My UAE: Omar Ismail, a comedian leading a life of laughter

A glimpse into the life of the UAE comedian Omar Ismail.

Emirati comedian Omar Ismail had perhaps the perfect upbringing for his job. Born in South Shields, a coastal town near Newcastle, England, to an Emirati father and a British mother, the 30-year-old has spent most his life shuttling between the UK and the UAE. "I'd say I've spent a total of 15 years in each," he says.

Now living in International City, Dubai, with his American wife, Heidi, and their two cats, Pei Lei and Lei Lei, Ismail took up comedy six years ago and has been professional for the past two years. He honed his skills at Dubomedy in Dubai, and now performs stand-up routines all over the world and throughout the Gulf.

All of which is some way from Ismail's degree subject of artificial intelligence, and his post-graduation career as a telecoms investment analyst and IT manager. "After the financial crisis in 2007, I got bored with my job. I happened to meet and get to know a lot of people who were phenomenally good in the comedy world and who asked me to join them on tour. The best thing about this job is that you get to meet a lot of new people on a daily basis - both audiences and other comedians."

Now, new comedians come to him for advice about performing here. "I tell them they have to be careful, because I can get away with things that others would not. There are sensitive topics but the main thing is to be respectful, know what you are talking about and show that you can come at it from an Arab Muslim perspective."

Family, he says, is a topic particularly suited to the region. "Usually, I think people react a little to the joke, and a lot to the 'thank God I'm not the only one', element, especially when you're in a Middle Eastern culture which can be very private about family life. I've had a lot of people really open up to me about what goes on in their own families, when usually they'd never tell a soul."

What’s your favourite thing to do in the UAE?

I like to go to Fujairah, but I don’t go as often as I should. I used to love climbing there. Apart from that, going out to the movies, and going out to eat more than I should

Favourite TV shows?

Doctor Who is right now my absolute favourite. I love comedies obviously like Big Bang Theory, and old-school British comedies like Red Dwarf [pictured].

Favourite thing?

A desktop computer I built myself: I prefer desktops to laptops. Any of my 100-sided dice.

Favourite comedians?

Dara Ó Briain [pictured] and Louis CK are both phenomenal. Louis and Jimmy Carr both have a very similar philosophy to my own when it comes to different aspects of comedy, so I respect them a lot for that. My comedy is it bit less risqué, but the principles are the same.

Favourite travel destination?

I would like travelling more but I only travel once a year and it tends to be back to the UK or US to see either my family or the wife’s family. Having said that, I love going back to the UK when I get the chance. (Not so much the US – in-laws.)

Person that you look up to most?

I suppose I look up to lots of people, but I've learnt that even your greatest idols are multifaceted enough that you don't want to idolise them too much.

One item that you can't live without?

My desktop computer, although ... it’s currently opened up until I get a new graphics card, so death may be imminent.

Favourite book?

Anything by Douglas Adams, like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. I'm a big geek so obviously things like Lord of the Rings and other fantasy and sci fi.

Favourite food

Ribs and meat in general: I like the Habtoor Grand hotel in Dubai for that, or Ribs and Rumps. Anything meat.

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