Putting a smile on the faces of others is a stiff job but comedians in town fight tougher odds to stand up and deliver. Hasan al Lawati shares their laughs and limits .
So you are hanging out with a group of friends when you tell a joke you think is funny. You are expecting the room to burst into laughter but instead you are greeted by silence.
You can almost hear the chirping crickets, and you realise that your potential comedy career is dead.
It is a nightmarish situation for any person, but those young comedians dared their stage-fear and have been successfully making multinational audiences laugh to tears for eight years.
Today we talk to nine stand-up comedians of the Sultanate’s first comedy group ‘Oman Comedy Central’ to know how hard is it to be a comedian here.
The group was founded in 2009, featuring talents from Oman, USA, Sudan, Bahrain, India and Egypt.
We spoke to Indian comic Neston Moras, who joined the comedy industry to fulfill his “need to be liked by strangers.”
“I do not like public speaking, before going on stage, I am always a nervous wreck. But once I’m there and the audience is laughing, everything falls in place,” Moras says.
The observational and sarcastic comic moved to Oman in 2010 and his comedy is inspired by everyday-life, nature, dreams and of course, his job.
Noor Al Mahrouqi is a new Omani face in the local comedy scene. She made her debut in September 2017.
“Writing material is one of the things I struggled with in my first set. I learned that you don’t have to be relatable to be funny. I enjoy telling stories and it was a matter of taking one of my stories and telling it in a way that would make people laugh,” she said.
“Stand-up comedy is still a very new thing in Oman,” says Al Mahrouqi “..well, performing arts in general is a new thing here. For this industry to grow, it needs acceptance and endorsement from the community.”
But to Indian comic Krushika Patankar, comedy serves as a stress-ball.
“I was having a rough time in my last year of my undergraduate degrees and that’s where I started to go up on stage, airing my worries out by making fun of them,” the Indian national says.
She joined OCC in December 2016 and since then she has been throwing jokes that women can relate to.
“Comedy is comedy when it stems from commonality, from a shared understanding of events and experiences. I think women in Oman really did need someone talking about the funny things that happen to women and I wanted to bring something fresh and interesting to the table,” she said.
Patankar believes that life is “pretty funny all around us”.
“We just don’t have our eyes open to how absurd it really can be.” she added.
But how hard is it for a female to survive in a male-dominant industry?
“Comedy in Oman is a boys club and while people love that women are showing up on stage, it doesn’t mean they’re accepting of them as they are.” she explains.
Patankar stressed that there are unwritten rules for how female comedians are expected to talk and carry themselves.
“When it doesn’t meet the standards of being womanly, people, specifically men, are quick to offer unsolicited opinions and advice.” she said.
“I think the struggle really is putting my foot down and saying that I really do have the right to say what I want to say and it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t fit your definition of what women should be like.”
“There is no prescribed rule for women should be like anyway. “ she emphasised.
Egyptian comic Kamal Mustafa is one of the freshest faces in OCC and his goal is to make people smile.
Following the steps of his role model, Louis CK, Mustafa presents an improvisation, observational and blue genre of comedy.
Overcoming stage freight, however, is his biggest challenge. “But working on a weekly basis with the team, helped me overcome it.” he said.
OCC meets every Monday to go through material, plan shows, workshops and auditions.
“I was impressed with the way they organise weekly workshops and how the whole team helps each other to grow,” says Vikas Rajput, another new member of the OCC.
“There is no better feeling than the ability to make someone laugh,” the Indian national added.
It was February 2016 when Amr Abdullah was attending stand-up comedy event, he decided to give it a shot and be on the other side of the stage.
And eight months following that night, Abdullah performed for the first time with OCC.
The Sudani youngster said that the group helped him improve his cynical, slow paced to comedy style.
Asked about his biggest challenge, he answered:”Sharing my material with my family, because a lot of my jokes are about them.”
Sami Al Asmi is a natural comic. He is all about “quality over quantity”.
“At the moment, the interest in Oman’s standup comedy scene is greed and profit. People involved in organising the big shows just want the quick buck, instead of building something tangible and developing local talent,” he claims.
His love affair with stand-up comedy started in 2010 when he did his first show.
I love standup comedy, because from all platforms available I get to voice my own cynical opinion on everyday matters which resonates with people.
Most of the comics agree that comedy is not very popular in Oman yet.
All of OCC members have full time jobs and do comedy overtime.
Bahraini comic Khalid Al Tattan, a new OCC face complained about the lack of dedicated standup venues in Oman.
“We need a space for performers to go try out their material on a daily basis,” he says.
Inspired by renowned comedians Kevin Hart and Russel Peters, this young man auditioned for a large comedy show in Muscat few years ago.
Joseph Sims won, and he created Oman Comedy Central.
His club grooms young comedians and help them to develop their own style.
“You don’t have to have any experience. You have to have the desire to try,” Sims says.
“You start to see comedy at the mall, in the airport, at the grocery store. These are the same places that our audience visits. So it makes it easier for them to visualise the situations we are talking about,” the American national explained.
The founder of OCC said that generating new material is challenging. “Our comedy market is very small. So each show we have to come up with new material. Where in other countries with larger markets, your material may be good for three months. As different people show up for different shows,” he said.
Anyone interested in doing standup comedy can get in touch via facebook or Instagram @omancomedycentral or call +968 96659666