You might find yourself giggling or bursting out into gales of laughter. Those giggles, chuckles, and guffaws might seem like throwaways, but all too often people underestimate what laughter can do. Egypt’s new generation of stand-up comedians are exploring new ways to find new laughs on an expanding comedy scene that can boost the mood and lighten burdens.
Venues are filled with laughter, smiles, and even joyful tears. They have become places of almost uncontrollable laughter that comes from the heart. Nothing can beat it.
Stand-up comedy in Egypt has seen a tremendous rise in recent years, drawing the attention of young and rising comedians who take to the stage in different comedy genres. They are also providing platforms and forming communities that help and support one another.
Comedy Monsters, Comedy Bunkers, Al-Hezb Al-Comedy, Comedy Stuff, Wannabe Comedians, the Comedy Bunch, and Comedy.336 are just a few of the new stand-up comedy communities in Egypt. They aim at creating arenas for parody, improvisation, irony, humour, and interactivity in a bid to show that stand-up comedy can be a genuine part of contemporary live theatre.
“It was my second time attending a live performance of stand-up comedy last week. I am a follower of Mohamed Moula on his social media platforms, which is why I came all the way from Kafr Al-Dawar to attend the Comedy Bunch event,” said Mohamed Eissa, 22, a student at the Faculty of Pharmacy.
The Comedy Bunch event took place at the Alexandria Library with over a thousand people attending from different parts of the country. It featured a bunch of creative stand-up comedians that could almost make your hair stand on end and laugh your head off.
“It is my first time to see him live, and I was thrilled to watch my favourite man on earth face to face,” added Eissa, talking enthusiastically about Mohamed Moula who is well known for his comedy about the education system and society in Egypt.
“The event was a very happy one. It creates a different mood, a much lighter one than the one we know in our daily lives. It is just making fun of any troubles we might have. That’s why we can all relate to it,” Eissa added.
Many of the comedians have made life-altering decisions and major career shifts in their lives. Some are dentists, some are pharmacists, and others are engineers by profession. Now, they are all following the dreams that they have had since childhood to become actors and comedians and to make an impact on people’s lives.
“Laughter is the best medicine” is not just a saying or something that a doctor might recommend to a patient. It can actually help to heal the soul and have real effects on the body. According to recent research by the Cleveland Clinic in the US, laughter releases stress, strengthens social bonds, increases oxygen to the body, and decreases stress hormones. It can reduce artery inflammation and increase HDL or so-called “good” cholesterol.
It has an enormous impact on audiences as well as those who create it. “When we hear the feedback from the audience and how grateful they are at the end of our show, we become very happy ourselves as well. The message was delivered successfully,” said Ahmed Al-Hareedi, a stand-up comedian who has been in the field since 2012.
A former dentist himself, Al-Hareedi is now a copy writer besides being a comedian and actor.
“Storytelling and observations about personal lives and relationships are my favourite topics in my show. I love adding music and funny songs. My show is musical and at the same time funny,” he said.
Since 2021, the stand-up comedy scene has been going from strength to strength. A few years ago, barely 50 or 60 seats would be filled. Today, 1,000 or 2,000 seats can be filled immediately, with tickets being entirely sold out.
Thanks to cultural hubs like the Sakiet Al-Sawy, or Al-Sawy Cultural Wheel, in Cairo and the Alexandria Library and other cultural spaces elsewhere, comedians across Egypt are now seeing new audiences coming to their shows. Being a comedian might seem like an easy job, just someone telling jokes and talking about situations in a funny way.
But Al-Hareedi said that in fact it is a full-time job, as it requires being a writer, a producer, a singer, a director, an organiser, a director, and many other things in between. “You are a one-man show, and you are running it on your own,” he said. “You have to discover what pops up in people’s minds and what they will remember, even after the show is over.”
For Al-Hareedi and many others, being a stand-up comedian alone is not enough to make a living either. “Sponsors and production companies are needed to take a career to a higher level with bigger productions in theatres and on TV channels,” he said.
What happens if you are a stand-up comedian and the audience does not laugh? “You might be confident and super funny but still end up with the audience not laughing or not understanding what you are saying. It can happen even with famous comedians,” Mirna Salah, a stand-up comedian and director, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Salah is a member of DopaEscobar, a comedy club in Alexandria, and she has made many tours across the country. Being a female comedian is not an easy job, she says, as some audiences may not accept the idea. “I remember making a joke about male suitors who come with their mothers when looking for a girl for marriage, and one member of the audiences stood up and said so what,” she said.
“For a young woman to stand up and raise social issues that some regard as sensitive takes lots of courage. I must have the skills to know what to say and be alert in every situation because you are dealing with the fourth wall of the theatre, in other words the audience, and people can stand up and make comments.”
It can be difficult to find a situation that is relevant to the audience. But having done so, laughter is contagious. “I laugh, and they laugh,” Salah said.
“There are some situations that are really bizarre and that make people laugh, like falling into a deep hole in the street – as long as one is not injured. When I described this happening, people just started laughing non-stop.”
“Everybody seems to have fallen into one hole or another at least once in their lives,” she concluded.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly