Comedy Central Sets First Local Production in Middle East

Courtesy of Comedy Central/Viacom
Ali Al Sayed

The local version of stand-up series 'Comedy Central Presents' will help it "discover and showcase new talent who will become points of reference for the comedy scene, both locally as well as in other territories."

Viacom's Comedy Central is doing its first local production in the Middle East, a stand-up comedy series using the Comedy Central Presents moniker known from the U.S. 

The first stand-up production for Comedy Central in the Mideast and North Africa region since the channel launched there on pay TV giant OSN last year will feature 30 comedians, including veteran talent and up-and-comers performing in both Arabic and English. The performers are from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Sudan, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

The show, hosted by well-known Emirati comic Ali Al Sayed, who has also performed in the U.S., and Arab-American stand-up pioneer Mo Amer, who has supported the likes of Dave Chappelle, was recorded live in recent days in Dubai. It will premiere on Comedy Central HD, which is part of Viacom's Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) unit, on Feb. 5 and will be presented in 10 half-hour episodes, each featuring three new artists.

Performers include Hashem El Garhy, Yaser Al Bakr, Wissam Kamal, as well as Ali Al Sayed's wife Mina. Most of their material will be created fresh for the show.

The show is part of Comedy Central's commitment to developing the regional stand-up scene and introducing local Arabic content into the Comedy Central programming schedule, working in close collaboration with several Middle Eastern comedy clubs. The approach mirrors the network's approach in other countries.

"VIMN is committed to growing our business and investing in new projects in the Middle East," said Raffaele Annecchino, president and managing director of VIMN Southern and Western Europe, Africa and the Middle East. "One of our main objectives for Comedy Central in the region is to discover and showcase new talent who will become points of reference for the comedy scene, both locally as well as in other territories. This local production is a great step towards achieving that goal, and we look forward to continued success for channel and the brand in the Middle East."

He also told THR: "Our strategy across International is a glocal strategy, a mix between an international content pipeline and local programs. Especially for Comedy Central, the local productions are very important because you can really see how local audiences get involved in stand-up shows that feature their favorite comedians."

Added Annecchino: "All of them will discuss different topics and cultural peculiarities, which makes them even more interesting and topical for the audiences in this region."

The comics also shared their excitement. "I can honestly say the show is going to exceed everybody’s expectations. It is a dream to work with Comedy Central," said Ali Al Sayed. "Everybody is exchanging numbers and inviting each other to perform in their cities; a new community is being built off the back of this show. The experience has been a blast. This is what Comedy Central does, they make comedy work."

Added Saudi comedian Talal Al Sheikhi: "I’m very optimistic that the show will introduce amazing talents to the audience. For me, it’s a new experience. Comedy Central is always one step ahead of everybody in comedy and never settles for less than the best, which is always exciting."

And fellow Saudi comedian Yaser Al Bakr said: "The new show on Comedy Central is so exciting. Seeing comedians perform and stay true to their voice, culture and generation makes the show totally unique. I’m a big fan of Comedy Central and it was kind of a dream come true to be on the Comedy Central Presents show. It is a catalyst for change in comedy, continuously introducing new formats, shows and stars; content that gives inspiration to all comedians."

Viacom says the stand-up production is a first step in showcasing and nurturing the local comedy scene. "Comedy Central is the leading comedy brand around the world and we are committed to elevating local talent," said Amalia Martinez de Velasco, senior vp entertainment brands for VIMN Southern & Western Europe, Africa and the Middle East. "Programs like Comedy Central Presents and support of other local stand-up is a key part of our business in our other markets, including Africa, Italy and Spain. When we launched Comedy Central in MENA, we were determined to accomplish the same success here in the Middle East, and we've been able to do so in less than a year."