Comedy Central Presents is set to return following an extensive search for comedians across the Mena region. More than 250 comics from across the Arab world applied to take part in the second season of the live stand-up show, with around 20 expected to take part in the final televised product. The talent search took place at a series of regional workshops plus open-mic nights in Amman, Beirut, Lebanon, Cairo and the UAE.
The National joined the Comedy Central team at The Square in Dubai, where they are filming episodes for seasons 2 and 3 of the show – scheduled to air in January and October next year – to catch six of the region's finest, and to get a sneak preview of what viewers can expect on TV next year.
The chic venue was dressed up in classic comedy club style, the faux-brick wall and window background very much the quintessential look for any United States stand-up show, save for the neon Arabic lettering hanging stage right. With a packed house in place, Emirati comic Ali Al Sayed, last year’s host who will this season be appearing as one of the comics in a slightly reworked, host-free format, came on to warm the crowd up and go through the vital house rules of a live comedy shoot (no smoking, no bathroom breaks and above all – be loud, even if the comic is terrible, which we’re pleased to say none were).
Palestinian/American/British gagster Mona Aburmishan opened with the first – and strongest – of two sets which focused on the challenges of her mixed heritage family. The tangible cultural differences between her Palestinian and British grandmothers was a highlight here, and Aburmishan confidently owned the stage and held the audience throughout, understandably given she has a full-time career in comedy back in the US.
Shorter sets followed from 16-year-old Jordanian prodigy Zaid Lahham and Lebanese funster Rayan Karaki. Lahham, who is almost a veteran despite his tender years, having made his stage debut at the Dubai Comedy Festival back in 2015, delivered a surprisingly mature set dealing with the vagaries of the Arabic language, and insults in particular. Karaki, meanwhile, offered a self-deprecating slot pointing fun at the arrogance of certain sections of Lebanese society – no matter which wonders of the world you visit, they never quite match up to Beirut, we learned. There was a dash of Hollywood celebrity too among the line-up in the shape of Los Angeles-based actor and stand-up comic Omar Elba. Elba has appeared in TV shows including Intelligence, Ironside and, perhaps most famously, co-starred with Tom Hanks in the 2016 movie A Hologram for the King. Interestingly, the night's most famous face probably had the toughest time on stage. The evening we attended was a one-off English language special, and with a set heavy on Arabic punchlines, it became clear that Elba had not predicted quite how many of the crowd would be non-Arabic speakers. Given that Elba performs regularly in the US, I expected him to switch to more Anglophone material, but instead he became somewhat flustered and seemed to rather abruptly end his set.
Al Sayed was obviously enjoying his new freedom, having been released from hosting duties, and, given a full slot to himself rather than a series of short slots between guests as in the previous season, he seemed to grow in both confidence and comedy value – his banter with the audience was a high point of the evening as he calmly veered off-script to interact with the crowd.
The night's revelation however, was Simeon Goodson. The Brooklyn native was an established name on the New York comedy scene, with albums to his name and praise from the likes of HuffPost and CBS. He was named no.26 in Brooklyn Magazine's 50 Funniest People in Brooklyn list. In 2015, however, he relocated to Abu Dhabi with his wife, who landed a job here. He now brings his chaotic style of humour to UAE audiences whenever he gets chance, even offering a 10-minute monologue on the intricacies of life in Al Ain.
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