The United Nations has never been so funny. ‘I did comedy because my bikini modelling career wasn’t going anywhere,’ quips Mike Batayeh, one of the four comedians headed for the Qatar National Convention Centre Theatre this month.
He’s guest starred on multiple hit television shows and movies, including Fly While Arab and Detroit Unleaded. While he’s based in Los Angeles, he was part of the first waves of comics to perfom live in Dubai, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. And now he’s bringing his biting social commentary to Qatar. He’s joined onstage by Aron Kader, founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour trained in sketch comedy at The Groundlings Theater in Los Angeles, Maz Jobrani, another Axis of Evil alum who’s most recently performed in his solo tour Brown and Friendly, and Nemr Abou Nassar, Lebanon’s ‘King of Comedy.’
‘The Middle East people are funny. The people have a great spirit about them.
‘Sometimes all you can do is laugh off some of the strife you experience in the region. That’s one of the reasons why I’m proud to be Arab,’ says Batayeh.
The United Nations of Comedy aims to unite people with laughter. The stage itself will be designed to look like an assembly-style forum, with the performers starting their sets behind a podium. The entire theatre will be transformed into a comedic United Nations, for the audience (excuse us, the ‘delegates’) to enjoy. While family-friendly, the sets will focus on cultural differences, the Arab Spring and much more.
‘I think you need to comment on all human experiences and these topics are part of them. They affect you directly or indirectly. It’s a balance that is hard to juggle. But it’s in the job description,’ says Batayeh. ‘You can’t be a proctologist and just focus on the hamstrings. You’ll miss the mark. It’s important to have a sense of humor in life. Period. Or else you’ll snap or become a leader of a religious cult.’
Kader agrees. ‘I have always been drawn to current events, politics and culture which is why my material reflects this. I found that I could make those subjects funny to talk about. It’s a fun challenge. My goal is to get people to laugh and think. If I’ve done that then I’ve found the balance,’ he says. ‘The bottom line is this: humour is subjective. You write about the things you care about and the things you find funny.’
All of the comedians say they adapt their show depending on where in the world they are, but that’s mostly so they can bring out the funny in the city around them.
‘I try to do some local stuff to start, but then go into my material,’ says Jobrani.
‘Comedy is very universal nowadays, given the internet and how much people know about what’s going on in the world.’
At the end of the day, they just hope to make the people laugh.
‘I hope the people get it. I’m sure they will. People are more the same than they are different. Laughter is universal. Unless I perform in Chinese. I think the world is a global village now thanks to Internet. It brings us closer to cultures around the world,’ says Batayeh. ‘You no longer have to hear rumours of other cultures. You can actually go on YouTube and see someone in Qatar get hit in the groin by a ball similarly to someone in Texas get hit in the groin. And both people on opposite sides of the world have the same reaction. Doubled over in pain. See. So, we are not so different?’
And when the audience laughs, all the performers agree: there is nothing like it.
‘I feel alive in front of an audience,’ says Jobrani. ‘When you come up with a new joke and it does well it’s like getting paid a million bucks. OK, maybe more like a hundred grand.’
It’s a million (Okay, a hundred grand) they’ve had to earn. Even if you’re naturally funny, it takes time, dedication and the ability to convince your mother you’re not throwing your life away to make it to the stage, let alone make it around the globe as this foursome has.
‘Comedy was always a part of our lives as a family and I learned to use humour at an early age,’ says Kader. ‘I was raised by parents that loved to laugh despite having serious careers and being PhDs in ethics and political science.‘We would use humour to talk about serious things. I was on the younger end of my family and I was always kind of a ‘tension breaker’. Comedy was a good fit. I always had a tough time being serious.’
Batayeh puts it more succinctly: ‘I don’t think you can learn to be funny. You can learn any other trait, but when it comes to art you have to have something already there. Like my bikini modelling career.’
Jobrani’s family has been supportive since he started stand-up 15 years ago, but they still thought he was nuts when he first grabbed the microphone.
‘They thought I was crazy,’ he says. ‘I think you either got it or you don’t. Some people are good at math, some are good at soccer and some are good at being funny, but there’s a difference between being funny at a party and being funny on stage ‘It takes time to learn how to be funny on stage – I’d say a good seven to 10 years of getting up about five to 10 times a week. Like anything, it takes time.’
But whether you’re on stage bringing in the laughs or rolling in the aisles, comedy has the ability to bridge gaps – organisers of the event say they picked the theme as a nod to what laughter can do for the world.
‘United Nations is just that, ‘Nations Unite’. Man created nations. I don’t think it was in God’s plans to draw lines on the map. Don’t think he is in the real estate game. But seeing as how that is just the way the world is, it’s up to the people to unite. That’s deep. I should be a politician,’ says Batayeh.
‘The theme of the show is to unite through comedy. It’s an honor to be performing with Aron, Maz and Nemr. Besides if there was more humor in the actual UN we wouldn’t have these many world problems.’
The United Nations of Comedy hits the stage at the Qatar National Convention Centre Theatre March 14-15. Doors open at 7pm. Tickets are QR150 for silver, QR200 for gold, QR250 for platinum and QR350 for VIP, available at Virgin Megastore. www.facebook.com/unofcomedy.