comedy and humor: storytelling out east

Its been theorized that one of the major problems with Islamic culture is an inability to step outside itself and see itself as others see it.This perception from the West, and America in particular is that of a pan-Arab society laden of conflicts both internal and external. But then, if they didn’t have humor, it would be impossible to get by….

---Hala: The network wasn't down, there was a lot of usage. You were calling during that time and talking to your friends. There was heavy volume and sometimes we had to call 4 or 5 times to get the number, but it isn't true what you allege, that telecommunications were down. Rana: All I said was that there was a crisis in the telecommunications. Hala: Sometimes one has delusions or fantasies in one's head. One sees things that do not exist in reality. When you express those delusions of yours even if unconsciously you spread rumours and falsehood. For these untruths, we are paying the price, through bombardment. Because of the untruths you've spread we will have battleships invading Libya.---Read More:

Is comedy a definite Western art form, or is this simply cultural superiority asserting itself? The Muslim faith is said to encourage laughter to the extent that it is a religion that seeks to achieve human well being. Its been said in the West that that the Arab sense of humor is nearly unfathomable or faintly existent, but then, we are dealing with two cultures which are self-consistent but have incompatible frames of reference. Or is this chasm, due to the Arab emphasis on what Walter Benjamin called the older tradition of storytelling that has been displaced my more “modern” narrative: The whole thing is ‘concomitant of the secular productive forces of history – a symptom that has quite gradually removed narrative from the realm of living speech and at the same time is making it possible to find a new beauty in what is vanishing’.

One might see this beauty in the flourishing of modernism. But I don’t know what narrative in ‘the realm of living speech’ means exactly. Perhaps this is conclusive proof not only of storytelling’s decline but its absence. And if that is so, it is causing cultural havoc.Read More: But, the mirth and laughter are part of what constitutes our individual essence, but reaching that juncture is hardly a linear exercise.

"The Prophet and his companions used to make jokes and jestings with each other to make the environment pleasant. A companion of Holy Prophet called Noeeman, was renowned for his humorous behavior and historians narrated many instances about his jesting. Once a trading caravan came in Madina with different things of common usage. He bought one of them without paying its price and offered it to Prophet. When merchant demanded to him its price, he came to Holy Prophet with him and said: “O Prophet of Allah! Pay him the price of that thing.” Prophet asked surprisingly, “Have not you gifted me?” He said: “I have no money in my pocket and I was longing that Prophet should use this, so I bought for you.” He laughed and paid for it. Sometimes, believers also retaliated to disbelievers and Bedouins by making fun of them. It is narrated that a Bedouin came to Prophet during the occasion of Badar and said to him: “If you are Prophet of Allah, tell me either what is in the uterus of my she camel.”---Read More: image:

The ancient poetry may be defined as an illustrative criticism of Pre-Islamic life and thought. Here the Arab has drawn himself at full length without embellishment or extenuation. The famous orientalist D. S. Margoliouth (1858-1940) and Arab writer Muhammad Khalaf Ahmad are of the view that humour is not found in classic Arabic literature. In spite of being stubborn, nomadic and simple by nature, Arab nation were fond of derision and humour. If we follow the historical methodology to analyse the humorous and satirical Arabic literature, we may find hundreds of references in lexical material of pre-Islamic period’s poetry as well as in lingual connotation of that period.Read More:

---it is suggested that political cartooning is a Western art form adopted by the Arabs; political cartooning is thus aesthetically more related to the West than to the Arab world. Arab cartooning further bears traces of the modernist cartoonists of the 1950s who strived for universality rather than to generate laughter. In some respect Arab humorists of classical times had similar functions as the contemporary Arab political cartoonists, and some aspects of Arab political jokes reappear in the cartoons. As a form of pop-cultural satire, it is suggested that Arab political cartoonists generally try to be mean and to the point, rather than funny. A remarkable Arab solidarity is displayed in the cartoons, considering the hibernating state of pan-Arabism at the political level....Read More: image:


The scene — the largest stand-up showcase in Cairo to feature local comics — marked a radical social and comedic experiment. Tamer Farag, a 35-year-old tour guide, riffed on the bizarre linguistic games that Egyptians play, incorporating English words into Arabic then randomly applying Arabic grammar rules to them…. By almost any standard, the experiment was a success, with the 500-seat venue sold out for both performances. “This shows people want to laugh. They know stand-up comedy and they love it,” Maha Hosni, the organiser, said. “All the university students know this culture and watch the comedy channels.” Egyptians are no strangers to comedy. The country is famous for its comedic actors and Egyptians are known for their humour. But that spirit of comedy has, until now, been channelled into slapstick films and plays. “We’ve always had comedy but it wasn’t an individual thing,” Mr Farag said.  Now, the stand-up model is gradually taking hold, with a growing pool of local comics eager to hone their craft. “It’s gaining momentum,” said Mohammed Shaheen, a 29-year-old network engineer and comic. “I really believe it’s going to grow in Egypt. There’s a huge market for it.” Read More:

---As for attitudes in Arab nations toward comedy... Ahmed told me that even though some Arab nations, as a rule, frown upon the outspoken nature of stand-up comedy, the people themselves love it. "People in that part of the world have access," he said. "YouTube, Facebook, they got their bootleg DVDs up the ass. They don't have movie theaters over there, so everything is bootleg." "Most of the Middle East knows who Pablo Francisco is, who Dane Cook is. They know who Jeff Dunham is. They love Dunham" Even with his ventriloquist dummy Achmed the Terrorist? Even with that. "You'll have Arabs go, 'I keel you.' Russell Peters is a big, big star over there. They treat him like

d." The Internet and YouTube is filling the entertainment void, Ahmed said. "There's not much to do over there, so they have house parties and bounce YouTube clips back and forth."----click image for more...



