Palestine Pulse

Saudi Comedy Shows on YouTube a Big Hit With Youth

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Article Summary
Saudi stand up comedy shows on social networking sites have become popular among youth, as they address topics once considered taboo.

Not many people can find a specific explanation for the “tsunami” created by the “stand-up comedy” channels on social networking sites, particularly on YouTube.  These channels, led by a group of Saudi youth, have turned this art — born in small European theatres — into a satire, bypassing censorship and without the need to refer to an administrative hierarchy media outlet.

With the help of certain names, views on some YouTube channels exceeded 9 million per episode and a generation of youth enthusiastic for TV production made its way. Even though the experience is still very young and participation in open theaters is modest, critics have claimed that this Saudi art experience is “very rich.”

The 3al6ayer Show, hosted by the young artist Omar Hussein, is one of the first shows that sparked the “stand-up comedy” revolution, with a very limited number of channels and shows at that time.

Al-Hayat spoke to Hussein about his experience, which he described as “a double-edged blade that will either address social phenomena or fail. It depends on the approach with which the issue is handled and raised.”

“The show now includes content with additional experience, and we have plenty of subjects to tackle,” Hussein said. On the impact of the raised issues on decision-makers, he said, “It all depends on the decision-maker himself; there are those who are very far from what is being raised, and who are not influenced. I am not sure about the influence we have made. It is up to the viewers.”

It appears that the number of viewers of some episodes is extremely high. This has given Hussein an unprecedented stardom that has almost made him a spokesman for a large segment of the Saudi youth.  According to him, “This does not necessarily mean that a given topic we raise is good or influential. Some channels have less viewers, but raise deeper issues. The assessment should not be based on the number of views, because it is a wrongful judgment, although the viewers are largely interacting, in my opinion.”

Art critic Nouh Jamaan said it was a strong and influential artistic state, and a major turning point in the current cultural movement, particularly since the concerned youth are working in teams and doing a professional job with great effort. “The raised subjects are surprising, influential and free from censorship. However, they do not pay any attention to that, and their success resides with the loyal viewers,” he said.

“Internet channels unveiled youth potentials that did not find their chance in the traditional media. They are working with minimum cost and effort, and the approach upon which most of them are based is deep and influential,” Jamaan added. He noted the need to provide an adequate climate, because these youth were the future wave of art. “Halls and theaters should be provided for the artists, so they can show their creativity in a civilized way, and so we can benefit from them. This will allow the art to be a tool of improvement.”

Jamaan expressed his concern that the lack of official interest would cause this art to vanish and its stars to gradually disappear [from the scene]. “Advertisers should take advantage of the huge number of views and pump funds to support these projects and deliver their products to a large segment of viewers. This would ensure that shows continue, reach official and unofficial forums and are spread.”

While being the only trend in the past, with the lack of theatrical performances, TV comedy shows are no longer of high value. Ali al-Rashid, a viewer of one of the channels on YouTube, explained that “the spread and dominance of youth comedy channels on YouTube is because they are simple and straight to the point with none of their parts cut or deleted, as is the case with many TV shows. Thus, the approach is direct and touches on the reality of the youth.”

Rashid believes that Saudi “stand-up comedy” is now almost a brand that is different from any other comedy in Arab countries. Although the approach is similar, regarding the predominance of the social character and involvement of the Arab Spring countries in politics, the particularity of the Saudi approach derives from the fact that the sketches ​​tackle topics that were recently taboo. This was behind its popularity and the number of views that exceeded expectations.

The Sahi YouTube channel has achieved high viewing rates. It is made up of a group of young comedians who discuss through its different channels several topics. The channels include "Yatbaoun," a 7-minute show that satirically handles what is being published in local newspapers. The "Ashkal Show" discusses ministerial and administrative figures and decisions, and the "Broadcast Show" discusses social issues in a very comic way.

Saudi “stand-up comedy” has done without the impudent approach that this art was born with in the US clubs in particular. It has become suited to the customs and traditions of the target group. This has given it a significant particularity that allows art students to study it and [contribute to] its success, although it is far from the most prominent factors of [stand-up comedy] success, namely offensive and abusive words adopted by famous stand-up comedians around the world.

This art is not limited to young men. Afnan Afandi has joined ranks after she performed for the first time in a competition for theatrical talents at the University of King Abdulaziz in Jeddah. She left the audience enchanted with a unique show that she identified as a “stand-up comedy” show. Afandi then moved her experience off campus, receiving many invitations from women's centers and amazing every audience with her improvised comedy. She remains the only female actress in this field. 

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Found in: youth, youtube, tv, social networking, saudi arabia, media

Ilham Rawoot is an award-winning journalist from Cape Town, South Africa, and an Open Society Foundation media fellow, who is writing a series of stories on prisons for the Mail and Guardian.

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