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Project Yourself at Makan: An occasion for one-liners

It takes a lot of courage to perform in front of an audience of mostly strangers—a fact that, given the sheer amount and variety of performances, was easy to forget during Friday’s Open Mic Night at Makan.

With over 100 individuals displaying their talents over four hours, the marathon evening could best be described as a mixed bag, with a few inspired performances and several painfully embarrassing ones, particularly in regards to the stand-up comedy acts.

Al-Masry Al-Youm arrived at the (densely packed) venue to find a young woman perched on a stool, reassuring members of the audience that it’s okay to have a job because you need to make money in order to survive. “Having a job is not selling out,” she explained, reading from a few sheets of loose-leaf paper sitting in her lap before proceeding to list the many benefits of receiving a steady paycheck. The sermon-like performance ended abruptly and to a scattering of hesitant applause.  

The following act consisted of a ukulele performance by Jason Mraz-lookalike Mohamed Hafez, who introduced himself by stumbling up to the microphone, staring down at his audience and mumbling, “This is not a small guitar. It’s a ukulele.”

Hafez then performed a Lionel Richie song, which he forgot some of the lyrics to, and followed that with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which he also forgot some of the lyrics to. Fortunately for him, the laid-back audience found his slip-ups more endearing than embarrassing, easing Hafez’s jittery nerves with friendly laughter and words of encouragement.

Less endearing was comedian Ahmed Rady whose routine included questions like, “Have you ever noticed how Hollywood deals with video games?” and ended with him screaming, “Perverts, be proud of who you are! In this country, we’re all perverts and we’re all sexually frustrated!” A few audience members applauded this outburst, but the majority shifted uncomfortably in their seats, visibly embarrassed for the comedian as he pumped his fists in the air.

It was not a good night for comedy in general. With his guitar strumming, “quirky” observations and deadpan delivery, Mohamed Jahin came across as Egypt’s answer to American comedian Demitri Martin, with one significant difference—Demitri Martin is funny. Jahin’s attempts, such as “What was the IQ of the people who came up with the IQ test?” and “The guy who came up with multiplication was just too lazy to add” received a better response than the self-described “pervert” who went before him, but not by much.

One comedian who did generate laughs, however, was Mohamed Farouk, whose impersonation of government bureaucrats—the lowly, underpaid, eccentric sort who are doomed to spend their days behind smudged service windows and wobbly desks—had the audience howling with laughter.  Farouk’s routine also included a hilariously accurate description of laundry detergent ads. Despite being visibly nervous at the beginning, Farouk’s brief performance ended with the sound of strong applause and cheering.

Farouk connected to the audience in a way that the night’s previous comedians had failed to,  probably because of his natural and unforced delivery in Arabic, as opposed to those before him, whose insistence on performing in what is clearly their second language was baffling.

The highlight of the night, which came soon after, was also an Arabic-language performance, and a surprisingly impressive one, given that it was a cover of an Om Kalthoum song—an ambitious feat to say the least. With no accompanying instruments, Sarah Abdel Rahman gave a powerful performance of “Asbah Aandy” (Now in my Possession) that ended to thunderous applause which seemed to last several minutes. The song was bookended by two covers of songs by English pop artist Florence and the Machine, which, while good, failed to rise to the heights of the Kalthoum performance.

Other acts were worth noting simply because of how weird they were.  Farida Mortada, for example, opened her set by asking the audience, “Is there anyone in this world who does not desire to be happy?” She then spent the next several minutes reading a long list of inspirational quotes of the sort usually found in forwarded emails decorated with hearts and soft-focus photos of kittens and puppies sleeping next to each other. “There are so many happy thoughts for you to find every day. Find them, embrace them, and you will fly like Peter Pan,” Mortada cooed.

Equally bizarre was an act entitled “Random Thoughts,” performed by a young woman named Shaimaa who pointed out, among other certainly random things, that a pizza delivery arrives faster than an ambulance and that banks generally give out bigger loans for cars than they do for education. Following these observations, Shaimaa performed a song parody of a telecommunications company advertisement jingle heard during last Ramadan.

With such a wide variety of mainly unclassifiable acts, one can only admire the event’s organizers for taking the phrase “open mic” so literally–it seemed anyone with absolutely anything to say, be it jokes, “random thoughts,” or e-mail recitals, was given an equal opportunity to address the audience.

Readers are invited to attend Makan’s next open mic night, when Al-Masry Al-Youm will perform a live reading of a year’s worth of event listings.

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