By Umer Nangiana
Funny man Ali al-Sayed makes people laugh with his mere presence. His jokes are spontaneous and hard hitting, and the moment he takes the mic, the audience goes rolling with laughter. From his first joke to his parting shot at the United Nations of Comedy (UNOC) show held at Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) earlier this week, al-Sayed drew applause at each one of his antics. Even the most ‘hysterical’ of the guffaws erupted in reaction to one of his jokes, which sent the audience into another round of laughter.
Al-Sayed was performing with a group of comics at QNCC. While each one of the six comedians was special in his own right, al-Sayed’s jokes were more closely related to the audience in the regional context and thus produced a greater effect on the house predominantly dominated by Egyptian, Lebanese and other Arab nationalities. He defeated his competing comedian, who was superb in his personal way, hands down when the audience voted to select a secretary-general for UNOC.
Before entering the stage for his 30-minute round, al-Sayed spoke to Community about starting his career in stand-up comedy, his inspiration and what makes him a winner in front of the Middle Eastern audiences.
“I can connect with the Middle Eastern audience. Here I can do a lot of inside jokes. It is like hanging out with your friend and you share with him a joke and your friend is dying at the scene laughing, knowing exactly what you are talking about,” he explained.
“When it is outside, it is a lot of homework for me. I have to sit down and there is a lot of research that goes into it,” he elaborated on the difference in performing in front of the ‘home’ audience and a foreign one.
Coming straight from Abu Dhabi after performing in two shows with the UNOC group, al-Sayed was excited about the Doha audience. “It is kind of fun to be competitive with other comics because the audience is going to vote for you at the end of it. So that is always a good way to say I am going to go out there and clinch it, no excuses,” said the comic who is well-known in the region and outside as well.
So how did it all started? How did you end up doing stand-up comedy? This is a long story, replied al-Sayed. “It was an accident. I used to work in events putting together exhibitions and conferences so they hired me to do the gala dinner for one of their events. My first ever performance was the ‘The 800 dentists’,” al-Sayed recalled.
His first show was seven years ago and since then al-Sayed said he has been having the “electric feeling” of returning to the stage every time he gets off it. He credited the producer of the show Hamza for doing the research and putting together the group of comedians to perform at UNOC as one group of six.
It was a great experience, he said.
“A lot of comedians are miserable. It has been nice to work with the comedians that are only half miserable,” al-Sayed quickly made-up, spotting one of his colleagues walking down the corridor towards him and everyone burst into laughter.
“On a serious note, it has been nice to work with a group of comics who are good and know what they are doing and they are doing great stuff,” said the comedian resuming the serious tone.
What kind of jokes you normally do?
“I do a lot of racist and inappropriate jokes,” said al-Sayed, laughing out loud. Jokes apart, he went on to explain what makes him special for Middle Eastern audiences in particular. “Actually a lot of comics coming to the region do not do certain jokes but you have to realise that I am from here. So for me what you have to explain to the other comics is something that I have grown up on,” said the comedian, adding that he understands and appreciates why “we are clean on stage and why we are talking about certain things and why we are talking about certain things in a certain way.”
He said as comics performing in the Middle East, they have to find their way around and use the freedom in structure to do the kind of jokes they intend to and the comedy that they are planning to amuse the audiences with. The kind of audience you have influences your work. “At the end of the day it is a job. You are there because the audience is there. They pay to see you. So technically they are the boss. You need to work a little bit harder to try and cater to them,” said al-Sayed, adding that a comedian has to realise his goal. It is to make people laugh and to make them happy.
Talking about his inspiration and role models in the world of comedy, he said, “My influences are weird. In comparison to how I perform, I respect what they have done for comedy. I love George Carlin. Chris Rock is probably the reason I do comedy. Dave Chappelle and Robin Williams, I mean such a sad ending,” said al-Sayed.
About the future of stand-up comedy in the region, al-Sayed was hopeful. He said there was a lot of talent as a lot of comedians were coming up and his school in Dubai intends to provide them with a venue to hone their skills.
“This year not personally but through my company I am planning on entering Qatar and other places because in the US and other places where stand-up comedy is more mature, the reason why people get better is because there are venues available,” said al-Sayed.
“Comedy in general and stand-up comedy in particular is like a sport. You are like an athlete. You have to work out. You have to practice otherwise you are not going to be good. You are just going to be someone with a lot of talent and a lot of potential and that is about it,” he explained further.
Al-Sayed said they do not have comedy clubs as they do have in the US. His comedy school, he added, was geared towards that. He has plans to go around the Middle East and plant some seeds so that people can go and find venues like restaurants and other places where they can try and do Open Mic Nights.
“This is my analogy for comedy. Comedy to Arabs is like what hip-hop was to the US. This is our voice, our opportunity,” said al-Sayed.
About his upcoming projects, al-Sayed told Community he is coming up with new material. He has just signed a contract putting 200 videos together during the next two years. It is just going to be a YouTube comedy show.
He is also going to do his special. “I am going to do my Middle East, Asia and Europe tour and it is going to be awesome because I have never done that in one shot. It is going to happen next January. I am going to be very busy,” said the comedian from Dubai.
Al-Sayed is also going to work on his first feature-length film which he is directing and has written for it. The name he preferred to keep a secret for now. The multi-talented comedian has performed alongside many renowned regional and international comics in the world of stand-up comedy.
He is also a presenter, a comedy coach and a producer.
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