As the capital’s comedic community continues to develop, local stand-ups tell us what it’s like to crack wise in front of a crowd and how the Abu Dhabi scene is developing.
From humorous everyday interactions with the people that we meet to those unique things that happen #onlyinabudhabi, it’s fair to say that we all get our share of laugh-out-loud moments here in the capital.
While comedy is still relatively new to this region, humour is universal and you can’t stop people from being funny, so it’s no surprise that more opportunities have been cropping up for aspiring comedians in the UAE to take to the stage, share their thoughts with the world and hone their craft.
Setting the scene
“It’s fair to say that not that long ago there simply wasn’t a comedy scene in Abu Dhabi – it just didn’t exist,” says Jon Boulton, co-founder of stand-up comedy platform Yalla Laughs.
“It’s not easy to grow a comedy community out of nothing but that’s what we’ve tried to do over the past few years.”
Staging weekly shows across the city, Yalla Laughs has been the go-to comedy night for hundreds of people looking to enjoy a laugh over the past four years – but it wasn’t always that way.
After moving to the UAE, Jon and his comedic partner in crime, fellow co-founder Erik Thornquist, regularly travelled back and forth to Dubai to perform on stage before making the decision to start their own comedy community in Abu Dhabi.
“The hardest part in the beginning was finding a suitable venue with management willing to take a risk on us,” explains Jon. “No one really understood it; they wondered if people would come to the shows and were also frightened that comedians would end up getting the venue in trouble.
“It was a massive challenge but thankfully comedy has become more popular and now we have venues contacting us for shows. Although, it still feels fresh in this city and we often have people who have never seen stand-up comedy before coming to our shows. That’s exciting and challenging, but we’re passionate about comedy and we want to share good humour with everyone in this city.”
Taking to the stage at cafés, restaurants, bars and theatres across Abu Dhabi, the free-to-attend comedy nights have given a blossoming community of amateur comics the opportunity to try out stand-up and express themselves creatively.
At the same time, the opportunity to share a few laughs has brought the diverse community of the city together under one roof for a shared experience and to enjoy hearing other people’s take on life in the capital.
“Laughter is a release, whether you are a comic or a member of an audience. It’s something that I think is essential in life,” explains Erik.
“Comedy has an amazing ability to bring people from all sorts of backgrounds together.
It doesn’t matter if you’re Muslim, Christian, Indian, Australian, whatever – everyone comes together in the same room, side by side and it’s a beautiful thing.”
Meet the comedians
Standing alone on stage with a microphone in front of a crowd might be your idea of a nightmare but for comics in the UAE it’s a dream come true.
We speak to three up-and-coming comedians to find out what it’s like performing in the capital and what’s needed to help the scene grow.
“At first it seemed like it would be hard to do comedy here because there are a lot of things
you can’t say. Now it seems like it would be hard to do comedy in North America because there are a lot of things you can’t say,” jokes Canadian comic Rob.
Performing in the UAE for the past two years, the freelance journalist enjoys the challenge of stand-up but admits that being a comic isn’t easy.
“The most difficult moments aren’t on stage but before,” Rob reflects. “On the day of a show I go over my material at 2pm and think it’s the greatest stuff ever and everybody’s gonna love it. At 4pm I think, but maybe this one joke is in the wrong spot. By 6pm all my jokes suck. On the way to the venue I want to phone in sick with Ebola. Then you get on stage and do your best. If you make mistakes you learn from them.”
“Playing with those stereotypes is something I enjoy with my act and I love having the opportunity to perform in this country.”
New to the scene, Filipina joker Imah is already making a name for herself in the UAE with her unique brand of humour.
Having already performed in Abu Dhabi on numerous occasions, Imah is keen to see the capital take the initiative and develop the scene further in the future.
“I would love to see a venue that’s solely dedicated to comedy,” adds Imah. “At the moment that’s just a wild dream but I’m really positive it will happen. One day, someone will take a risk and I think it would really pay off because everyone loves to laugh.
“With a few changes, the comedy scene in Abu Dhabi will be heading towards a much bigger and brighter future.”
“From my experience, if you do well performing in Abu Dhabi, you will do incredibly well in Dubai. So it’s all a great experience and I like the challenge.”
The 26-year-old comedian has only been performing for a few years but has already supported some of the biggest Desi comics in the region with performances across the UAE.
But it’s not always easy being a comedian, especially when the crowd doesn’t deliver the laughs you expect.
“I hit this rough patch a few months ago when I had stopped believing in my jokes; I thought I didn’t have it in me after I bombed on stage a few times,” Yash explains. “You have to be thick skinned to do comedy and sometimes it’s a massive challenge to get back on the stage – but it’s worth it.
“I laugh like a mad scientist when I write my jokes and I want to share my humour with people – that’s why I keep going.”
Where to watch
They say laughter is the best medicine. Here’s where you can get your dose…
Abu Dhabi’s comedy collective hosts several shows a month including a gong show called Beat the Camel and performances at Courtyard by Marriott and Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi. Upcoming shows include 21st Jan, 1st Feb and 4th Feb. Visit: facebook.com/yallalaughs
The monthly show brings a trio of professional international comedians to the capital, giving comedy fans the chance to see up-and-coming and established acts doing what they do best. 20th Feb. From AED 140 for early bird tickets. Park Rotana, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Street. 8pm. Visit: thelaughterfactory.com
While not strictly a comedy event, this spoken word open mic night is open to comedic acts and offers the audience the opportunity to see raw talent testing the water with original content. Visit: facebook.com/rooftoprhythmsad
WORDS Colin Armstrong