Last week I interviewed stand-up comedian/actor Ahmed Ahmed, who's currently touring the U.S. to promote his directorial debut, the wonderful documentary Just Like Us. In the film, out on screens for a week now here in Dallas, Ahmed takes us and his stand-up routine around the world, showing a diversity of cultures and their response to comedy.
Hit the jump to read the interview, in which we discuss why Just Like Us was made, dealing with hecklers, and the importance of capturing the first female Saudi comedian performance on film.
I should note that the original interview with Ahmed Ahmed took place over the phone but my computer hates me and destroyed the file so Ahmed was kind enough to pass me his email address so we could do an email interview. Many thanks to him.
First, discuss where the idea of Just Like Us began. I was inspired to make Just Like Us when I was a part of Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Tour. I got an inside peek of what it's like to produce live shows, film them then edit the footage into a documentary. The other inspiration came from a successful tour we accomplished through out the Middle East called the Axis Of Evil Comedy Tour. The show was originally put together by Mitzi Shore (Owner of the World Famous Comedy Store in Hollywood). Every time I would return to the US my American friends were shocked that we were doing comedy in English but for Arabs. Some didn't believe me... So this is a 72-minute answer to a lot of people's questions.
In the documentary you visit certain locations. How did you decide which locations you wanted to put in the film? The tour was already booked in the countries you see in the movie so filming it was an after thought. We traveled to several other countries before and after but it just so happens the ones you see in the film happened to line up the way they did for scheduling reasons.
In Just Like Us you have the first female Saudi comedian performance on film. Her being the first female to do this is groundbreaking. Why do you think this is just now happening for stand-up overseas? Also, how did happen to capture her? Yes, that was quite a shocking moment for a lot of people but she technically made history. She's like the Rosa Parks of comedy. American stand-up comedy is becoming more exposed to the Middle East strictly from the internet so everyone can watch their favorite comedians on YouTube anytime they want.
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At the beginning of the film you said that sometimes you're misunderstood with comedy and culture. How does Just Like Us shed a light on helping the people understand better? We show that despite cultural and religious differences we all laugh alike. Its like food or music... it's necessary for the body, mind and soul.
Stand-up comedy isn't easy and I noticed you're really good with improvisation. How difficult is it to make sure you can handle improvising and hecklers when on stage? Thanks for the compliment! Well, I try... I don't always succeed but I try. When you get away with being in the moment and improvising with the crowd it's an amazing feeling. But when you fail it never feels good. I've had enough years of practice to handle the average heckler. I still have more work to do though. I don't think you really ever master stand-up comedy.
There's going to be a sequel to Just Like Us called Just Like Us Too. Can you expand on that? Yes, we shot a sequel called Just Like Us Too which takes place in Syria, Jordan, Oman, Qatar and Palestine. We'll start digging into that footage this fall and hope to have something for the public to see in early 2012.