24 November, 2008

Laugh it out loud with Jordanians!

This article By Mike V. Derderian, can be found in TODAY's edition of the Star.

“Does anyone have any questions for the sponsors?” Omar Al Maani, the mayor of Amman, with a hint of gentle sarcasm said to a silent hoard of media representatives before someone actually did.

Silence prevailed for a moment or two until one journalist finally asked a question and begged one sponsor to fund an association for theatrical actors. For a press conference about a comedy festival that was extremely funny. A few minutes ago Maani, who with the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) is sponsoring Jordan’s first stand-up comedy festival, said that he uses humor to face the trials and tribulations of a day at the office.

“If I don’t do so I would blow a vein or die of a heart attack. Please if anyone has a good joke or two e-mail them to me,” Maani, who gave a heartfelt laugh as members of the press soon joined in.

Sitting next to Maani was Dean Obeidallah, an American comedian of Arabian roots, who was there with Maani and the of course sponsors part of a press conference to talk about The Amman Stand-Up Comedy Festival, which is to be held between December 2 and December 5 at Al Hussein Cultural Center.

Jordanians were first introduced to the stand up comedy format a few months ago when Obeidallah performed along The Axis of Evil comedians Maz Jobrani, Aron Kader and Ahmed Ahmed, who will all perform in the upcoming festival.

Some journalists attending the press conference mistook this social, religious, economic and political driven art form of self-expression as a branch of comedic theatre. Ok, maybe I am pushing the envelope when I religious. Stand-up comedy is an inner monologue that is voiced out-loud to a sitting crowd and a stand-up comedian is only armed with his razor sharp tongue, wits, jokes, humorous dialogue, punch-lines and of course a microphone.

For the upcoming festival there will be over 15 performers including Arab American comedians like Ali Hassan, Amer Zahr, James Smith, Mike Batayeh, Nemr Abu Nassar, Ronnie Khalil, Meena Dimian, Ronnie Khali, George Azmy, Ted Alexandro, James Smith, Russell Peters and of course Maysoon Zayid.

On their Facebook group the organizers announced that they want Jordanians in the lineup of the festival. So anyone interested in performing can upload videos online and send the links to ascf@ammancity.gov.jo and dean@deanofcomedy.com.

The stand-up comedy fever is spreading and the festival's posters that were fixed over electricity line poles are worth the checking. Reading the festival's main tagline Rah Tedhak Khawa, which roughly translates to You Will Be Forced To Laugh, which is written over and under human faces that have a wide smile superimposed over their real and dull expressions, one cannot but wonder why Jordanians are looked upon as no more than a bunch of sourpusses—hardly the case when one attends a gathering of friends, young and old, read a caricature for Emad Hajjaj or even strike up a conversation with a taxi driver.

Jordanians are funny but they have been repeating this lie—Jordanians are not funny—for so long that they've started to believe it and the Festival of Comedy will hopefully change this.

"The purpose behind the festival is to change this misconception as I believe Jordanians are intelligent and often express themselves through humor in their daily activities," Maani stated, adding, "the success of Laughter Week yielded the idea for this festival, which is part of GAM's mission to hone individualistic skills and talents."

The festival, which is part of a non-profit program, was developed in close collaboration with the critically acclaimed New York Arab-American Comedy Festival, which according to Maani is here to stay if it proves successful with Jordanians.

“This is truly the first festival. The other show we did had the same performers each night. This is each show is a different night with different performers and that's truly the essence of a festival in my eyes," Obeidallah said, before adding, "such a festival will result in positive press coverage for the locality that is having the event. The Montreal and Edinburgh Comedy Festival did the same respectively for Canada and Scotland.

Obeidallah believes that this Festival will encourage young talents to become more active in the Jordanian performing arts arena especially stand-up. "I also see this event creating a wider appreciation for comedy in Jordan and should be recognized as a marked calendar occurrence staged in Amman, as the region is full of raw talent that we are hoping to bring to the forefront and if all goes well this year the festival will become a staple of Amman,” Obeidallah added.

The festival according to Maani will contribute to Amman's position as a pioneering city that embraces, creates, and hosts cultural activities like the stand-up comedy festival that he hopes will attract headlining performers from the Middle East, United States of America, and Europe.

“The Greater Amman Municipality anticipates that this festival will increase tourist traffic to the City during the month of December and will also place Jordan and its talent pool on the international map of comedy. We are always keen on urging our community members to express themselves and interact through the many forms of performing arts and stand-up comedy is the rawest and most interactive form of comedy,” explained Maani, "if this year's festival proves successful we will turn it into an event that will turn Amman to a comedic hub that will attract comedians from across the Middle East."

"The goal of the New York Arab American Comedy Festival that I worked on and created with Comedian Maysoon Zayid, five years ago was not only to entertain but to break stereotypes and show other Americans that Arabs can be funny. I hope that there will be media coverage back home about this festival to show that Arabs in this region are funny, "Obeidallah explained.

Well, Jordanians will just have to prove, to themselves first, and the world second, that they have funny bones and a Jordanian holding a microphone standing on an empty stage facing a crowd can be as funny as an American stand up comedian doing the same.

Expressive enough :) See you at the Amman Stand-up Comedy festival between the 2nd and the 5th of December at Ras El-Ein :) .... hmm ,,, well, less the last couple of days, as i have another hot even for you to be reveled soon ;)

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