Test for the best
August 16 2016 02:38 AM
Hamad al-Amari at the Doha Comedy Day event last year.

Speak of some of the region’s finest comic geniuses and you shall catch them live, this weekend. At the three-day Doha Comedy Festival as part of the ongoing Qatar Summer Festival (QSF), 18 top comedians of the Gulf promise to split your sides with endless heaps of sensational humour.
Anchoring and jumping on the boisterous bandwagon for two evenings are two of our very own Qatari standup comic talents Hamad al-Ammari aka The Qatari Guy, and Mohammed al-Tamimi. While al-Ammari is arguably the poster boy of the rising comedy scene in Qatar and is inescapable on the local social media, al-Tamimi is somewhat of a seasoned vet in the Arabic comedy circuit and has further bolstered his career with his popular, satirical YouTube talk show Asa Ma Shar. Community sat the funny men down for a rollicking chat.
It must be exciting to be part of this comedy mega-show for QSF.
Hamad: First of all, I am very happy to be able to do this again on a bigger scale because last year it was only ‘Doha Festival Day’. Obviously, it met with some success for it to have been turned into a three-day festival. I’m delighted to have with me another Qatari comedian and my close friend Mohammed al-Tamimi. I respect him a lot and I know how hard he works to come up with his content. That’s the thing people don’t know — writing and performing comedy requires a lot of hard work. There’s a lot of time and effort put into creating those 10 minutes. In this festival, there will be six comedians every day. I am the host and the opening act on the first day, while Mohammed is the host and the opening act for the third day.
Mohammed: I started doing comedy about six years ago but I have needed so much time to keep working at it. To bring in new content and new stories that make people laugh is not easy at all. As Hamad says, it’s time now for us Qataris to shine! I sincerely hope that at the next year’s edition, six or seven Qatari comedians will take the stage.

 You are the only two Qatari comedians in the whole programme. How do you look back at your journey that has got you till here?
Hamad: Well, for quite some time, I was the only Qatari (both laugh). And that was getting very hard because I started out doing comedy, five years ago, in English. And three years back, I transitioned to Arabic. I was very afraid of that transition though I still do both Arabic and English. I am extremely afraid of public speaking. I have a crippling fear of the stage and I don’t take this lightly. I know what it does to me back-stage. I know what it feels like to not have a set go well. That was like a blessing and a curse because I have had a lot of return customers (laughs). And they can’t come back and hear the same jokes. So every time I was on stage, I had to do new material. My shows would usually last 20 minutes. The longest show I have done was at The St. Regis Doha for 80 minutes. That was amazing. The audience was savvy and they got it. Once I have that, I can go on forever. When the transition to Arabic happened, a lot of the content I was talking about didn’t fit the atmosphere or the audience. So it was not a translation, it was more of a transformation. I had to transform into a different person to perform in Arabic. I think eventually, I began doing that very well. I have more than 60 shows in English, and a lot of stage time on live TV. So I am very lucky to carry on doing what I love.
Mohammed: Actually, even Hamad doesn’t know this but the first time I saw his show at Doha Comedy Day, I was very jealous. He had the chance to be the star of the night. But later, when I thought about it, I realised that Hamad has worked hard for it. It’s not easy to shoulder the whole night. As a host, you have to do the balancing act as there are six comedians, every comedian bigger than the other, and Hamad did a fine job of balancing them all, while cracking jokes from time to time. I think Hamad, as a comedian, is more comfortable telling jokes than I am. I dread to think that maybe there will be 600 to 700 people at the show this weekend. The maximum crowd I have dealt with is 350. I think I will scream out of anxiety.
So do people or numbers matter so much to a performance?
Hamad: Honestly, I don’t think it’s about people; it’s about your content. The worst thing is spending hours thinking about a story, practising it, carrying it in your head before you hit the bed and excitedly waking up knowing you have a solid 10 minutes, and then you go do it on stage and nobody gets it (both laugh). You just want to bury yourself. Once, I was contracted to do a show for 45 minutes. I bombed so hard in the first 25 minutes. But I knew my material and I told myself — I have to stick to the contract! After 25 minutes, I told the audience, ‘This is not going very well’. And they all went, ‘Yeah, you think?’ That triggered something evil inside me. I told myself I will make you all laugh. And I did it.
Mohammed: My worst story happened at The Pearl. I was the host and Hamad was the standup comic for the night. As soon as I started talking, the sound went kaput. Totally out! But Hamad shouted out all his jokes and pulled off the show. The reason I do comedy is because I think people, over time, forget how to laugh. Most people want us to speak about our culture and the problems we have here. When we see how badly people need to discuss this and laugh about it, we take it up as our responsibility even though fulfilling that is not easy.
What sort of themes does your comedy deal with?
Mohammed: It’s about me. In my family, I am the only child who is not in the military and instead doing comedy. So I have too many stories to tell (both laugh). I mean when you have grown up waking up in the morning to the sound of a belt-lashing, it couldn’t have been easy. Also, I have hung out with different layers of the society, including the worst (laughs). I draw humour from all of this, whereas Hamad has travelled a lot which informs his humour.
Hamad: The most that I talk about is myself. That’s very narcissistic of me, yes. I am fascinated by people and the things they do. If I am in London, I am usually sitting outside at a café just staring at people. That’s how I am doing my research for my material (laughs). I am very lucky to be here in Doha because you get to see different communities all living in your country and all trying to interact with each other. So I’m in awe of it all and I simply observe.
 What’s the toughest part about acclimatising your comedy to a new audience ever so often?
Hamad: At The St. Regis Doha, my jokes would be a lot more Western expat material, whereas for this show, it will be a lot of local and Arabic expat material. So the content that you develop is catered to the audience you are dealing with. But if you don’t build a rapport immediately, a standup comedy show is the hardest thing to pull off. You are setting yourself up for failure every time you are on stage. You could have an hour of material ready but if you don’t click in the first 20 or 30 seconds, you are done, man.
 For the Doha Comedy Festival gig, you will be facing an Arab audience. What sort of subjects will your material tackle?
Hamad: Arabs, as a whole. My material will explore the misuse of technology and the effect that it has on the future generation. I will describe what the future looks like.
Mohammed: I will narrate bits from the story of my life; like about moving from Bin Mahmoud, the city, to a place like Umm Salal (both laugh). It’s really different, man. I used to wear what you are wearing (referring to shirt and denims). But then everything changed. And of course, I will talk about growing up in a military family!

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