on the tricks being used to keep commodities flowing to and from blacklisted countries. Here’s a description of how some work.

1 Going Dark

A common method to transport Iranian oil with stealth is to turn off the Automatic Identification System, an electronic device that pinpoints a ship’s location. Known as going dark, a vessel flicks the switch before berthing and typically reappears days later, masking the location of its load or discharge port.

2. Ship-to-Ship Transfers

A first vessel will take its clandestine cargo away from the country in question before transferring it to a waiting ship, all of this happening out of sight. The vessels will then sail in different directions. For about a third of Iranian exports, more than one tanker typically handles a load before it’s delivered to its final destination, analysts say.

3. Fake Destinations

Signaling the wrong destination to load or unload is another technique. Ships that intend to take cargo from Iran may indicate their loading ports in sanction-free places like Iraq. Ships can keep changing their destinations and end up not berthing at any of them.

4. Rebranded Barrels

Iranian barrels can also be rebranded as oil from a nation free from sanctions such as Iraq. The countries share fields along their border and the crude has similar characteristics. Oil from these deposits can be trucked out to another port and documents forged to hide Iran as the origin.

* Bloomberg

SPEC SHEET: APPLE M3 MACBOOK AIR (13")

Processor: Apple M3, 8-core CPU, up to 10-core CPU, 16-core Neural Engine

Display: 13.6-inch Liquid Retina, 2560 x 1664, 224ppi, 500 nits, True Tone, wide colour

Memory: 8/16/24GB

Storage: 256/512GB / 1/2TB

I/O: Thunderbolt 3/USB-4 (2), 3.5mm audio, Touch ID

Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3

Battery: 52.6Wh lithium-polymer, up to 18 hours, MagSafe charging

Camera: 1080p FaceTime HD

Video: Support for Apple ProRes, HDR with Dolby Vision, HDR10

Audio: 4-speaker system, wide stereo, support for Dolby Atmos, Spatial Audio and dynamic head tracking (with AirPods)

Colours: Midnight, silver, space grey, starlight

In the box: MacBook Air, 30W/35W dual-port/70w power adapter, USB-C-to-MagSafe cable, 2 Apple stickers

Price: From Dh4,599

Turning waste into fuel

Average amount of biofuel produced at DIC factory every month: Approximately 106,000 litres

Amount of biofuel produced from 1 litre of used cooking oil: 920ml (92%)

Time required for one full cycle of production from used cooking oil to biofuel: One day

Energy requirements for one cycle of production from 1,000 litres of used cooking oil:
▪ Electricity - 1.1904 units
▪ Water- 31 litres
▪ Diesel – 26.275 litres

The US Congress, explained

- US Congress is divided into two chambers: the House of Representatives and Senate

- 435 members make up the House, and 100 in the Senate

- A party needs control of 218 seats to have a majority in the House

- In the Senate, a party needs to hold 51 seats for control

- In the event of a 50-50 split, the vice president's party retains power in the Senate