In the vibrant Middle Eastern stand-up scene (with acts like Palestinian-American Dean Obeidallah from Axis of Evil, Mike Batayeh of Jordanian descent and Maz Jobrani from Iran), Saudi Arabia is no exception. The country has seen an incredible increase in stand-up comedians infusing a second breath and lots of humour to Saudi society. One of these comedians, whose stage name is Noufie, has had the particularity and courage to become the first Saudi female stand-up comedian. She is a simple, energetic person as well as a talented and eclectic actor, and Mashallah News got the chance to speak to her about her experiences on stage.
How did the stand-up comedian idea start?
I was at a friend’s house one day in KSA when there happened to be an audition for stand-up comedians. There was a show coming up, and there were still some empty spots. I wanted to audition and told my friends that I could do this. I hadn’t prepared anything for the audition, it was all spontaneous. There were 10 guys there, and I made them all laugh at my jokes. So I thought to myself that if I can make some 10 people laugh, why not a whole audience?
I thought to myself that if I can make some 10 people laugh, why not a whole audience?
Why do you perform under a pseudonym?
I chose to use a pseudonym for my shows in order to protect my family name. In Saudi Arabia, whenever you do something that might annoy the authorities, the first thing you think about is protecting your family name. Luckily for me, I have a very supportive family who’s got my back.
I wondered, was I really the first female stand-up comedian in Saudi history? For me, it was an amazing feeling given that I hadn’t expected things to develop this far.
Was it hard to find an audience?
Two famous comedians, Ahmed Ahmed and Maz Jobrani were part of a show to which I contributed, which was enough to advertise for it. This was my first performance in Saudi Arabia. I was introduced to the two comedians by Peter Howarth-Lees, founder of Smile Production, the person who organised the event. That’s how it all began. It was a three days show in June 2009 called LOL Comedy Tour, with the two first days open to the public and the third taking place at the British embassy. I performed only on the third day.
In what kind of places do you perform?
Usually, stand-up shows in Saudi Arabia take place in closed areas like schools and compounds. As I said, I did my first show at the British embassy. There were less people there, and it was a more restricted place than shows where many male comedians perform: restricted in the sense that it’s more protected and not accessible to everyone. In addition to that, the audience is chosen carefully and gets a special invitation. Usually, it’s a mix of expatriates and Saudis that come. Plus, it’s only when you buy a ticket that you get to know the location. And even with a ticket, you only find out where the show will take place the day before.
In Saudi Arabia, whenever you do something that might annoy the authorities, the first thing you think about is protecting your family name.
What kind of difficulties do you face being a woman comedian?
I wouldn’t say difficulties. Initially, I was mostly surprised by how big the crowd was and by all the positive comments and feedback I received at the end of the show. People said things like “great job, you broke all the barriers” or “you’re breaking the walls.” It felt good. I wondered, was I really the first female stand-up comedian in Saudi history? For me, it was an amazing feeling given that I hadn’t expected things to develop this far. But bear in mind that I performed for those in Saudi Arabia who have a more liberal outlook, and never in front of very conservative audiences.
I’ve so far declined every show that requires me to be in front of a large audience. I’m not emotionally and mentally prepared to perform in front of all kinds of crowds, since I can’t be sure to know how everyone will react. There’s quite a probability I wouldn’t receive the same positive feedback that I got up to now.
Usually, it’s a mix of expatriates and Saudis that come. Plus, it’s only when you buy a ticket that you get to know the location.
What topics have you covered so far?
I have dealt with several things in my shows. The abaya, of course: how the guys are lucky enough to wear white clothes whereas us women always have to be in black. In other words, since the abayas generate so much extra heat, it seems that they really want us to stay at home and not go out at all. I’ve also spoken about me forgetting to put on the abaya when leaving the house, and the consequences of that. Lastly, I’ve made jokes about the attempts of girls and guys mingling in society. I’ve talked about the use of Bluetooth in public places, how girls and guys get a hold of each other’s numbers in weird ways, and when guys call a random number by “mistake” to find out if it’s a girl on the other end of the line. Things like that.
Do you have a favorite stand-up comedian? Anyone you would like to collaborate with?
As for the internationally known ones, I have to say I love Steve Harvey, Chris Rock, Sugar Sammy, Mitch Hedberg and Bernie Mac (may they both rest in peace). And, of course, the list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Ahmed Ahmed and the actors in the Saudi series Tash MaTash. I’ve already collaborated with Ahmed Ahmed, and I would have no problem doing that again. This guy is just awesome. He’s great on stage, and at the same time pretty laid-back. So it’s really great working with him.
There are many new comedians on the rise in Saudi Arabia, who will do something new and great for the country. This is really needed.
You were living in Lebanon before moving back to Saudi Arabia. How did your experience in Lebanon change your way of acting?
I lived there for a few years and met with great people who became like family to me, as well as an amazing person who is forever in my heart. They changed my life. And there, I got to perform in plays in which I shined. They made me discover my character and my personality on stage. I got to do different roles, in pieces from Clockwork Orange and Sorry, Wrong Number to The Frog Prince and Ugly Duckling. I even participated in the Lebanese version of High School Musical, in which I danced. I was type-cast for comedies like the two last plays, and I never got to go for serious roles. Therefore, in acts like Sorry, Wrong Number, people were surprised that I could actually play a serious role.
Not only Westerners have a sense of humor. That’s just a stereotype: we can make people laugh just as much as anyone else.
How do you see the future of stand-up comedy in Saudi Arabia and the region in general?
I expect it to be amazing. There are many new comedians on the rise in Saudi Arabia, who will do something new and great for the country. This is really needed. I’m still the only female stand-up comedian in the country, but hopefully other girls will follow my example. I really hope so, it would be a huge plus. So, fingers crossed.
For the region in general, I know the guys will be rocking it. We have tons of talented people and they will do a great job. People will have stomach aches because of laughing so much at their shows. When watching Ahmed Ahmed’s Just Like Us, people will understand that not only Westerners have a sense of humor. That’s just a stereotype: we can make people laugh just as much as anyone else. What we have in this part of the world is something unique and there are tons of subjects that we can deal with. We just need proper media exposure and advertisement. With the right people, we can make something that is both huge and wonderful.