London comedians explore Middle Eastern humour in aid of earthquake survivors

West End show aims to raise cash for Syrian and Turkish communities affected by quake

Audience members at a previous Weapons of Mass Hilarity show. Photo: Noor Lozi
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A group of British comedians is preparing to charm audiences in London’s West End by exploring their Middle Eastern heritage in a humorous way while raising funds for earthquake survivors.

The Weapons of Mass Hilarity show at Soho Theatre will unite performers of Iraqi, Iranian and Palestinian origin for the benefit of people affected by the natural disaster in Turkey and Syria.

Laith Elzubaidi, a stand-up comedian and storyteller, is among those taking part.

Born in London to Iraqi refugee parents, the 25 year old has won accolades at the Edinburgh TV Festival for daring to delve into exploring his background.

He told The National that using his talents to raise cash important because of how much his native country has suffered.

“I think from my own experience of constantly seeing people in Iraq who have to go through such awful things, fund-raising [seems like] a very necessary thing and it’s something that I am very used to,” he said. “It’s something that our community in the UK is very used to. It’s almost like a reflex — something happens and we do what we can.

“It’s really important, especially because the news coverage of the earthquake and the relief efforts have been shockingly brief.

“We just felt that this is a way that we can raise some money and help people.”

Mr Elzubaidi admitted that while he finds the idea of jumping on stage to tell his story daunting, he just gets on with the task at hand.

“I have done Weapons of Mass Hilarity shows before and the audience is about 90 per cent Middle Eastern,” he said.

“The stories I tell mostly come from generational refugee experiences, like my family’s experiences in Iraq and their journey to the UK and the effect it’s had on me.

“It’s terrifying and I don’t know why I do it!”

He will be joined by Hajar Woodland, a comedian who is also keen to use her Middle Eastern background to entertain.

Born to an Iranian father and a British mother, she lived in Iran as a toddler before returning to the UK.

Ms Woodland said her struggle to create an identity for herself as a British woman of mixed ethnicity was an experience to which many others could relate.

“I am this woman who has spent her 20s trying to grapple with her own identity,” she said. “I tried to fit into each camp. I tried to fit in with posh, white people. I am almost 37 now and think, how much does this even matter?

“I am very early on in my comedy career and I have to try out stuff that’s going to upset people or that’s going to come out the wrong way,” she added. “I would not necessarily be treading on eggshells but because of my background I have always felt misunderstood and in a way have always been treading on eggshells.”

Having been well received by audiences in her local community in Surrey, Ms Woodland has no reservations about her West End debut.

Her only regret, she said, is not starting her career in comedy sooner. She attributes this to a lack of performers to whom she could relate.

She said. “I always found confidence through singing but speaking authentically is a very vulnerable thing and I think it was what I always wanted to do when I was younger. But I didn’t see anyone [like me] doing it. I feel disappointed in myself that I was unable to communicate that sooner.”

The Weapons of Mass Hilarity show in aid of earthquake survivors will take place at Soho Theatre in central London at 8.30pm on Wednesday, March 1.

Updated: February 28, 2023, 5:39 PM