Sunday, March 13, 2011

From Egypt to Saudi Arabia to Jordan, huge audiences turn out to laugh at American comedians and at themselves.

American-style stand-up comedy, it turns out, is a new funny business in the Middle East.

"I went over to do a show and it turned into comedy missionary work," says Dean Obeidallah, now the king of Middle East stand-up.

The Arab-American from Lodi, N.J., a lawyer by training, is one of the pioneers. He featured in the first stand-up comedy festival in Amman, Jordan, four years ago. This year, the Amman comedy event was the largest yet: eight shows over seven nights featuring stand-up comedians in Arabic along with the English-language imports.

"I'm really proud to be a part of this movement," Obeidallah says. "It's been exciting to see the young people in the region take to it. It wasn't intended to be a movement. It was a show. I went over to do a show."

This comedy movement changed his career. Obeidallah quit his staff job at Saturday Night Live in 2008 when stand-up gigs in the Middle East became his full-time occupation.

"It was time to take a chance," he says.

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