By Chitra Kalyani
It’s astonishing that stand-up comedy did not gain stage-presence in Egypt up until a few years ago. Local talents at the “Freedom of Funny” show far outstripped the highlight of visiting artist Ronnie Khalil’s “Brezidential Brobosal” at Sawy Culture Wheel on Thursday.
Musical duo High on Body Fat, composed of the portly figures of Marwan Imam and Ahmed Safi Eldin, stole the show with their hilariously self-deprecating numbers which put Egyptian lyrics to western pop tunes.
“Hotel California” — a guitar beginner’s favorite — quite appropriately became the song of a wannabe guitarist who ends up in a “metalz” band. To the tune of The Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” another song wails about a girl who “took me off your BBM.”
Songs written for the revolution recall the conspiracy theories around “Kentucky” being the “chicken from Israel.”
“It’s Friday! It’s Friday!” went a lyric, reminding one of the previous (and perhaps upcoming) “Friday of Anger.”
Local songs such as the Hany Adel and Amir Eid’s revolution number “Sout El-Horreya” (Sound of Freedom) were not above parody, and found a lyric alongside Rihanna’s “Umbrella” remixed to “tora! tora!”
Canadian-Egyptian Rami Boraie, also a familiar face in local comedy circles, was neck to neck in his performance with the aforementioned act. Boraie had many tricks up his sleeve from spot-on impersonations of Barack Obama, winning acts, and a gift for spontaneity.
“Is it for real?” said Boraie repeating an audience comment, “Did Barack Obama really have fuul with Mubarak?” Equally encouraging was his applause for the same audience member who laughed throughout the act, “Give it up for her! It’s brave to laugh like that!”
Boraie’s act also referred to disgraced pop star Tamer Hosny, who was subject to public outrage in Tahrir Square for voicing his support for Mubarak. A Pepsi commercial presents a man with pre-date jitters who turns into Tamer Hosny after drinking Pepsi. “And then he’s not afraid anymore,” said Boraie, pausing with skillful comic timing and restraint.
Host and comedian Adham Abdel Salam’s comic digs also referred to the oblique moments of humor provided by the revolution.
Proposing a strategy for ending pestering, Salam came up with a fail-proof three-step plan of approaching women post-revolution. First, address the horrors you witnessed during the revolution to the man standing with the girl you want to approach. Second, thank her for being part of the revolution, and finally, introduce yourself, and you’re set.
Women, rather than revolution, were the topic of Peter Zarif’s act, which started off strong but gradually lost steam. Zarif’s reverie of a Lebanese woman asking him what he wants in accented Arabic is rudely interrupted by a man calling him “Yabatarar,” a play on his first name which connotes the word “tartar” or “peeing.”
Zarif’s act leaned strongly on wordplay and innuendo, comparing women to fruit that could cause problems when mixed together and to expensive cars that required maintenance.
Noha Kato, the only female in the six-person act, had delightful childlike facial expressions, which only made the “fat man’s voice” in her head all too believable. People’s response may range anywhere from fleeing to flying when afraid. “Some people fart,” said Kato referring to her uncle. Kato’s humor revolved around bodily functions, from catching her uncle farting to being caught holding a urine sample by a former crush.
Egyptian-American Ronnie Khalil said he knew that the people would succeed in the revolution, “Have you ever tried to bargain with an Egyptian?”
Yet some things had not changed in post-revolutionary Egypt, like taxi drivers that formerly said Mubarak was the problem, and now find a problem in the revolution that ousted him.
The plasticine-faced comedian said he was happy to finally be able to talk politics until instructed, “Just don’t joke about the military.”
Khalil also had tongue-in-cheek comments about the Egyptian democracy that tolerated all religions, “We have Christians, and we have Muslims,” he said, repeating, “We have Christians, and we have Muslims.”
Presenting the socialist symbol Mussolini and the capitalist symbol Barack, Khalil suggested a midway solution called “MuBarack.”
His “Brezidential Brobosal” also carried wordplay. The Investment-Security-Academics strategy came to the same acronym as the words Insha Allah (or God willing) that suggest a laissez-faire attitude. The Egyptian currency LE translated to the Arabic “leih?” or “Why?”
Khalil solved the currency issue by turning papyrus — sold at inflated prices overseas — to the local currency, and put an end to the Middle East crisis by returning the region to 1967 borders, except not in the AD years but B.C. “When Egypt was the mother of civilization, with upper delta….dragons…and Adel Imam,” he said referring to the septuagenarian actor.
To push the economy, since tourism had declined, Khalil suggested exporting the “shattafa” — the bidet spray in the toilet.
The salient aspect of the event is what is remarkable about humans — the ability to make fun of the taboo and the tragic. “Freedom of Funny,” aptly titled, celebrated the people that had fought hard for their freedom and laughed while they were at it.
Rami Boraie. (Photo by Amr Adel Amin)
Musical duo High on Body Fat. (Photo by Amr Adel Amin)