INSKEEP: So, what makes Muslims laugh? Mr. BROOKS: Well, you know, the movie is looking for comedy, it's not finding comedy. INSKEEP: I was wondering if you had an answer to the question. Mr. BROOKS: Well, I have - I mean, what I found, it's interesting. I mean, in India you have a society that is Hindu and then Sikhs and Muslims; that's the three primary people that live there and, you know, I found, just from the crew, you know, the Hindus were making jokes about the Sikhs, and the gentleman who was a Sikh driver was telling me jokes about the Muslim who was pulling the cable. So, I have a feeling that probably a universal truth about comedy is that there's always someone else to make fun of, you know? INSKEEP: Polish jokes work anywhere. Mr. BROOKS: Well, that's what the movie says. click image for more...

Mr. BROOKS: I expected polite laughter, maybe. You know, nobody would walk out. I have a line in the movie where I’m talking to my wife once I arrive in India and I’m saying, you know, maybe I bit off more than I can chew. And she says, oh, honey, everyone’s so proud of you, even my mother. And I say, honey, your mother thinks a Muslim is a fabric. Now, I know that’s okay. Before I wrote that line, I looked up and I knew that muslin was a worldwide word – that’s the word for the fabric – so, I thought, okay, I can do that, but I still didn’t, you know, I didn’t know enough to know, does fabric mean something bad? You know, I don’t know any of this. Well, you know, the audience laughed for 30 seconds at that. I’m telling you, it’s now the new benchmark for the great audiences of one of my comedies.

INSKEEP: Was there one thing that you did not intend to be funny that drew a laugh?

Mr. BROOKS: I’ll – yes, and I’ll tell you what it was. My intention in the movie in the show is that the comedian that I play has misjudged very badly the audience in which he’s standing in front of, but this audience actually laughed at some of the stuff that I didn’t want to get laughs at, so they laughed over the moments where the audience wasn’t laughing. …

---Many people remained at home on Thursday fearing a repeat of what happened in November 2009. Despite the chaotic traffic and submerged cars, people did not lose their sense of humor. Some forwarded jokes to friends via their mobile phones expressing a sense of skepticism at the municipality. One made fun of Saher, the Kingdom’s recently introduced traffic monitoring system, saying it has deployed a dolphin to monitor traffic on the Haramain Expressway. “Jeddah Traffic Police launches new system involving a diver to monitor traffic violations under water,” read another. “Jeddah Municipality increases the price of land because they are all overlooking the sea now,” was a favorite. Some citizens also accused the Jeddah Municipality of drowning the western part of the city by erecting embankments to prevent rain and floodwater from reaching the King Abdullah Underpass. ---click on picture for more...

INSKEEP: The moments of silence.

Mr. BROOKS: That’s right.

INSKEEP: They laughed at a bad joke.

Mr. BROOKS: That’s right. But what I really felt coming out of there was that the tension that I felt over the last four years, you know, they feel, too, and everybody in the world feels it. So, to relieve the tension with a laugh, was appreciated. Read More:
Joke-telling in Arabic is a much more drawn-out process than in English, hinging on details rather than timing, according to Korean-Jordanian comic Wonho Chung. At times, the buildup to a punch line is closer to storytelling.

Even within stand-up, much of Arab humor remains regional; referring to well-manicured Lebanese men as “the most beautiful Arab women,” or poking fun at Saudis’ “disappointment” at the grand opening of the Virgin Megastore in Jeddah.

Although far from daring, the medium is slowly breaking a major taboo in Arab culture: discussing personal lives in public.

Not all are ready. The mention of family members or spouses on stage still attracts shouts of “shame on you!” as well as laughter, American comic Amer Zahr noted.

No matter which direction it takes, the popularity of stand-up proves that “humorless Arabs” are eager to laugh at themselves, stresses veteran Jordanian satirist Nabil Sawalha.

“Why not? We came up with the greatest joke of all time,” Mr. Sawalha said. “Arab politics.” Read More:

Read More:
Dale Peck: “Semiotically, syntactically, at the level of the sign and the level of the sentence, from which all narrative proceeds, language waters the seeds of its own failure. Not just its inability to be what it names, but the immense difficulty of measuring the gap between. Of distance? Of closeness? It depends whether you see the cup as half full or half empty. But only after a work of literature has accepted its own failure – has, as it were, elegized its stillborn self – can it begin the complex series of contextual manipulations by which meaning is created and we locate ourselves as surely as the ancient navigators fixed their positions between stars. […] Contemporary novels have either counterfeited reality or forfeited it. In their stead we need a new materialism.”

…And what does he make of the more representative modernist writers who have dealt with such failure: Proust, Kafka, Beckett, Bernhard, and Handke too? Read More:

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