Comedy Break: searching for the next big Arab comedian

One of the judges on the new Comedy Break competition, Lebanese comic Tony Abou Jaoudeh says the biggest prize for wannabe standups will be the exposure.

“We’re expecting some good stuff,” says Tony Abou Jaoudeh. “There are lots of talented young people out there.” Photos by Jaime Puebla / The National
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One of the judges on the new Comedy Break competition, Tony Abou Jaoudeh, tells us that the biggest prize for wannabe stand-ups will be the exposure.

"We're creating an opportunity, maybe something new," says the Lebanese comedian Tony Abou Jaoudeh of the Kit Kat Comedy Break contest. Abou Jaoudeh, a renowned comedy face on Arabic television, will be one of the four judges of the new competition, which is searching for a new stand-up star from the region.

"Stand-up comedy has been booming here lately in the Arab world. Ten years from now it's going to go very far. We're looking for new talents. If they start now at a young age, they're going to get very far later on."

Abou Jaoudeh, a larger-than-life figure who has appeared on numerous TV shows as both an actor and presenter, will be trawling through the three-minute YouTube videos that contestants will upload to enter the competition, helping to pick out 10 that will go through to the second stage.

"We'll be judging, basically, on their character, their charisma and - obviously - how funny they are," he says. "We're expecting some good stuff. There are lots of talented young people out there. They fool around on the net. They spread things around on YouTube. We're just telling them: 'Put them to good use. Put them in a nice frame, a three-minute thing. Give us your best and you'll have a chance to become the next best Arab comedian.'"

There are restrictions, however. "No politics, no religion and no s-e-x, so good luck guys!" says Abou Jaoudeh. "It's going to be very hard. We're breaking their wings a little. But there are lots of topics you can talk about. You can make fun without referring to these three things."

Abou Jaoudeh says he tried it once. "To do something away from these three things was something of a personal challenge. And I did manage to find something that was funny. In a way, it encourages the younger generation to be more responsible. It's very easy to swear now."

For the second stage of the competition, the 10 selected contestants will be brought together, with Abou Jaoudeh and his three fellow judges giving them a series of tasks to complete as well as serving as mentors. From this 10, the judges will select an overall winner who will get US$15,000 (Dh55,100). Second and third place awards are $10,000 and $5,000, respectively, while there is a $2,500 award for the audience vote. Perhaps more important, however, is the chance to perform as the opening act for the Saudi comedian and fellow Kit Kat Comedy Break judge Fahad Albutairi on his forthcoming tour.

"This is the biggest prize, in my opinion," says Abou Jaoudeh. "That is, the start of their career, not the cash prize with the Lamborghini they're going to get. OK, so they're not going to get a Lamborghini."

The Saudi comic Fahad Albutairi, also on the judging panel for the Kit Kat Comedy Break competition, is familiar with uploading antics to YouTube - it's exactly what got him his big break. Now considered Saudi's most famous comedian and social media personality, Albutairi hosts a YouTube show La Yekthar! (No More!), which draws two-to-three million viewers per episode and has made him something of a household name across the kingdom.

"This competition is going to be a lot of fun because this is my passion," he says. "I'm not just wanting to be a judge on this. I want to sit down and laugh."

With the contest open to wannabe stand-ups from across the region, there's going to be a broad range of styles and themes. "But I think there is a common voice of comedy among Arabs in general," says Albutairi. "And I think it's closely related to Jewish humour, possibly because the cultures are very closely related. And there are also a lot of subjects shared among Arabs like generation gaps, funny parent/child situations. I've also noticed that GCC countries share a certain sense of humour that others don't."

Since the winner will open for Albutairi on his forthcoming tour, he will pay special attention to the judging process.

"Sure, it's going to be a little exhausting, possibly going through thousands of clips, but I suppose it's just a good job they're only three minutes long each."

How to enter

Applicants have until April 6 to upload a three-minute film of their routine to Although the video can be in any language, the competition is only open to Arab nationals who are residents of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The videos will be judged by Tony Abou Jaoudeh and Fahad Albutairi along with the UAE comics Shaima Al Sayed and Ali Al Sayed, although 10 per cent of the vote will come from the public. The 10 finalists selected will be brought together and given various challenges until seven are eliminated and three winners chosen, with episodes of the contest being aired online twice a week for five weeks from April 21.

* Alex Ritman