Halal Comedy in Qatar
Talker: Hatice Sari
This month we reach to Qatar. Bilal Randeree who lives in capitol of Qatar, Doha, is presenting a stand-up comedy show that is called "Halal Bilal". We spoke about Halal Bilal comedy show and Islamic life in Qatar.
Who is Halal Bilal & what is SUCQ?
Bilal moved to Doha just over two and a half years ago from South Africa in the hopes of settling down and integrating himself into the comedy scene, until he found there was no scene. So he set up Stand Up Comedy Qatar (SUCQ) which aims to nurture “local home grown grassroots comedy about the type of issues that we the people who live here deal with on a daily basis.”
Since then SUCQ has come a long way - “across town from dingy coffee shops and back rooms to Katara, to the Pearl, to hotels.” Bilal says the group has inspired many local people to get started in stand-up.
It has also attracted quite a following as shows have been selling out and they’re looking to get bigger and better. As with everything, however, SUCQ needs the funding to make this happen – to allow the talent of Qatar to be promoted, showcased and encouraged to reach the world stage.
Bilal says the comedy scene may not be at the same stage as Britain or American because it’s a development process but he’s hopeful for its future; “The industry is growing at a pretty decent pace and an exciting future is ahead,” he predicts.
In Qatar, says Bilal who has performed around the world in countries such as England and South Africa, the beauty as well as the challenge of performing is that everyone is so mixed – audiences and performers alike. “Earlier this year we had ten comedians on stage of ten different nationalities.
Each one comes with a group of friends and family and then there are at least 20 or 30 nationalities in the audience… I don’t think anywhere else in the world has so many different people attending on such a regular basis.”
How did the idea of comedy came into your mind? And how did you start?
I used to regularly volunteer with a charity organisation back in South Africa. A few years ago I was helping them put together a fund raising event for orphans where we brought a group of comedians from the US to tour South Africa. Somehow during that tour I found myself on stage making jokes, and people actually laughed. I did that for the orphans, and never thought I would do it again. But soon after, I moved to London.
The same group of comedians, known as Allah Made Me Funny, were touring the UK and invited me to perform at some of the shows with them - after that, I was contacted by university students and other organisations looking for someone to do entertainment at their fundraising events. This was in 2007 and I lived in London for 6 months. My career all but ended when I left London and spent the next year travelling through Western Europe, Turkey, Syria and the rest of the Middle East. I moved back to South Africa in 2009 and tried a bit of comedy, but was moving around too often to get back into it. Last year I moved to Doha and thought, because I was going to live here for a while, I needed to get back into the comedy. I started doing regular shows and now the comedy scene in Doha has exploded with very regular events!
What were your thoughts about community`s reaction to this? How was the community reaction to this?
We some times faced criticism from religious/conservative people - but most people are supportive once they realise that I don`t call myself Halal Bilal for nothing. I try to make sure that my material is all 100% halal, in that I don`t use profanities or do sexual or offensive material. At university I picked up the title `Halal` because I always tried to behave in a way that I believe is good - when I started doing comedy, I kept this in mind and now I think my comedy can be described as `family friendly` - I don`t swear or do any obscene jokes in my gigs. So this fits in with me being `Halal` :)
Do you think that idea about comedy in Qatar or in the whole Arab rejoin would change?
The comedy scene in Doha is really growing quite nicely. When I got here in the beginning of 2010, there was almost nothing! Now, there are shows at least once a month, sometime more! In 2011, I arranged the Fluffy Show with local comedian Mohammed Fahad Kamal - we have more shows planned for the future, but there are also others putting together great shows. Even though I may not be part of every show now, I am still supportive of everybody in the industry as I feel that the growth of comedy is very important.
What were you concerns about the audience?
The audiences here are really nice - very little heckling and stuff like in other countries. And our shows are always sold out, so we know the audiences like us!
Did you face any problems with family, relatives or any kind of close people because of this?
I have loads of siblings - 6 brothers and 2 sisters - so in short, you definitely learn many lessons simply by having amazing parents that can not just manage so many kids, but do a fairly decent job of it! I remember having fun, learning and fighting a lot – ‘coz that`s how boys grow up - and with so many people in one house, a good sense of humour is a must!
What shows have you participated in?
The most recent highlights have been performing in Doha, Jordan and Dubai together with Gabriel Iglesias, Dean Obeidalla, Edwin SanJuan, Larry Omaha, Fahad Al-Butairi, Ibraheem Al-khairallah and many others..
How do you prepare for your events?
Comedy is hard work - we practice a lot, and we help each other with material and tips.
What do you hope for stand up comedy in Qatar or Middle East generally?
At the end of 2010, I started SUCQ - Stand Up Comedy Qatar (http://sucq.com) - it is a non-profit organisation that aims to support the growth of comedy in Qatar, and to nurture and develop young comedic talent. Its still in its early stages, but anyone interested in performing comedy, or in supporting comedy, is welcome to contact me:firstname.lastname@example.org
What future ambitions for this filed?
I regularly get to experience cool things as a comedian - there is a real sense of excitement, being back stage with some of the best comedians in the world, and getting support and encouragement from them. The guys from Allah Made Me Funny are good friends and great company - I always enjoy performing with them, or just hanging out when we can`t do shows together.
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