by Mariam Elhamy
Since stand-up comedy is a rising industry in Egypt, we decided to get an inside look at the business of comedy with founder of Al Hezb El Comedy, Hashem El Garhy, to learn more about his journey in stand-up comedy, how people can pursue stand-up comedy as a career and why laughter is the best medicine of all!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Hashem El Garhy and I am a Comediapeneur! That means half comedian and half entrepreneur. I love making people laugh and I created business around that notion.
When did you decide to start making people laugh as a career?
Ever since I was a kid, my mom (rest her soul) would tell me that I do impressions so well! I was always that kid in the family that made everyone laugh. I have always loved making people happy and I believe it’s a blessing to be able to do what I do; that it’s my real life purpose.
My career in comedy launched in 2009. There was a group of comedians who brought stand-up to Egypt and they were looking for opening acts, so I decided to give it a shot. I went on stage and I completely bombed! It was a real shock to me and I kept thinking, “I’ve always made people laugh! So why couldn’t I do it on stage?!” This made me realize how much I want to be a stand-up comedian.
What fuels your passion for stand-up comedy?
Stand-up is the truest form of comedy, because it’s just you and the audience and it is completely on you to make them laugh by just being you. They say that the best comedians are able to match their inner voice with their outer voice, which really fuels my passion for stand-up comedy.
How did the idea for Al Hezb El Comedy come about?
The idea came about in 2011, when everyone was talking about how they want to change Egypt. At that time, I had a mundane job where I felt really underappreciated, so I came up with the idea and I created Al Hezb El Comedy’s first event. It was a huge success. Thank God, it has been going for seven years now!
What is a big misconception people have about stand-up comedians?
Sometimes, when people come across one comedian that doesn’t make them laugh or they can’t relate to their jokes, they immediately decide that they’re not into stand-up comedy at all. Each comedian has their own storytelling and scriptwriting style, and since this industry is new, we try to tell people to give it a chance.
How do the people in a comedian’s life deal with their lives being shared as a joke? Have you gotten in trouble yourself with friends and family?
For starters, I always tell the person before I go on stage. I reassure them that I’m not making fun of them personally, but of the situation itself. Not everyone understands that comedy is the best medicine; personally I look at everything in my life as a comedic situation because even the hardest times present a challenge for me to deal with what is happening lightheartedly. But thank God, I haven’t really gotten in trouble with anyone … yet.
Tell us a joke or story you always get the most reaction for?
My teta (grandma) just turned 99 years old … big applause for teta! The problem is, we are all embarrassed to tell her “Happy birthday teta … 3o2bal 100 sana!”
It really depends on the audience and how popular or new you are as a comedian, which most of us still are. You can always reconstruct a joke though.
Have you ever faced any challenging moments with the topics that you talk about?
I’ve been through a lot of tragedy in my life … some of that tragedy was me donating a part of my liver to my mom, God rest her soul. One time I was telling a joke about how even after I donated my liver to my mom, she still won’t do my laundry! The audience didn’t take that joke very well and they didn’t know how to react at all. But I deal with every part of my life with comedy, because if I don’t I would probably be a very sad person. I know that we aren’t supposed to talk about some things, but I believe that people should talk about everything. It makes us human to be able to discuss our pain, because only then will we be able to heal.
In your opinion, how does Egyptian comedy differ from other countries?
As Egyptians, we make fun of everything … including ourselves! I think that Egyptian comedy has guts, a lot of Egyptians use comedy as a tool to escape the frustrating life we face. That’s why Al Hezb El Comedy’s motto is “Fok Nafsak“.
What does it take to be a good comedian?
Being a good comedian, like any other job in the world, takes a lot of work. You write, you practice, you get on stage and you perform live. Open mic is like the gym for us, so a good comedian exercises their jokes constantly and always keeps improving their performance.
How do you deal with a tough crowd?
I start making fun of them to break the ice. But the important thing to remember is that you just give it your best shot and sometimes it works, other times it won’t and that is okay.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start a career in stand-up comedy?
My advice is: If you have a good sense of humor come to Al Hezb El Comedy and try the open mic. Let the audience decide, but make them love you!
Everything is comedy … Life is comedy. Every situation has comedy in it. It just depends on perspective and how you look at it.
Who is your mentor? Who is your favorite comedian?
I never really had a mentor in comedy. My friend Rami Boraie always encouraged me to write, write and write some more. My favorite comedian is Dave Chappelle, he’s an amazing comedian and I aspire to meet him one day.
To catch Al Hezb El Comedy’s next shows, check out their Facebook page