Jordanian YouTube star and comedian Ahmad Massad sends up some of the internet's most ridiculous content and conspiracy theories, from a supposed plot to kill Muslims with poisoned apples, to a chicken that writes the name of God with grains of rice, and bras filled with a carcinogenic oil to target Middle Eastern women... In the two years that he's been making these videos, he's gathered an impressive fanbase.
The beginnings of Massad’s YouTube fame came in 2015, when he posted a video making fun of Jordanian taxi drivers.
Soon afterwards, Massad, who is an actor and director, had another idea. He started perusing the internet for the craziest Arabic-language videos he could find, especially those featuring wacky conspiracy theories or Photoshopped images passed off as divine miracles. In his videos, he pokes fun at the gullibility of social media users from across the Middle East and how willing they seem to be to believe conspiracy theories. His sarcastic videos have earned him the nickname 'Joker Massad'.
"People believe everything they see on social media, as long as it's dressed up with religious language"
What I want to highlight is the extreme gullibility that I’ve seen amongst social media users in the Middle East. It is especially prominent in a phenomenon that I call “blind faith” — as soon as you reference religion in a post, many people believe it and share it without taking even a second to think critically about what they are looking at. [Editor's note: A good example of this is the video of the 3D cat in Muslim prayer, shown at the end of our video compilation... which viewers believed was a real cat.]
In my videos, I also attack the rampant culture of conspiracy theories across Arabic-language social media. I think the preponderance of these theories stems from the belief amongst some Muslims that Muslims are God’s chosen people and as a result the “Westerners-infidels-Zionists-Free-Masons” [Editor’s note: a common formula used in the comments section of conspiracy theory videos. It is roughly the equivalent to the “Fifth Column” described by conspiracy theorists in Europe and North America] don’t have anything better to do than to spend their time coming up with ways of harming us and threatening our religion and our very existence.
Obviously you can see similar stupid things on social networks in European countries or in North America, but I'm talking about my own society, about what I know. And anyway, in the meantime, the “mean Westerners” just keep inventing things and developing their countries while we are drowning in complacency and self-satisfaction!
It’s possible that some people might see my videos as full of self-hatred because I spend my time calling people from the Middle East idiots. However, I think that’s become my focus because I find myself in an environment where an individual faces obstacles no matter what he wants to do. Unlike in other countries, an actor from the Middle East like me can’t dream of winning an Oscar one day — because as soon as you stray from the beaten path or you try to create something new, you find yourself facing a mountain of obstacles and prejudice.
Sometimes, the price of trying to do something different is your life. That’s what happened to Nahed Hattar, who did nothing more than post a controversial drawing on Facebook — it wasn't even him who drew it! [Editor’s note: Nahed Hattar was a Jordanian cartoonist who was taken to court over this drawing, which made fun of jihadists and was thought to be insulting to Islam. Hattar was assassinated on September 25, 2016 in front of the courthouse in the Jordanian capital of Amman.]
I’ve been in a legal battle for the past year with a lawyer — who is probably just looking for a little fame — who accuses me of “contempt for religion” because I made fun of a video that supposedly showed a cat praying!
“This videos are not just to laugh at — they're also meant to educate”
I make fun of stupid videos and photos that are widely shared and commented on. In my skits, I start with a main idea and then I just improvise. Now that I’ve had some success with my videos, sometimes my fans will reach out to suggest videos for me to parody.
However, I don’t criticise just to be provocative. I also aim to use humour to educate. Humour allows us to laugh at things that are so deplorable that they should be making us cry. That’s why I decided to use the Joker as my symbol. Like humour, the Joker card is also a double-edged sword — depending on the game, it can make you win or lose.
My Joker wears a T-shirt that says “Dream” on it. “Dream” is the name of a project that I started with friends to organise performing arts summer camps and workshops for kids. This is the polar opposite of the traditional education system here, which makes kids memorise and recite things stupidly. This project is funded by the money that I get from the number of views I get on my YouTube channel.
Unfortunately, YouTubers in the Middle East are paid less than people living in Europe or in the United States [Editor’s note: Remuneration depends on advertising revenue, which varies according to country.] That’s the only conspiracy against people in the Middle East that I believe in!
Massad has more than 580,000 Facebook followers and more than 90,000 YouTube followers. His videos get tens of thousands of views. In addition to his more comedic videos, Massad has also posted more serious videos. In one, he denounces the situation in Syria, while in another he pledges solidarity with Palestinians.