Stand up stands up
Ashraf Khalil explores how home-grown stand-up comedy could become a big business in Egypt. But will any of the aspiring comics be able to turn it into a career?
August 22, 2010 3:40 by Ashraf Khalil
Sherif Zaher, who performed at the recent Cairo Jazz Club comedy night, got his first taste of the spotlight thanks to one of these talent initiatives. The 29-year-old was encouraged to enter tryouts when Obeidallah and company performed a show at the Cairo International Convention Center in 2008. He won the competition and received the chance to perform briefly on stage. “For the first time in my life, I performed in front of 3,000 people,” he said.
Now Zaher, who works in asset management at EFG-Hermes, dreams of going full-time. But it’s going to take a while before that’s an option locally. “There are no comedy clubs in Egypt. It’s just you by yourself,” said comedian Mohammed Shaheen, who estimated that there are 15 stage-ready Egyptian comedians trying to gain experience with any gigs they can find. “We need a comedy club or a big sponsor,” he said.
At the moment, none of the comedians is actually making a living from their performances. Kato, the veiled comic, has a day job at Egypt Air. The most she has ever made for a performance is 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($85) and most of her gigs pay her “50 pounds ($9) and a free meal.”
But Hosni, the event organizer, says she is thinking big after February’s success. She plans to host several such events a year and to continue to build up the local stand-up scene. Once the talent pool is ready, she wants to launch an international tour and “invade London and other places with Egyptian talent.”
The comics are also encouraged and looking for greater opportunities. Farag said he hopes to quit his tour guide job and become a full-time comic within a few years. Kato said she and other young comedians have already formed a group with a shared interest in building a stand-up scene in Cairo.
“All of us stick together. If one person gets a show, they call the others and get them on it,” she said. “It helps that Egyptian crowds are very friendly. I’ve almost never seen someone get booed. At worst, the audience just sits there.”
And while the audiences tend to be encouraging and receptive, some of the comics have a harder time selling their own families on their dreams. Kato said her father remains very much on the fence about her passion for public performance. “I told him it was like acting, and he asked if there would be any kissing or love scenes,” she said.
Her father has yet to attend any of her performances – which may be just as well since much of Kato’s act centers on observational humor about her own family dynamics. Her mother, however, has started regularly attending Kato’s gigs and is now suggesting new material to add to the act.