Get down to Warehouse Lounge on a Monday night and you may see any, if not all, of the following: a veiled Egyptian female stand-up comic; an Emirati guy playing in sketch comedy; an Italian-American New Yorker tap dancing and performing body percussion. It sounds odd, and it probably is, but that’s what happens when you pool the city’s varied local talent in one show. The new Monday Night Funnies aims to do something we’ve never seen before in the city: stage live comedy using only performers from Dubai.
Ali Al Sayed (pictured, above) is a local boy. He’s also the founder of events management company Viva Dubai, and runs Dubomedy, a non-profit outfit that seeks to train budding comedians in the emirate. Al Sayed has been an aspiring comic for years, but he’s found it difficult getting a break. ‘People don’t even want to see a video, they don’t want me to audition, just because I didn’t hop on a plane to get here,’ he says.
He thinks there’s a lack of confidence in local talent, an unwillingness to take a chance. ‘[People] don’t believe that you have what it takes to be on stage,’ he tells Time Out.
So rather than wait around, Al Sayed has created his own opportunity. Along with Dubomedy co-founder Mina Liccione, a Broadway veteran who also runs the Laugh Out Loud! Comedy Institute in Dubai, he has put together Monday Night Funnies, after auditioning scores of acts from all over the city. Al Sayed is grateful to Warehouse Lounge for giving Monday Night Funnies a go. ‘We started working on this project a year ago,’ he tells us. ‘It took us that long to find a venue that’s going to take a risk on a non-commercial event. We owe it to Le Méridien and Warehouse for actually going ahead and doing this.’
The weekly show promises to be different each time, and there are four themes on rotation throughout each month: week one is always a variety show, featuring all kinds of talent; week two will be a sketch show; week three is stand-up; and week four will be improv (in the vein of popular improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway?). There is one constant during all of these shows, and that’s the host, Audrey Heartburn. As Liccione’s 60-year-old brassy alter ego, it seems that Heartburn has her roots firmly in Liccione’s own Italian-American family.
‘The character is based on my father’s Aunt Lulu,’ says Liccione in her Sopranos-esque croak. ‘She was really, really funny, she said what she thought, she had big blonde hair, this huge lipstick, these huge glasses, she was really tacky, but everyone loved her because she was who she was. So that’s the inspiration. The Christmas after she passed away, I showed up as Audrey. It was like Aunt Lulu was still in the room. It was a joke with my family, then it kind of escalated and now she’s one of my favourite characters to play.’
Audrey Heartburn aside, Monday Night Funnies is a great opportunity for new talent in Dubai to perform in front of an audience. That talent has jumped at the chance. Both Al Sayed and Liccione have been stunned at the amount of women they’ve cast. ‘Often when Mina and I are casting, we say, “Oh no, we need one more dude”,’ says Al Sayed. ‘We have four or five female stand-up comedians, not including Mina.’ Two of them are veiled – the Egyptian Lamya Tawfik and Sri Lankan Sabina Giabo. There’s also a lot of interest from Emiratis, Liccione says. ‘A lot of local boys have been coming to class [at Laugh Out Loud!]. We’re even considering doing a comedy class in Arabic that Ali would translate,’ she adds.
Perhaps the best part of Monday Night Funnies is the way in which it has brought this local community of would-be entertainers to the fore. Previously, it seemed they had no way to make themselves heard. Now there’s a weekly opportunity. ‘Dubai’s got talent,’ declares Liccione. ‘Bring it on.’
Dubai’s got talent
The acts performing at Monday Night Funnies will vary each week, but here are a few to watch out for
Lamya Tawfik: A veiled female Egyptian comic who talks about her nationality and wearing a veil.
Caitlin and Janine: An acoustic duo from Australia and Holland respectively.
Stephanie Inglesfield: A 40-year-old mum of four trying her hand at stand-up. ‘She says she’s going through a mid-life crisis,’ says Liccione. ‘I said, “Well if you’re gonna do it, do it in public, let’s all laugh at it.”’