Arab funny

This weekend’s comedy show in the capital offered some surprising insights in Arab culture

Ali Al Saeed, from UAE, performs at The United Nations Comedy at Emirates Palace. (Irene García León for The National)
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As anyone who has spent time in an Egyptian cinema – or, indeed, any coffee shop in the region – can testify, there is a rich seam of comedy that runs through the Middle East. Much of it, given the events of the past few decades, can be dark, but it is funny nonetheless.

There is, however, less stand-up comedy in the region, which is why the appearance of six Arab comedians at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi as part of the United Nations of Comedy tour was so welcome. Too often, jokes are made about the region, but few who heard, for example, Ali Al Sayed’s material about Arabs will doubt that the best comedy is home-grown. The poking of fun at Arabs, Iranians, Indians and all the diverse other nationalities of the Middle East was amusing – and insightful for those who don’t know the Arab world especially well.

Yet comedy in general, and stand-up comedy in particular, which relies so heavily on audience participation, has to tread a fine line between the general and the particular. It is all very well making jokes about Egypt’s revolution – as Mo Amer did on Thursday night – but perhaps some of the punchlines of Lebanese superstar Nemr Abou Nassar could have been translated for non-Arabic speakers. Some comedy is universal but, at least for now, Lebanese dialectical insults are not.