Hosting and performing - Talal Karkouti on Arabs Are Not Funny

Talal Karkouti

Arabs Are Not Funny! is "one of the hottest comedy nights among the Arab community and beyond". It brings together comedians with Arab roots for a performance in the Elgar Room at The Royal Albert Hall. The show coming up on Friday 14th June has the fantastic line-up of Talal Karkouti, Julie-Yara Atz, Joe Haddad, Prince Abdi, Mo Magaleo and Sami Abu Wardeh. Recently, we had the chance to chat with Talal, who has previously MC'd Arabs Are Not Funny!.

How did you first get started in the world of comedy?

As is the case with a lot of comedians, I was an easy target for bullies at school. I was round, hairy, sweaty and ethnic. Most confrontations ended with me coaching them on their insults to make them as funny as possible, a friendly handshake and then the handing over of just enough lunch money so that I could still afford a muffin or some banana fritters.

After uni, several years doing improv comedy in the back of pubs, podcast studios and festivals gave me the itch. I finally did my first stand-up gig about 8 years ago, incorporating silly little songs into my set. In 2022 I got 2nd place in the Musical Comedy Awards and I definitely don't feel bitter about that at all.

Currently, I can be found producing and co-hosting The Alexei Sayle Podcast and, funnily enough, getting back into improv with a hilarious group of MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) performers. The Bazaar will be debuting at Camden People's Theatre later this month.

What is it like bringing stand-up and music together for your set?

Generally speaking, I'm not a fan of most musical comedy. It's all very nice and whimsical but the songs tend to drag on, repeating the same joke for 3 minutes. So my songs tend to be no more than a minute long. Stand-up is a conversation so I like to break up the music with storytelling and audience interaction. I need to keep it fun for myself too, so I follow my whims and improvise a lot on stage when time allows.

Talal Karkouti

What is it like MC'ing a show like Arabs Are Not Funny!?

Because of my improv background, I absolutely love MCing. I love connecting with audience members, following threads and seeing what magic comes from it. At Arabs Are Not Funny! we naturally always have some Arabs in the audience. Being of Syrian origin myself, this allows for nuances other comedy clubs don't always offer. It's not alienating for our white audience - it just allows us to share our stories and points of view in a safe space. There are plenty of spaces for South Asians and Black communities in comedy, enjoyed by audiences of all colours - so why not have a space for Arab comedians too?! It brings me such joy and pride to showcase the simple fact that despite our differences we're all the bloody same!

For those unfamiliar with the show, can you tell us a bit about Arabs Are Not Funny!? What do you hope audiences take away from the show?

Arabs Are Not Funny! is the brainchild of the legendary Aser El Saqqa - of Arts Canteen. He's made it his life's work to bring Arabic art and culture to the UK and around the world. AANF is the comedy brand of this mission. It's just a comedy night like any other top-quality comedy night. The difference is all the comedians are of Arab heritage.

Simply by existing, simply by being ourselves, we hope to break any stigma westerners have about the Middle East. We're just up there talking about regular life, regular problems. Most of us were born or raised in the UK and we share all the same experiences. We just have a few extra ones too!

We wear our "weird" names and beige skin with pride as we connect with audiences and show that we have more in common than not. But, honestly, we don't need to preach and rant and get political to make this point. We just get up there and make you laugh, and that says it all.

How would you describe Arabs Are Not Funny! in one word?

Funny.


Arabs Are Not Funny! is on 14th June in the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit royalalberthall.com

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