Dubbed Dubomedy, founders and partners in marriage Ali al Sayed and Mina Liccione run a successful comedy factory in Dubai.
In an escape from the high temperatures and in anticipation of a welcoming audience the couple treated the cities New York, Toronto and Oakville with a slice of Dubai humour this summer.
“There is a very large Arab population in Toronto and New York City so they were very familiar with the UAE. There are generally a lot of well-travelled people living in major, highly transient international cities and Dubai has been on the map in recent years,” said the Italian-American comedian Mina.
Featuring in several comedy shows along the route, in Toronto the comedians went all out with their sold out show Dubai Comedy Cargo.
“I am from New York and have been to Toronto many times so I had a good sense of what I was getting into. I knew that the New York shows would be a mixed crowd and that the shows geared towards Arabs in Toronto would be just that,” said the Italian-American Mina.
“We definitely brought a slice of Dubai with us,” she continued.
“We included jokes about living in Dubai in our New York and Canada shows and they went over very well. Dubai has become very famous out West and people are curious to know more about it.”
“The comedy scene is alive and kicking in Canada!” she adds. “Stand-up, improve and sketch comedy are very popular and are performed on a regular basis all over. In Toronto alone there are a dozen of full-time comedy venues and a dozen more that have weekly comedy nights.”
Mixed crowd or not, the promise of a stand-up comedy couple of Dubai lured the interest of many of North America’s comedy fans.
“The audience response has been great in North America,” said Ali. “There is always that curiosity of who is this guy from the Middle East, I wonder what kind of jokes he will make.”
Being an Emirati, the Arab element will always be there, he reveals. “I am an Arab element, I take that and cherish that everywhere I go and everything I do. A big part of the leadership of the UAE, has always reminded us and encouraged us to wear ‘being from here’ as a badge and represent it in the best way possible. I am always conscious about making sure I talk about being an Arab outside the Arab World.
“Many people know about the UAE and its achievements and is common knowledge pretty much everywhere I’ve been. Every time you say UAE, you get a response like, “Hey, isn’t that where you have…” followed by, “It’s pretty cool I really wanna go there someday”.
“Since getting married a lot of my Arab friends keep warning me about something called ‘the Arabic mother-in-law”. Apparently they can be very intense. But I have to say that I get along great with mine. We have a fantastic relationship…….she doesn’t speak English. I smile and nod at everything she says, she loves me!” jokes Mina on stage.
“Jokes about family, pop culture, current news as well as impressions and self-deprecating material translate very well globally,” she said.
“No matter where I perform, whether it be UK, USA, Canada, Middle East etc it is important to localize my material. I always arrive a day or two before the show, go out and experience the city then write a few jokes.”
“As a comedian, you have about 2 minutes of audience research and that happens when you’re onstage and trying out that first joke,” adds Ali. “Sure you would have some idea of who will be in the audience and who your target is, that almost always is different when you get there…
“I used to worry about what kind of jokes will work somewhere until about 2 years ago. What’s amazing is that many people know a lot about Dubai and the culture here. Be it in Canada, US, UK or wherever. That realization set me free!
“What’s amazing though is that feeling I get after every show, that realization that we’re all really just the same. We can all be in one room, no matter where we come from, no matter what we do and laugh at the same things and be untied with laughter. The UAE, with its mixed culture and amazing residents taught me that and that thought is endearing.”
However, the large Arab presence in the audience did not go unnoticed, thinks Mina. I noticed something really wonderful while in Canada. As I mentioned, there is a huge Arab community in and around the Toronto area. It was wonderful to see so many Arab men, women and teens fill up the venue with laughter. You could tell that they were so proud of their heritage and that it’s important to keep their culture alive though they no longer live in the Middle East.
“Bringing Arab-centric comedy and relatable jokes was like bringing a slice of home to them. It was something very special.”