Last night I went to the Casino du Liban to see Showtime’s Middle Eastern-American comedy tour, the Axis of Evil.
The venue was packed, and from what I’ve heard, it also did very well in Jordan. According to Ahmad Ahmad, even King Abdullah went to see the show in Amman. I’d never been to a comedy show before, so the only point of reference I had was what I’d seen on television, and it was pretty much like that. The jokes ranged from average to hilarious and seemed catered to a westernized Middle Eastern crowd. I’m not sure how many people were familiar with Bob Barker, and I’m sure that jokes on the debkeh would have been lost on much of an American audience. Those who were int he position of being familiar with both cultures were able to laugh at both American and Middle Eastern jokes.
Some of the Bush jokes seemed a little bit like pandering and a little hackneyed for an American audience. And some of the Lebanese jokes were pretty facile (bargaining, driving, “hi keefak, ça va,” etc.), but people never seem to get tired of that sort of thing here. The message was, overall, a good one: Arabs are normal people who are capable of poking fun of themselves. For the most part, there was also a nice ecumenical message that welcomed Muslims, Christians and Jews. A nice example of this was the half-Palestinian comedian Aron/Haroun who made it a point of pointing out the similarities of Jews and Arabs, saying that “we’re pretty much the same fucking people.” (There was one disappointing moment, however, that made me cringe. At one point, Egyptian-American Ahmad Ahmad said that Arabs should be doing more in the entertainment business and that Hollywood was run by… Here he paused to let the audience yell in unison: “Jews!” Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be a joke making fun of people who believe in Jews-run-the-world conspiracies.)
Overall, it was a really good time, and I’m glad I went. The Middle East could use some more comedy, and if my hunch is right, this is the sort of thing that’s likely start a stand-up fad in Beirut. Let’s hope it’s funny.