No joke: Arab comedians give politics a break amid Egypt crisis

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After the dramatic overthrow of Mohammad Mursi and ongoing concerns about Egypt’s future, the country’s political crisis offers little to laugh about.

Even some of the Arab world’s most outspoken comedians agree – and say they have sidestepped the issues of the day in favor of politics-free acts.

Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s most famous TV satirist, yesterday said he had cancelled his upcoming episode in anticipation of this week’s dramatic events. “There will be no episode this week, this is a no-laughing matter,” he tweeted.

Other comics agreed – with some pointing out that there are already enough funnymen on Egypt’s political scene to do their job for them.

“A lot of people actually avoid [politics] for the most part. It’s already funny enough on its own,” quipped comedian Rami Boraie in an interview with Al Arabiya.

Boraie was the first runner-up in a regional comedy contest called the Kit Kat Comedy Break, the results of which were announced earlier this week.

Boraie, who began his career in Canada before going back to his home country of Egypt, said today that his job was not to remind audiences of the political crisis around them.

“Our job is to relieve stress, not remind you of it,” he said.

Boraie praised Youssef, who quickly became a TV sensation through satirizing Egypt’s political scene on his weekly show, ‘El Bernameg’ (The Program).

“Bassem does something that is commendable. To constantly put his head on the line there, every week. It got dicey,” said Boraie, one of millions of Arabs who watch ‘El Bernameg’ every Friday.

photo courtesy: Kit Kat
photo courtesy: Kit Kat

The aim of the Kit Kat Comedy Break, which was organized by Nestlé Middle East, was to find the world’s ‘funniest Arab’.

It was announced this week that Bahraini comedian Waddah Swar scooped the title, after beating 115 contestants who submitted two-minute comedy videos to a YouTube channel.

Swar told Al Arabiya that he was “fortunate” to clinch the title given the competition from his Egyptian rivals.

“I’m running against two Egyptian guys. [Comedy] is in their blood,” he said.

Nine of the final contestants moved into the ‘Kit Kat Comedy Break Villa’ in Dubai to compete for the title, while the tenth finalist – the only woman of the group – stayed in a nearby hotel.

The ten were given a set of topics on which to base their comedy sets, partly as a way to test their creativity.

Despite being steered away from topics like politics, religion and sex, the comics were given the freedom to be as outspoken and explicit as their audiences could tolerate.

Boraie occasionally comments on politics, but says that a lot of comedians actually avoid it.

“There’re enough things to make fun of in Egypt, about our day-to-day lives, than to have to focus on that one thing,” Boraie told Al Arabiya.

“Every time you do a political joke you’re competing with Bassem Youssef, and it’s very hard to beat that guy,” he added.

The second runner-up, Mohamed Morgan, was born and raised in Egypt. His stand-up performances used to center around racy material. But he says he changed tone two years ago, because clean comedy reaches a bigger audience.

Morgan is another Egyptian comedian who avoids political humor, simply because he’s had enough.

“In Egypt you can go to the bathroom and find politics,” he told Al Arabiya.

Morgan shared a story from one of his comedy nights in Egypt. After four of the six comedians appeared chose to discuss politics in their sets, he told the audience that he would not be discussing politics.

“The audience cheered ‘YES!’,” Morgan said.

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