From Fahad Albutairi, Khobar native and one of Saudi Arabia’s first stand-up comedians, to the growing number of hilarious YouTube skits by Saudis garnering thousands of likes and comments, it’s clear to see that the Kingdom loves to laugh. So, it comes as no surprise that Saudis took the stage this month to spread laughter through stand-up comedy.
A rare amateur comedy festival was held over five days in Riyadh’s King Fahd Cultural Centre, organized by the official General Entertainment Authority, the main engine of social reforms sweeping the kingdom. Performer after performer stepped on stage, leaving the crowd in stitches as they poked fun at the world and at themselves.
“I am a jobless dentist,” 26-year-old Battar al-Battar said in a slow, deadpan delivery on stage to a smiling audience. “My prayers have been answered. I see lots of braces in this crowd.”
According to Gulf News, the authority “is boosting entertainment options like never before, from a Comic-Con festival to concerts by female musicians, helping shed the kingdom’s austere reputation and introducing many Saudis to a novel concept – having fun in public.”
“There is a misconception that Saudis don’t have a funny bone,” Yaser Bakr, a festival jury member and founder of the kingdom’s first comedy club, told AFP.
“Saudis love to laugh. Numbers don’t lie,” he said, scrolling through a list of Saudi comedy videos on YouTube using his phone, each with hundreds of thousands of views.
Also speaking to AFP, festival director Jubran Al Jubran explained the need for festivals like this, saying, “Saudi Arabia needs to cultivate this art. Comedy has a purifying effect, it cleanses the soul. It’s a relief to laugh about our own problems.”
Although this year’s event saw only male performers, organizers are expecting women to take the stage next year. The Kingdom already has a rising number of female comedians making waves online, such as Hatoon Kadi, host of a comedy YouTube show entitled Noon Alniswa, which has more than 350,000 subscribers.