So 2012 has clearly been a general boom year for comedy in the UAE, with the local comedy scene positively exploding in a short span of time.
February was an especially momentous month, with the birth of Hisham Wyne’s monthly comedy night in TECOM’s 1UP, named One Night Standup (as its founder/host would say, “Haha, see what I did there”). It bears the distinction of being the first “populace-recruiting” comedy night to be held in a bar (a rather nice one too), which provides comedians a venue more in line with international norms. Except for the obligatory summer lull and December shutdown, there has been no interruption of monthly regularity with this event, and it remains packed every time.
February also saw the first Standup Showdown, a Dubomedy-run competitive event in the style of X Factor, which has been taking place every quarter since then, at the Wild Peeta shawarma place. They have been good fun, with a nice venue, judges analyzing participants’ sets, and prizes being awarded for the best set, and the best and worst jokes.
We had two new groups start up early in the year. After some initial feeling-around, they have mostly settled into regular patterns at partner venues. Comedy Dubai now has monthly open mics at the Pavilion and various standup events around town. Dubai Laughing has found a niche in competitive events at the Rock Bottoms, with the Beat the Gong! and Get, Set, Laugh! events. I don't know where the other group, Jokers Wild, went after holding two events, nor what happened to the UAE Comedy Forum - both seem rather quiet of late.
Sadly, Dubai's original comedy night for the masses met its demise after a year of regular activity. Our generation will remember Comedy Lab fondly as a platform for amateurs and professionals alike to try out new material for up to 10 whole minutes, and even try our hands at hosting. Since it started in May 2011, Angela Hundal’s venture had been the sole outlet for comedic talent in the city for several months, until other comedy nights began springing up. Many thanks to her and Brent Jenkins, and then Omar Ismail, for keeping it going all that time. I hope it returns someday.
In the last season of the year, Mina Liccione and Ali al Sayed of Dubomedy revived the Monday Night Funnies series for a weekly run at Blends in the Address Marina. The series featured a different theme for each week, ranging from improv to all-women to music, with Dubomedy importing a few international headliners as well. And Jamil Abu Wardeh brought in a number of international comedians to perform at the Gramercy under his STANDUb.COM brand.
Finally, in miscellaneous news, Abu Dhabi had its first standup comedy festival in February, and another one in November. A Dubai delegation called “Big in Dubai!” performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. And the Laughter Factory, otherwise a bastion of Western Commonwealth humor, started to tap into the South Asian market with a couple of special events featuring subcontinent comedians.
Personally speaking, it has been a great year for me in comedy. I performed at the first One Night Standup, the first Standup Showdown, the first Beat the Gong!, and the first Get, Set, Laugh!. I did a set at a Get Up Standup open mic, hosted a Comedy Lab show, won my first prize of sorts (a box of candy for Best Joke at a Standup Showdown), and otherwise got around the circuit. I got an slot at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Comedy Festival, and it was great performing on the same stage as some of Dubai’s best comedians, and opening for Ron Josol. And, thanks to my having traveled to a few English-speaking countries this year, I performed abroad for the first time, with an opening act for international comedians in Singapore, and open mics in Boston and Chicago.
Happy new year to all comedians and comedy fans. Let’s see what we can get up to this year.