Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 5 December 2020

Nemr Abou Nassar on comedy in a pandemic: 'Adaptation is the name of the game'

The Lebanese-American comedian says streaming has helped him to grow his fan base

Lebanese-American stand-up comedian Nemr Abou Nassar will perform in Dubai as part of the Dubai Comedy Festival. Nemr Abou Nassar
Lebanese-American stand-up comedian Nemr Abou Nassar will perform in Dubai as part of the Dubai Comedy Festival. Nemr Abou Nassar

While this year has been rough for many around the world, things are looking up for Nemr Abou Nassar. The Lebanese-American stand-up comedian, who goes by the stage name Nemr and lives in Los Angeles, flew to Beirut last Tuesday to see his parents for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak. He also proposed to his girlfriend, Vanessa (she said yes), and he is getting ready for a sold-out show tomorrow at Dubai Opera as part of the Dubai Comedy Festival.

“I was meant to be coming [to Lebanon] in March and I had my ticket booked, but they shut down the airport because of corona three days before my flight. I was planning to come in August; the [Beirut port] explosion happened, so I ended up not coming and then I thought whatever is going on, I’m coming,” he tells The National.

Everything I do in business is so I can get an hour on stage and make people laugh, that's at the core of what gets me going

Nemr Abou Nassar, stand-up comedian

Nemr, 37, who grew up in the US, moved back to Lebanon with his family at the age of 10. After school, he went to the American University of Beirut, where he studied finance, but his passion for comedy eventually led to a career in stand-up. By 2015, Nemr was already a household name in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East, so that year, he decided it was time for him to move back to the US and work on expanding his stand-up comedy internationally. Since then, he has been touring throughout the States and has recently performed in the UK, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam.

“This year was going to be [a tour of] the US, the Middle East, Europe and Australia, but then Covid-19 hit, so there was that.”

Nemr has been quick to adapt to the changing times, though, and for him, the answer came through the streaming platform Twitch. “Everything I do in business is so I can get an hour on stage and make people laugh, that’s at the core of what gets me going,” he says. However, when he realised shows were going to be cancelled for a long time, he immediately got on Twitch and started streaming. “Live streaming is the future.

He says artists should explore platforms that are available to them to expand their reach. “It’s the next best thing to being a stand-up comic.”

Nemr does four different streams a week; he streams playing video games, music and podcasts. “Don’t do stand-up on Twitch. Do a podcast on Twitch. Be funny on Twitch in a way the format deserves,” he says, explaining that what he does, while he’s playing a video game, is allow the comedy to happen through funny moments.

“Adaptation is the name of the game. You’re just doing something different and when you do something different, it has its own fan base.” However, those who follow Nemr on social media know that the comedian has always been vocal about the issues that matter to him – including the political and economic crises that have hit Lebanon over the past year.

After anti-government protests erupted on the streets of Beirut last year, Nemr was quick to use his platform to bring the Lebanese diaspora and those in the country together, through a collaborative initiative that aims to shed light on alternative independent candidates for the formation of a new government.

For Nemr, some form of action is better than none at all. “It’s better to have tried and failed than to not have tried at all. It’s the most cliche thing, but it’s true,” he says.

However, Nemr’s work on Twitch and other social media platforms has been very helpful. After the Beirut explosion, he supported a fundraiser for the Lebanese Red Cross that raised $67,000, and most recently, he hosted a fundraiser for the American University of Beirut that featured special guests including head coach of the American basketball team Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr, award-winning actor Tony Shalhoub and award-winning director Nadine Labaki. It raised $450,000.

Nemrsays Lebanon is the place he is most grateful for. “Everything I have been given in my life, all of my blessings, come because Lebanese people carried me on their shoulders,” he says. For him, returning to the country at this time, especially after the explosion, feels “bittersweet”. It’s sad to see the country fallen to the state that it’s in, he says. But his tone quickly changes to being defiantly hopeful. “People don’t make change. Change comes and people manage it.”

For him, change in Lebanon is only a matter of time.

Nemr Abou Nassar performs at Dubai Opera as part of the Dubai Comedy Festival on Thursday, October 22. More information is available at www.dubaiopera.com

Updated: October 21, 2020 10:20 AM

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