The highs and lows of United Nations of Comedy II

Arab comedians bring their jokes to Emirates Palace.

Khaled Khalafalla performs at Al United Nations Comedy II.  Irene García León for The National
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It's testament to the fast-­expanding size and scope of the Arab comedy scene that the second annual United Nations of Comedy extravaganza at Emirates Palace on Friday moved up a level in both venue size and breadth of performers.

We were eased into proceedings by Khaled Khalafalla, an affable Australian-Egyptian with boy-band good looks – but the young upstart poleaxed his own schtick by pointing out that he only has another few years of “looking like one of One Direction” before he has to get funny.

Ali Al Sayed, a familiar face on the UAE comedy scene, demonstrated his unflappable stagecraft with an inclusive set that found time to cater to his fellow Emiratis. He could, however, stand to evolve his reliance on tired, race-based observational material.

Sammy Obeid gave the evening’s first real taste of comic class. The San Francisco-based funnyman vaguely resembles David Blaine’s goofy younger brother. Unlike Blaine, however, he was unafraid to mercilessly send himself up, while whimsically riffing on subjects from smiling to how his bedroom is haunted (although the reasons for the latter are unrepeatable here).

Mo Amer made good on his larger-than-life Palestinian-American demeanour, peaking with a pleasingly self-aware tale of his two-decade fight for American ­citizenship.

That was in stark contrast to the trucker-capped, Iranian-born Amir K, who seemed most comfortable when his audience were not, needling numerous front-row spectators and taking his train of thought off on hilariously abstract tangents.

The headline draw, Nemr Abou Nassar, began brilliantly with a screaming depiction of bird life in Saudi Arabia, before going walk-about to interact with the audience. Frustratingly, though, many of those onlookers were subsequently alienated by his insistence on completing punchlines in Lebanese Arabic, plus an unsavoury piece on parents beating their children.

The night’s loose UN theme was followed through via a decibel-based crowd vote, with the comics split into “Dumbocrats” and “Republicants”.

But the real winners were Obeid and Amir K, who confirmed that there’s a bright future for Middle Eastern comedy beyond terrorist gags and obsessing over perceptions of Arabs.