From giggles to guffaws, Dubai stands up for 11 nights of laughter

Comedy is coming of age in the city. Anything goes from the raunchy to the naughty. Let the laugh riot begin


Mazhar Farooqui

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Published: Wed 11 May 2022, 4:49 PM

Last updated: Thu 12 May 2022, 11:37 PM

Get ready for some serious belly laughs as Dubai Comedy Festival returns tomorrow with another sell-out season of rip-roaring performances.

For the next 11 days - from May 12-22 - top venues across Dubai, including the Coca Cola Arena, will be taken over by the veritable who’s who of comedy.

From homegrown comics to international heavyweights like Josh Widdecombe, Gad, Elmaleh, Jo Koy, Russel Peters and Virda - they will all be performing to packed houses at various locations in the city.

Most of these stars are no strangers to Dubai.

Indo-Canadian comedian Russell Peters was in Dubai for his ‘Act Your Age World Tour’ two months ago, while Vir Das, bringing his latest globetrotting ‘The Wanted Tour’, has entertained audiences on numerous occasions.

This celebration of all things funny comes close on the heels of Expo 2020 Dubai and the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), which also saw some of the biggest names in the world of comedy, including British funnyman Jack Dee and Amit Tandon from India, leaving audiences in splits.

The city’s independent comedy scene is also thriving with new talent and new places to enjoy it. Comics are increasingly taking to music venues, neighbourhood bars and restaurants to host weekly, often, daily stand-up gigs.

Curiously, just a few years ago, Dubai’s comedy landscape looked more like a desert than the flourishing garden it is today. Apart from The Laughter Factory, there wasn’t anything remotely close to a comedy here. The Laugher Factory, which recently completed 25 years of keeping fans in the region deliriously happy, came into being in 1997 when the Dubai’s entertainment scene consisted mainly of musical duos sporting mullets and murdering ‘Hotel California’ in scruffy bars, according to the popular comedy club.

Gail Clough was a DJ and Duncan Jones was a drummer (in a scruffy bar). They both wanted to watch some live comedy. Hence, The Laughter Factory was born.

The Laughter Factory’s original home was at the Hyatt Regency in Deira. It was a unique time in comedy history as comedy voices were just starting to explode on the UK circuit.

“The idea that a comic has an authentic voice, rather than just telling jokes is one of the major reasons that The Laughter Factory has thrived for 25 years,” according to the club’s co-founder Gail Clough.


"Being based in Dubai has meant that we are not part of a big comedy scene unlike the UK, Canada and US. This has been in some ways beneficial. We don’t get caught up with the latest comedy fads. We focus totally on our audiences and what makes them laugh.”

Award-winning American artist Mina Liccione, widely regarded as Dubai’s first lady of comedy, said the local comedy scene barely existed when she came to Dubai in 2007 to perform at a summer festival.

“Like myself, comedians were being flown in to perform,” recalls the Broadway veteran who took a “leap of faith” and returned to Dubai to create a platform for local talent. However, it took months before she could find a venue where she could host comedy workshops.

“Those days, they were happy with the safe route of karaoke and cover bands; they were scared of stand-up,” said Liccione. Here's a clip from one of her previous shows:

“I was told it will be too dirty and we’ll get in trouble, so we hit back and said we’ll keep it clean and open for teens and adults from both the expat and local community to which they said, 'Then it won't be funny!'"

On April Fool's Day in 2008, Liccione and renowned Emirati comedian Ali Al Sayed founded Dubomedy, a premiere comedy and urban arts school to produce stellar festivals and events throughout the year and use comedy as a tool to bring people of diverse cultural, monetary and religious backgrounds together for one big laugh.

Now married, Ali Al Sayed and Mina Liccione are known as the twin pillars of the local comedy scene.

“The first few years were a challenge but once the foundation was strong we just kept moving forward - creating, coaching, performing, producing, spreading laughter! What an adventure it has been,” said Liccione who will be performing at the fest as part of the Late Shows at Comedy Bizarre on May 13, 14 and 18.

Indian expat Nitesh Chaturvedi, who made a foray into comedy five years ago, said the comedy scene in Dubai has flourished in three main areas – increase in the number of shows, emergence of new faces and audience awareness.

"The love and support we have got from our audiences are immense and absolutely undeniable. Without that we would not have been able to sustain so many shows or get the platforms for the existing and upcoming comedians in town,” said Chaturvedi, who runs his own comedy club called NitChatComedy and has been an opening act or produced shows for indian comics like Atul Khatri, Harsh Gujral, Sorabh Pant, Punit Pania and Manish Tyagi among many others.

Arzoo Malhotra, another female comedian, reckons the growth of Dubai’s comedy scene has been extraordinary over the past decade.

“When I moved to Dubai and started doing comedy here five years ago, there were fewer comics, fewer venues, and fewer audience members who knew the scene existed. Now, there’s more than one gig every night and the number of active comics is easily 3-4 times larger than it was previously,” says the feisty Indian-American. “We’ve gone from having one or two shows a week five years ago to more than one a night. That would not happen if there wasn’t buy in from venues, and from audiences as well. I would credit a lot of that to the advent of streaming services and the increased exposure to comedians on social media platforms.

Arzoo said she’s happy with the diversity in the comedy scene in terms of content and ethnicity of comedians, but upcoming female comedian Shaima Muaz is far from content.

“I think we still have a long way to go,” said the young Indian expat who performs a weekly gig at Mercure Barsha Heights hotel.

“Venues are excited about comedy as a concept, but they are yet to understand its full potential. I think we are still on a learning curve,” said Muaz.

However, she feels there are far more opportunities today for young comedians like herself. “I am still learning and growing.”

Chaturvedi said he’s noticed a welcome change in the outlook of hotels towards comedy gigs in recent years. “Now they look at comedy shows as the main attraction, rather than a filler.”

He said this is a great time for anyone breaking into the comedy scene in Dubai. “There are a lot of great things just waiting to happen. So go out there, perform as much as you can, be a part of the community and, most importantly, have fun.”

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