Ali Al Sayed in Dubai

We speak to first Emirati to perform at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Interview, The Knowledge

Excited about Edinburgh?
I’m thrilled. I was there last year as an audience member and it’s beautiful – one of the most energetic cities – and to be able to go back to perform there is one of the reasons why you become a comedian.

How do you think you’ll go down with the audience?
The pressure is high because in a specific city you have to make the comedy as relevant to them as you can. But I’m the kind of comedian that doesn’t want to sell out. I don’t want to swear or disrespect anybody, but in the UK a lot of the comedy can be quite crude. I don’t want to fall into that.

Do you feel pressure to represent the region?
That’s what I was going for when I started doing comedy. There are a lot of different cultures here and they can be misunderstood. I want to make sure people get to see a different side to Arabs.

Nervous? Edinburgh crowds aren’t easy…
What I’m worried about is not understanding what they’re saying. There are a lot of accents in Scotland: if someone comes in from Aberdeen and heckles, it’s going to be tough. One thing I do like is that UK audiences have a lot of heckling experience, so it’s going to be creative heckling.

Back in the UAE, how does being Emirati affect the audience’s perception of you?
Comedy is a big part of our culture. We’re always laughing and joking among ourselves, but the second you walk on stage, no matter who you are, everybody sizes you up. ‘He’s local, so he’s a bad driver…’
I like to broach that early on in my set, and when you do that you enter the cool club.

Do you ever get any flak for doing comedy?
I’m not going to say everybody loves me, but nobody has come to me and said they don’t like it.

You’re known as a double act with your American wife, Mina Liccione. How did you meet?
She’d just moved here (in 2008) and she had this vision of starting a comedy school. I didn’t think it would be a great idea, but that’s when we started running together. There was no scene at all when
we started Dubomedy.

What’s the scene like now?
It’s growing. There are more opportunities for people to perform. But I think we should work more together. Comedy is very competitive. You’re not the funniest man on earth because you got through a five-minute set and made people laugh.

So what makes a typical comedian?
People who make other people laugh are generally miserable. A lot of comedians are insecure. Right before I go on stage I have three minutes of questioning the world where nothing makes sense.

Ali’s weekly comedy night, Monday Night Funnies, starts at Blends, The Address Dubai Marina on September 24.

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