Axis of Fun

 

Axis of Fun

City Times meets stand-up comic Ahmed Ahmed, one-fourth of the Axis of Evil troupe, who believes in 'putting a positive face on Middle East culture through self-deprecating humour'

By David Light

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Published: Wed 27 Aug 2008, 12:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:51 PM

AXIS OF Evil funny man, Hollywood actor in his own right and winner of the first annual Richard Pryor Award for ethnic comedy, Ahmed Ahmed sells out huge venues across America, Europe and the Middle East with his brand of Arab culture influenced satire and jokes.

Along with his fellow Axis stand-up team and occasionally appearing with superstars such as his good friend Vince Vaughn, Ahmed has become the face of Middle Eastern comedy and an inspiration to progressive young people in the region who now see the arts as a legitimate career to pursue.

Changing attitudes

Ahmed has become the face of Middle Eastern comedy and an inspiration to progressive young people in the region who now see the arts as a legitimate career to pursue.Born in Egypt but raised in America Ahmed has an unrivalled insight into both Eastern and Western ways of life and sees comedy as the catalyst to bring together the two blocs in a bid for greater understanding and cooperation.

Ahmed also recognises his profession's role in changing attitudes in Middle Easterners' minds towards the type of job he has that until recently was solely a product of the West. He comes to Dubai to promote the new Axis of Evil DVD and managed to fit in a quick chat with City Times on his path into comedy and what people can expect from the filmed tour.

"I love Dubai," Ahmed began telling us, "I've been here a dozen times and I see it as a beacon of light in the region. I cannot say it is as liberal as the Lebanon in some aspects but the team and I are really grateful to His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, for having the understanding to let us come in and play here sometimes and try to entertain. It's always a warm and welcoming experience."

With the media industry in particular booming at the moment there is a steady demand for quality acts and their wares. "I love touring the Middle East," Ahmed continued. "We tour the region and find the majority of our audience are Arab or Arab Americans which is cool because it means you have made an impact with the people that share the same heritage. Everyone in the region is pretty well clued up on pop culture and I guess we have to thank the internet and Youtube for that. Without them what we speak about and who we are wouldn't be as well known so it would be increasingly difficult to get the joke across."

Typecast and disillusioned

Ahmed Ahmed moved to Hollywood from his hometown of Riverside when he was just 19. He had decided he wished to become an actor, and against his parents' will relocated to tinseltown.

"My parents are liberal but they were definitely not supportive of me becoming an actor. I struggled for a long time when I got to Hollywood. I waited tables and slept on sofas but eventually my break came with a series of bit parts. It was great at first. I went from having nothing to being part of the Screen Actors Guild and having regular money. After a while though I found that in every film I was in I was always cast as the bad guy or the terrorist. The parts got bigger but they stayed the same. I really didn't want to get typecast, so tried for lots of different roles. They never worked out though and I was always called back for the bad guy part. It got so bad I eventually quit acting. I became disillusioned with the profession and had to back to waiting tables when the money I had saved ran out. This was almost exactly seven years after I had quit waiting tables before and it was extremely difficult."

Comedy beckons

"I was looking to reinvent myself because I knew for certain I did not want to be an actor anymore. One night a woman came into the restaurant I was working at accompanied by her six sons. By the end of the meal she turned to me and said, 'you should be a comedian, you're pretty funny.' So that's what I decided to do. I did every open mike night I could find and got a few minutes on stage here and there. Wherever there was a stage I was on it. I was playing the World Famous Comedy Store one night and that's where I met Maz Jobrani. We got together and with other Arab comics were called Arabian Nights. Maz was never happy with this name because he is Iranian so when Bush came up with the term 'Axis of Evil' we thought it was perfect for us. From then on it has just grown and grown."

In a short space of time Ahmed and his friends became very popular in the States. In the Middle East however they were known only online until Ahmed had the foresight on one of his travels to Dubai to pitch a show to Showtime Arabia that followed them on their stand-up gigs around the Middle East. "There were a lot of doors slammed in my face to begin with but when you know you have a good idea you just keep going with it. Eventually the idea was taken up and the region could watch us performing."

'Funny is funny'

Ahmed and the Axis of Evil have a large demographic of fans in the Arab world. "Our audiences are usually made up of progressive Muslims who are faithful to God but wear Nikes and listen to P Diddy. They range from 6 years old we love everyone who come to the shows. It is really funny when women in Kuwait or Egypt come up to you dressed in the full hijab and ask you to sign a photo; it just goes to show how things are changing. Of course there is some resistance. In the States we get trouble from the far right people and funnily enough it is the same type of people we get trouble from here as well. These people have no sense of humour. We put a positive face on the Middle East culture by showcasing our heritage and religion in a self-deprecating manner. People cannot hate you if they are laughing with you and this is what conservatives don't understand. Funny is funny and we have to make it so people don't take themselves too seriously."

Nurturing comic talent in Dubai

In order to achieve this Ahmed has established a company here in Dubai that is set to nurture all artistic talent in the region.

"The arts as a career are forbidden in the Middle East. Everyone is encouraged to be a lawyer or a doctor but we want to tell society that it is ok to want to act, sing or tell jokes. It is through this industry that the Middle East will be demystified and understanding will follow. When we did our last tour we did casting calls in the American Universities of Dubai, Beirut and Cairo. We were shocked by how many kids turned up and the support they got from their friends. There are so many people here who have something to offer. They were all genuinely funny." The company, Bonus Features, will be a go to place for emerging artists from Morocco to Pakistan to find a helping hand in their chosen entertainment field. "We already have a comedy festival on the way organised with the Jordanian government. It feels great to have a hand in contemporary comedy."

Ahmed's new Axis of Evil DVD is out in all major retailers this week. "It's an hour and twenty minutes of good jokes and political humour," he told us.

david@khaleejtimes.com

Visit www.ahmed-ahmed.com for more information on Ahmed or www.bonusfeatures.comif you have an appetite for show business in the region and don't know where to turn.


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