Seriously funny Wil Sylvince to perform in Abu Dhabi

American-Hatian comic Wil Sylvince, who is performing on Friday night at Al Raha Beach Theatre, talks about building his comedy career behind his parent’s back.

Laughter is the best thing I can remember from childhood, says Wil Sylvince. Photo by Phil Provencio
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You are not a stranger to the Arabian Gulf. What has your experience been of performing in the region?

I have been there a few times. I performed in Dubai and Kuwait and this will be my first time in Abu Dhabi. I always love exploring new cultures and meeting new people. I always talk about that in my act.

You perform all over the world, from Europe and the Middle East to China – does this suggest that stand-up comedy is a universal art form?

I don’t think it’s about keeping the material universal. I think it’s down to the idea that comedy should be for everybody. At the end of the day, what I think I am doing is telling stories. What I have to do is make sure that everyone understands and relates to what I am saying.

What drew you to comedy?

Laughter is the best thing I can remember from childhood – people laughing uncontrollably and also the fact that it was free. The second reason was to meet girls. I was not that attractive when I was young and I had no money – all I had was jokes. I realised that women who used to run away from me would stick around once I made them laugh. But then when I ran out of jokes, they started running away again and so I had to come up with more jokes. I found out that laughter was the best way to keep women around and keep people happy.

Your comedy also addresses serious topics about growing up in a tough environment and the stigma surrounding your background

I use comedy for people to understand my Haitian culture. I want to use it to dispel some of the stereotypes around it. I think people from the Middle East would understand that, because they are often portrayed in one way, but when you go there and see it for yourself, that’s not the case. Like, when I came to the Middle East, it really opened my eyes and I realised I lived in a bubble and that’s not how the world is. That’s why I tell people that to know about the world, they need to go out there and visit places and not get your information from the television and media.

You grew up in a conservative household – what did your parents think about your choice of career?

Well, they were very strict. They came to America and they wanted to follow that American dream of proper education, getting a job with benefits and then getting married and having kids. Doing anything as entertainment was unheard of in my house.

Did it go well when they found out you planned to tell jokes for living?

Are you crazy? They never knew about it, at first. I did it all behind their back. In fact, I remember I did a show at The Apollo in 1997 and that came on television on Saturday at 1am. Now, I didn’t think my mother would be watching it because she is normally in bed by 10pm. But that night, not only was she not in bed, she was also watching the show on television. The next day, I came home and my brother said: “Yo, mum watched you on TV.” I was nervous because my brother wouldn’t tell me what she thought. So I went to see her and she had five or six of her friends in the living room and they all stopped talking when I walked in. One of her friends just looked at me and pointed and said: “Is that the comedian there?” and my mother smiled and said: “Yes, and he is my favourite one.”

You have performed alongside plenty of big names. In Abu Dhabi you will be sharing the stage with Eddie Griffin. Do you get as much of a thrill as the crowd watching them?

Oh man, I can only say that I am flattered and blessed. I mean, Eddie Griffin – what can you say about that? It is like a dream that I never thought would happen, to perform with him. I have no words for him, because that guy is a comedy genius. I just can’t wait to get down there and perform.

Tell us about the film work you are doing

I been writing a lot of movies and one of them is a drama called I Still Have a Soul, about a Haitian boxer called Maurice who goes from Haiti to New York City to follow his boxing dreams. I shot a trailer for it that you can see on YouTube and soon I will launch a kickstarter page to help raise money for it. I also produce a film festival that's sponsored by [American broadcaster] NBC called Short Cuts and the whole point of it is to help get people of colour, whether you are Spanish, black, Indian, Arab or others, into the industry.

In addition to Eddie Griffin and Wil Sylvince, Comedy Friday also features:

Ahmed Ahmed

Expect to see a lot more from the Egyptian- American comedian in the UAE. After his performance in the capital, Ahmed will remain in the UAE to perform at the opening of Comedy Oasis, a regular new event in Andreea’s Restaurant at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa in Dubai. The 45-year-old is an industry veteran who, after relocating to Hollywood at the age of 19, landed roles in TV series including Roseanne and Jag, and in the 1996 action-movie Executive Decision. A regular at Hollywood’s The Comedy Store, Ahmed has also toured extensively with the popular Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, alongside Maz Jobrani, Aron Kader and Dean Obeidallah.

Mohammed Amer

The affable Palestinian-American is largely known for being one-third of the pioneering comedy troupe Allah Made Me Funny. His career took off in 1999 after reaching the finals of Houston’s Funniest Person competition, which resulted in nationwide tours. But it was when he joined Allah Made Me Funny in 2006 – with fellow comics Preacher Moss and Azhar Usman – that he began to receive international attention, with sold-out tours in the United Kingdom, Europe and South Africa. As well as crowd-favourite routines, his Abu Dhabi performance could include material from his autobiographical solo comedy show Legally Homeless: Trials of a Refugee.

• Will Sylvince will be performing at Comedy Friday at Al Raha Beach Theatre on Friday at 7pm. Tickets start at Dh145 from