After fifteen years working in UK television, Jamil Abu-Wardeh moved to Dubai with a big idea: to bring modern standup comedy to the Middle East. His grassroots efforts to build a standup scene in Dubai, and then across the region, led to the first standup comedy time slot in the programming of Showtime Arabia. And this led to a ground- and record-breaking tour of five Arab countries: The Axis of Evil Middle East Comedy Tour. Lines around the block, performances for royalty -- the tour tapped into a shared desire to laugh.
Standup comedians on the tour avoid the three B's (blue material, beliefs and "bolitics") but are free to poke fun everywhere else. One of Abu-Wardeh's stars, protegé Wonho Chung, is a Korean kid who speaks perfect Arabic and is wildly popular on YouTube in Saudi Arabia -- proving to Abu-Wardeh that lines between national groups can be broken down if you're just funny enough. The impresario is constantly creating content and chances for aspiring comics, and his work has helped touch off a new flowering of standup comedy in the region.