BEIRUT: Imagine that you are in one of the iconic comedy cellars, a club where four comics take the stage one after the other, each doing their full sets over a two hour evening of comedy.
Think of every detail; the tables, the chairs, lighting, food, and drinks. Recreating all its past recent versions, the Hollywood Pop-up Comedy Club came back in its third edition to Beirut, from Nov. 30 thru Dec. 2, for several hours of mayhem, laughs, guffaws, chortles, and similar noises.
Lebanese locals, embassies staff, expats and tourists found themselves, as it were, in Los Angeles on Saturday night ready to hit the Sunset Strip and "pop-up" into one of the world famous comedy clubs, this one located locally in Teatro Verdun.
Produced by Samira Kawas and Los Angeles-based Ron Senkowski, the show presented four A-list stand-up LA comedians including Crystal Denha, Chindu Unaka, Bret Ernst and Justin Martindale. The comics performed their full sets twice, from 8 p.m. till 10 p.m. and then from 10:30 p.m. till 12:30 p.m., in an event hosted by Anthony Salameh, Virgin Radio Lebanon host.
As Salameh took the stage, the whole house cheered. The veteran Virgin Radio host took the liberty of asking individuals in the audience about their nationalities and relationship status to break the ice for an interactive event.
Canadians, Americans, Europeans, Arabs and more were spotted in the audience which boasted many age groups and marital status of all sorts, including single.
Starting off the night, Salameh suggested that “everyone turns their phone into airplane mode, and if you don’t have airplane mode go buy yourself a new phone.”
He went on to describe how stand-up comedy shows work: “I’m the host, I come up and do a few jokes and introduce you to the international comedians, they then come on stage and choose someone in the crowd to pick on.”
After entertaining the “folks” Salameh introduced Bret Ernst as the first act. Ernst who currently stars in Cobra Kai, a successful web series, has works ranked as top five of all time and top 10 on iTunes.
Starting off with: “I hope our fine Lebanese audience doesn't watch comedy like they drive,” Ernst used what he learned about the Lebanese culture to crack jokes that relate to the locals in the audience.
“Do you get cigarettes with your license?” Ernst asked and the crowd went wild.
He continued to find differences and similarities between American and Lebanese cultures and tackled marriage problems in his jokes.
The second act of the night was Chinedu Unaka, a Nigerian comedian from LA who is considered one of the hottest rising comics in the States by famous performer Kevin Hart.
Unaka made more fun of the infamous way Lebanese people drive, turning the crowd’s daily struggle to something laughable; bittersweet indeed.
“In America the stop sign means stop. However, in Lebanon, it means go faster,” said Unaka. “I’m so happy to be here I love this country, I can totally live in it but I probably couldn’t afford that,” noting the well-known cost of living.
Besides touching on Lebanese culture, Unaka joked about his struggles living as a Nigerian in America.
Coming in third was Detroiter Crystal Denha, whose parents are of Iraqi origin, and was especially interactive with the audience, in which she also tried to set people up together. Denha tackled the concept of ‘Orientalism’ and marriage in her jokes.
It bares noting that Denha had come to Beirut with her parent in one of their first trips to the Middle East since leaving Iraq.
The last comic for the night was Justin Martindale, a star on E! channel. His jokes were inspired by the Christmas spirit in Beirut, to which he said: “You people are so excited about Christmas that you wear jackets like it is snowing outside.”
Laugh O' Meter
The audience was content with the event and the Laugh O' Meter scored high as the acts continued.
According to a local, Jad Fawaz, the comics didn’t just go in, crack their jokes and leave, they were talking to the audience and interacting with them in a witty manner.
“There were some American pop culture references in the show that flew over some people’s heads but the majority of the jokes were things we all related to and they picked up some good jokes having to do with Lebanese culture considering the little time they spent here,” said Fawaz.
Marwan Hasbini, a TV and Film graduate from the Lebanese American University, had a critical viewpoint considering his background in the field.
“The Hollywood stand-up comedy show shared some similarities with the regular Lebanese comedy shows we watch, but what was that the pop-up exhibited sophistication,” said Hasbini. “All the sexual jokes were not told in the regular cheap or cheesy way.”
Another member of the audience, Sara Katrib, gave her opinion on the event, noting for Annahar.
“I expected the show to be very American in the sense that the jokes would be westernized, but when I watched the actual thing I was shocked,” said Katrib. “They did their research and integrated jokes from our culture, they even went the extra mile to learn a few Arabic words.”
Riham Al-Saleh articulated that her favorite part of the show was when Crystal Denha performed her set.
“Her act was a close to the Lebanese culture, people were very interactive and happy during the show,” said Al-Saleh.
According to Perla Shehab the overall show was “incredible” and she advised, “everyone to watch it.”
The show must go on
The goal of the show is to make people laugh and allow the Lebanese public to have the Hollywood experience, organizers noted.
“I go a lot to LA and one of the best things I like to do on a weekend is to go to a comedy club,” said Kawas. “I saw that we lack such a luxury elsewhere and particularly in Lebanon so my business partner Ron and I came up with the idea of creating this new format and pop-it-up in different cities around the world.”
In Beirut, the first edition of the show was in April and the second in July. “We did it three times in one year because people loved it and kept asking us to come again,” she added.
Explaining the concept Kawas said: “Pop-up format is one in which we pop up, come and go, and tour around the world with different comedians each time.”
The casting for the event is based on choosing International comedians so that their jokes work with different cultures. “We bring the comedians four days prior to the event so that they can go out and learn about the culture, and that’s aside from the meets and greats we organize for them,” said Kawas.
What’s different in this edition was that a new concept was created: the “local spotlight," which is based on the audience’s feedback, in which the show hosts local Lebanese comics to support their acts, organizers noted.
“As a Lebanese, my message ultimately is to make people laugh and send back the comics with a good impression about Lebanon to spread the word about our country,” concluded Kawas.
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