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Thu 1 Aug 2019 12:07 PM

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UAE comedians 'push more boundaries', says Flash Entertainment CEO

Comedy shows in UAE are 'not more conservative' than anywhere else, according to John Lickrish

UAE comedians 'push more boundaries', says Flash Entertainment CEO
Stand-up comedian Russell Peters.

Comedians performing in the UAE ‘push more boundaries’ in terms of sensitive content compared to those performing internationally, according to the CEO of Abu Dhabi-owned Flash Entertainment.

The events company brought comedian Russell Peters to the recently opened Coca Cola arena in Dubai in June, as well as celebrities ranging from The Rolling Stones to Rihanna and Andrea Bocelli to Abu Dhabi.

It also hosts the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, the Yasalam entertainment programme as part of the Formula One in Abu Dhabi, and the FIFA Club World Cup in the UAE.

Speaking to Arabian Business, chief executive John Lickrish, said comedy shows in the UAE are ‘not more conservative’ than global shows.

“We haven’t had any issues [with comedy shows in UAE]. There have been some very touchy subjects but I think people are fairly respectful of the community. I wouldn’t say that we’re any more conservative than anywhere else.

“I don’t think we’ve had any problems where well known comedians come through... I don’t think we’ve managed to upset anyone in that process. I’ve seen people pushing the boundaries more locally than I’ve seen from the international community…” he said.

While Lickrish said there are “certain things like any major city globally has its own social morals and a bar where things can’t go over”, Flash Entertainment has “never had an issue” with comedians performing in the UAE.

“We’ve never had an issue with anyone in the past. There are a few people I would probably steer away from because they’re unpredictable, some of the crazier ones,” he said, adding that Flash Entertainment is “careful on who we collaborate with”.

In July, Saudi Arabian comedian Bader Saleh told Arabian Business comedians in the kingdom continue to face significant hurdles, despite the government’s best efforts to promote comedy as an art form.

Saleh, 35, rose to fame as the star of the Arabic-language YouTube show ‘Eysh Elly’, which has amassed over 3.2 million followers since its launch in 2011.

Since then, he has been a fixture of the Arabic-language comedy scene in the kingdom and the wider region, performing alongside global stars Dave Chappelle and Trevor Noah in Dubai. Today, he boasts 3.61 million followers on Twitter and 1.5 million on Instagram.

Saleh said that while the Saudi government has made significant efforts to promote the work of comedians in the kingdom, acceptance from the wider public often lags behind.

“The government is supporting the comedy scene, but the audience is not,” he said. “I don’t think this is only in Saudi Arabia. Comedians around the world are complaining about how people have become very sensitive and get offended very easily.”

Bringing back comedy

Flash Entertainment’s Lickrish said the company is looking to increase its comedy shows and collaborate with more Arabic comedians.

“We’ve been following a lot of Arabic comedians who are getting a lot of international recognition through Netflix. We’ll be looking at bringing comedy back. We have a few shows here and there but we think it’s a huge opportunity for something to be developed with its own kind of flavour, with Saudi or Jordanian comedians and all types of international comedians who come through here as well.

“We also have a good group of home-grown Emiratis as well, also people who have lived in the UAE or other countries, and who are in that space. It’s nice to see. I think it’s very important to help nurture the home-grown and local content because every robust industry has to have its own domestic kind of capabilities and performance in this case,” he said.

In July, Comedy Central Arabia said it hopes to expand its production of stand-up in the region and is working with local comedy clubs to identify emerging talents.

Its stand-up specials produced in the region “are just a small scratch on the surface of people that have stories they want to tell,” Tracey Grant, VP of content and channels for Viacom International Media Networks in the Middle East told Arabian Business.

Viacom International is the company that oversees the production, broadcasting and promotion of Viacom brands outside the United States, including Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Spike and Paramount Channel.