Ahmed Ahmed and the Comedy Oasis
As an actor, Ahmed Ahmed has spent his whole adult life on TV and film, including Sullivan & Son, Swingers, Weeds, Iron Man and Roseanne. But the Egyptian-American is probably best known for the Axis of Evil Comedy tour he founded in the early noughties featuring the Iranian-American Maz Jobrani and Palestinian-American Aron Kader.
In 2011, Ahmed made his directorial debut with Just Like Us, a celebration of culture and comedy following himself and ten American comedians through the Middle East, performing to over 20,000 Arabs across the region. As a result of the documentary he was invited to The White House to meet President Obama and Hilary Clinton, who both praised him for encouraging cross-cultural dialogue.
Ahmed is a regular performer at the Comedy Story in Hollywood, The Laugh Factory, and the Comedy Cellar in New York City. He is also the founder of Comedy Oasis in Dubai which starts this weekend. He spoke to Esquire about this latest project:
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How did the whole Comedy Oasis idea come about?
I’ve had the idea of opening a comedy club in Dubai, for over 10 years now. Dubai is a market with all sorts of things – indoor ski resorts, sand surfing, restaurants, and nightclubs – but never a proper standalone comedy club. As an American comic, I thought it was a void that needed filling so I teamed up with Rashid and Mohammed Al-Habtoor who were kind enough to support my vision and put me in touch with Accenture Investment.
We decided to open the club at Andreea’s Fusion Cuisine at the Habtoor Grand because it has just the right sort of layout and feel for a comedy club – and it’s a great spot down by the beach. It’s going to be a biweekly show this September and when October comes, it’ll happen every week. I’m bringing American comedians from L.A. and New York, a few from the UK, mostly people who you’ve never heard of but I personally find funny and been watching for the past 20 years.
I’m hoping people will appreciate my pick and enjoy the amazing food in the beautiful restaurant. People need a change of pace when it comes to art and culture. I think comedy will really fill a void in this city.
Egyptian TV host Bassem Youssef is now in Dubai and you two are friends. Are you going to try and book him?
Bassam is more of a satirist. Perhaps it could work as a multimedia platform where he hosts something and has a desk and chair? I’d love to do something because he really is one of a kind. He has been teaching a course at Harvard University in Boston called, “The Joke is Mightier than the Sword”. I went to Boston and spoke in his class.
There must be many restrictions in your business, given the markets you work in?
You would be shocked. In America, comedy clubs and comedians would be talking about the most rancid and craziest stuff. On the other hand, there are places in the world where you have to be careful what you say because you could end up in jail. Bassem Youssef is making a documentary called “Tickling Giants” which is about his rise and fall in Egypt. It has this one great quote, “When you put a joker in jail, that’s a joke in itself”. It’s like the court jester, if he’s funny then give him a satchel of gold, but if he’s not funny then off with his head and feed him to the lions. They’re not killing us but they might as well.
Are you consciously aware that what you do is of social importance?
Yes and no. We’re not politicians, messengers or teachers. We’re journalists; we are people reporting news in a funny way. However you decide to describe or acknowledge it, comedians are social commentators who see things for what they truly are, cutting right through the bull****.
Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce got abuse many times, sometimes even jailed. Mitzi Shore, owner of the famous L.A. Comedy Store, started my career. Back in the day, when Lenny Bruce was sent to jail, she went to the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. and ensured that a bill was passed so comedians could have freedom of speech without fear of arrest in America. In other countries, there are other laws and culture and we have to respect them, but in America we have our First Amendment and we should honour it. But it is a double-edged sword.
I think it was George Clooney who said, “When you’re in the public eye and speaking your mind, be prepared to get slapped around.” You have to have a thick skin.
So tell us more about Comedy Oasis?
I’m really excited about it. It’s right on the beach and if you’re a fan of comedy, of the comedians I’ve watched and worked with for the past 20 years, then you’re in for a treat. I’m bringing the best of the best people who don’t have the TV and film credits.
You’re not going to see Dave Chappelle, Kevin Hart, Chris Rock or Jerry Seinfeld but I can assure you’re going to see guys who are just as funny, if not funnier. For Dhs100 you can get a good show on any given weekend at the Habtoor Grand Hotel. I’m excited, nervous and stressed out. It’s going to be a big hit, fingers crossed. But if it fails I’m going to act as if I had nothing to do with it and blame some Mexican guy or some other guy called Ahmed!
Details: Comedy Oasis, 8pm on September 10th and 12th 2015, Andrea’s Restaurant, Habtoor Grand Hotel. Tel: 050 502 8666