When was the last time you laughed out loud? Not the run-of-the-mill ‘haha’ either. The hard-core belly clenching guffaw. Better yet, when was the last time you made someone laugh out loud?

The fact that I couldn’t answer that question myself, is probably what had me walking through the doors of DUCTAC (Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre), the home of Dubomedy, on a Saturday afternoon – not just in search of comedy, but rather the ability to produce it.

Dubomedy Arts is a collective of artists building a strong Comedy and Urban Arts Community in Dubai, and is co-directed by Broadway veteran and award-winning comedienne, Arts Educator Mina Liccione, and Emirati Stand Up Comic and producer Ali Al Sayed.

The Dubomedy Arts School was founded on April 1 (coincidence? I think not), 2008, and is the first and only Comedy and Urban Arts School in the MENA region. They’re known primarily for their on-going professional training in Comedy, but also offer courses in Tap Dance and Emirati-Arabic speaking classes.

I was introduced to a little ‘taster’ of what classes are like by directors, Mina Liccione and Ali Al Sayed, and their equally affable crew. And within just one hour of improv exercises involving oddly-shaped props and a bout or two of impromptu role-playing, I was sold.

After ‘class’ however, I managed to temporarily push aside daydreams of my sold-out comedy routine, receiving one standing ovation after another, to chat with Co-Director of Dubomedy, Mina Liccione.

Ali Al Sayed and Mina Liccione

Why and how did Dubomedy come about?

When I was first booked to come to Dubai in the summer of 2007, to perform as part of a summer Arts Festival, there was no local comedy and arts community. There was only one amateur theater group but nothing else for local artists.
Upon performing here over a period of 2 weeks everyone I met kept saying how hungry they were for arts and laughter. My 10 day stay was extended to 3 weeks of performing, teaching workshops and doing research. I was offered the opportunity to come back a start the first Comedy School in the Region and graciously accepted.

I held my first few comedy workshops here beginning in February, 2008 then met Ali Al Sayed shortly after. We shared the same passion for comedy, urban arts and the desire to build a solid local arts community from the ground up. We literally had to create an infrastructure. It all starts with education. The next step was the creation of more performance opportunities for local artists. The school began to grow, classes started to fill up, we started producing more shows both professional and community based student shows.

In the two years that you’ve been operational, what have you achieved so far? And is there anything more in the pipeline?

Our goal is to create more performance opportunities for local artists, provide professional performing arts training and put on original productions around the region.

We are the home of the Dubomedy Arts School (first and only Comedy and Urban Arts School in the MENA Region), Dubomedy Sole Steppers (Award winning Tap and Body Beats Group), the Local Comedy Troupe (who launched the first weekly comedy and variety show: “Monday Night Funnies”), made HER-story with Funny Girls (the first ALL FEMALE Stand Up Comedy Show in the Middle East), and have acted as entertainment for many major events around the region!

In 2010 we launched our first Annual Dubomedy International Performing Arts Festival, which offered the stage to hundreds of local artists alongside some very special international guests. And for 2011 we are going on a Comedy Tour of the entire GCC Region followed by a local UAE Tour.

What exactly do the comedy courses entail, and what are the other courses you offer?

Well, we’ve got our 8-week Comedy courses separately for kids and adults, which includes the Kids Comedy & Circus Club, and Signature Comedy 101. NYC Tap & Body Beats, and our Learn To Speak Emirati Classes are our non-comedy offerings.

More intensive courses would include the 3-day Sketch Comedy Acting for Television, the 5-week Improv Bootcamp, and the 2-week Comedy Bil Arabi. So yea, we really like to branch out with the funnies.

What sort of humour have you found to be more popular in the region? Any specific topics even?

Topics are widely ranged, though reccurring themes tend to include jokes about each individual’s cultural background and stereotypes, Dubai Customer service and current events.

Dubomedy line up

Surely, Comedy is a broad stream in itself. Do you nurture just a particular type (eg. wit, sarcasm, irony, etc.) or do you encourage all sorts?

Of course, everyone has their own style of performing comedy, so we definitely don’t restrict anyone in this aspect. What we do is, during training we pinpoint for the students what seems to be working best for them as an individual, so that they know their strengths and are able to build on those. We don’t however encourage crass humour, and make an effort to stay clear of topics involving sex, racism, etc.

Tell us a little about your ‘Clowns Who Care’ program.

The “Clowns Who Care” is a volunteer project we started with the sole purpose of bringing joy, love, light and support to children, senior citizens, charity organizations and hospitals. Our team of trained volunteer artists perform, play games, sing songs, tell jokes, dance and interact with patients/residents from their heart. They say that laughter is the best medicine – we agree!

We’ve recently brought our unique brand of humor to the Special Families Support, a support group in Dubai for children with special needs and their family, and Senses, a residential care facility for children with special needs.

We have plans for expanding the Clowns Who Care project to extend within the city and beyond. We aim to train more clowns, build a database of committed volunteers and organizations, and ultimately, become regulars at care facilities and hospitals.

And our dream of bringing the show to Palestine will hopefully soon become a reality with the help of on-the-ground relief organizations.

I’ve got to ask. What’s your favourite joke?

Ah, there are so many! Favorite jokes, favorite comics, favorite comediennes!

My old college roommate told me this one, and for some reason I still laugh at it: “A posh woman runs out of the bathroom and shouts to the bartender- ‘there’s a giant cockroach in the toilet!’ and the bartender replied ‘well then you’re just going to have to wait your turn!’”

My dad’s favorite joke is: “What’s the difference between in laws and outlaws? Outlaws are wanted”.

Though these jokes mentioned are public domain, I only perform jokes that I write myself. I also don’t allow my students to use internet jokes. The whole point is to help them create truthful material as well as how to write jokes. It’s a simple formula – set up, punch line.

So for anyone who’s lived through a joke embarrassingly falling flat, or a witty response no-one else really found as witty, you know where to sign up. Now here’s a course we can guarantee you won’t get chucked out of class for laughing.

For more info on Dubomedy and their offerings, visit the official website www.dubomedy.com

– Shaahima Fahim

Images courtesy of Dubomedy

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