“At first, sharing our performances on YouTube was much safer”
When I began performing in 2009, along with several friends like Omar Hussein, we were very scared of the Mutawa [the Saudi religious policy]. When you perform in front of an audience, it is considered to be an assembly. And in order to hold an assembly, you need permission from the authorities. So we were performing in small villages in the desert, very far from large cities. At the same time, some of us were performing on YouTube because we felt it was much safer than performing in public. This medium proved to be really great, because online, comedians can reach not only a Saudi public, but the entire Arab world.Little by little, stand-up comedy has become quite popular in the kingdom, and the authorities have completely accepted it — to such an extent that an emir decided to create a troupe of comedians in 2012. Sponsored stand-up performances are regularly being organised in the larger cities. The Jeddah Comedy Club, which was created in 2012, is one of the biggest comedy venues in the country.“They love sketches about Saudis traveling to the United States or the UK”Saudis adore self-deprecating humour. For instance, they love sketches about Saudis traveling to the United States or the United Kingdom, because the cultural differences lead to very amusing situations. Comedians also like to poke fun at gender relations. In particular, Omar Hussein did a very popular sketch on marriage. During the entire sketch, he pretends to be looking for his wife. He yells: “Where is my wife? Where on earth is my wife?” even though she is right there next to him. He doesn’t recognize her because she is wearing so much makeup. There is a general perception that Saudi women wear a lot makeup.I am delighted that comedians have been able to break with tradition in this way. Even if this was not the initial goal, they have contributed to a certain opening up of society. And this will continue, slowly but surely.