Stage is set for an incredible week in the life of Adel Karam

Adel Karam
Updated 01 March 2018
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Stage is set for an incredible week in the life of Adel Karam

DUBAI: Adel Karam has been a fixture on the Lebanese comedy scene since the 1990s. Now he is breaking new ground for Middle Eastern performers with his latest television stand-up special, Live from Beirut, the first Arabic-language comedy special produced by Netflix.
“It gave me a lot of pride that Netflix actually chose me as their step into Arabic content and Arabic comedy,” he said. “It’s a big step for me to be the first one. To be the leader in Netflix’s Arabic content is a big source of pride.”
Yet Karam never intended to become a stand up comedian He first gained fame in 1993 when he was cast on SL Chi, a popular Lebanese sketch-comedy TV show. Since then, he has become a prominent figure in Lebanese film and television. His credits include the comedy show Mafe Metlo, his talk show Hayda Haki, and acclaimed films such as 2007’s Caramel and The Insult, which is nominated for the Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 2018 Academy Awards.
His stand-up career began in 2005. He is still not sure how or why it happened.
“I’ve been in the comedy business for 25 years but it wasn’t my intention to do stand-up comedy. It was a coincidence,” Karam said.
Nevertheless, he is proud of what he has accomplished in the medium, even claiming credit for introducing stand-up to the Middle East with his first big show, in Beirut in 2005.
“Stand-up comedy wasn’t present in the Middle East. I was the first one,” he said.
The claim is not without some merit. While Nemr Abou Nassar started the bilingual stand-up comedy scene in Beirut in 2000, and Fadi Reaidy was performing Arabic-language stand-up before 2005, Karam’s huge reach as an established television star brought stand-up to much wider audiences in the region.
That is not to say the transition to stand-up was easy for him. The most difficult thing, he explained, was the need to be vulnerable on stage and reveal more of himself to the audience than he ever had before.
“I started doing comedy about myself and my own personal experiences,”he said. “I started noticing that what makes me laugh at myself can make other people laugh, as well. Nonetheless, it’s very difficult for me to be vulnerable. Even now. It’s a big challenge for me every single time I do stand-up.”
For his Netflix special, Karam decided that his routine would be unrehearsed and true to his experiences, down to the most uncomfortable details.
“I just write and I go with it,” he said. “I live the story again on stage. Almost all of it is true. Every joke is based on an almost 100-percent-true story.”
The segment he was most nervous about is also the longest part of the show: the story of a real-life trip to the hospital for a colonoscopy, and the fellow patient he befriended.
“It was a little tricky for me,” said Karam. “I didn’t know if the audience will love this. It was very detailed: how they act in the hospital, the differences between ‘first-class’ health insurance and ‘second-class’, and how they treat the patients differently. I’m a good actor, so I have to embody the scene.”
Whether or not he might have over-shared his personal experiences does not concern Karam at all.
“My only concern is to make them laugh, that's it,” he said. “To laugh about the subject, to laugh about me, to laugh at the situation—I just want them to laugh.”
While he has grown more comfortable about opening up to the audience on stage, that is not the case in real life. Even now, having become a household name in Lebanon, he remains skeptical of his own fame and why people are so interested in him.
“I’m a shy person. I’m a very shy person,” he said. “I still don’t understand why, when people approach me, I still feel shy. Sometimes I forget myself – I forget that I’m famous. I ask my brother, ‘What’s going on?’ He tells me, ‘You’re freaking famous.’ I say, ‘Oh OK sorry.’”
Next up for Karam is the Academy Awards on March 4, when he will find out whether The Insult wins the Oscar. While his stand-up comedy is never meant to push the audience too far out of its comfort zone, the film, which depicts the extreme cultural tensions in present-day Lebanon, does just that.
“I don’t try to make them uncomfortable,” he said of his stand-up fans. “The Insult is a different story.”
Karam is proud that the film is representing Lebanon at the Oscars and views it as a major development in his career.
“It’s a big step, a giant step, to do such a thing, and to be involved in the Oscars,” he said.
What future challenge it might be a step is towards, he is less sure of.
“I don’t know – going to the moon, maybe?”
* Adel Karam: Live from Beirut will be available on Netflix from March 1, 2018.


Winners of prestigious photography award announced at Riyadh forum

Colors of Arabia held an event to honor artists in Riyadh. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 14 December 2018
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Winners of prestigious photography award announced at Riyadh forum

  • Colors of Arabia forum held under the patronage of SCTH President Prince Sultan bin Salman

RIYADH; The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) has announced the winners of the Prince Sultan Bin Salman Photography Award in four categories.
Winners of the prestigious award, which was launched to recognize budding talent and efforts to highlight the Kingdom’s heritage, received SR300,000 each and shields at a ceremony held at the Colors of Arabia forum under the patronage of Prince Sultan bin Salman, SCTH president.
The forum, which is being held at Riyadh’s International Convention and Exhibition Center, spans 15,000 square meters and is expected to have attracted 30,000 visitors by the time it ends on Sunday.
The award for the “pioneers” category, which recognizes the work of Saudis who have successfully contributed to the development of local artists, was won by a photographer in Hafr Al-Batin who began capturing day-to-day life in the Eastern Province city at only 12 years of age. The work of Jarallah Al-Hamad is now used in government brochures.
The award in the “literature and publications” category, which was open to contenders of any nationality both within and outside the Kingdom, recognizes photographers who have captured shots for publications and the film industry. Amin Al-Qusayran, a photographer and graphic designer from Madinah who began pursuing his passion 15 years ago, had previously won two awards in recognition of his work. Al-Qusayran is also author of a pictorial book shedding light on the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
The “civilized heritage” category, meanwhile, was open to photographers from around the globe seeking to preserve world heritage through the power of image.
The award for this category was jointly won by two photographers of Arab descent. Mohamed Bouhsen, from Bahrain, had left university to document national heritage in his country and the Arabian Peninsula at large. He won the award alongside Jalal Al-Masri, an Egyptian photographer who has taken part in 133 local, Arab and international exhibitions.
The STCH also announced the winners of the photo and short film awards in seven categories.
Mazen Flamban, who won the award in the “cultural heritage” category, expressed his surprise and joy at having had his work recognized.
“My ambition is to revive Hijazi heritage through my lens,” Flamban told Arab News. “This was the first year I joined the competition. My photo depicts an old woman who lives alone as she reminisces over old photos.”