An accountant in a past life, a reporter by day and a comedian by night, Bilal Randeree aka Halal Bilal is on a mission to get the comedy scene in Qatar truly live and laughing.
Randeree moved to Doha just over two and a half years ago from South Africa in the hopes of settling down and integrating himself into comedy – until he found there was no scene. ‘There was literally one place that used to do comedy on a regular basis,’ he tells us, ‘but it was almost exclusively for expats.’
So he set up Stand Up Comedy Qatar (SUCQ) which aims to nurture ‘local home grown grassroots comedy about the type of issues that we the people who live here deal with on a daily basis.’
Since that moment SUCQ has ‘been across town from dingy coffee shops and back rooms to Katara, to the Pearl, to hotels. We’ve really come a long way.’ He says the group has inspired many local people to get started in stand-up.
There is still plenty of room for improvement however, says Randeree. ‘Westerners are often very critical of local comedy because they don’t see it as controversial or as challenging as they’re used to but I think the important point to understand is comedy is new, especially this type of [local] comedy.
‘We’re not going to be at the stage where American or British comedy is at because they didn’t get to where they are now overnight. It’s a process and it’s about respecting that process.’
The first time Randeree got onstage himself was five years ago and he says it happened by accident. ‘I was working with a South African comedian to put together a fundraiser and somewhere along that event I ended up onstage making jokes and other comics thought I was funny.’ He ended up doing a few shows in South Africa and in the UK, then started going to comedy clubs, doing open mic nights and finally got into mainstream comedy. It was not until he moved to Qatar, however, that he started taking it all more seriously and doing shows regularly.
SUCQ primarily focuses on Qatar but they also work with comics in Dubai, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and Randeree has performed in Jordan and Malaysia too. He says the beauty, as well as the challenge, of performing in Qatar is that everyone is so mixed – audiences and performers. ‘Earlier this year we had ten comedians on stage of ten different nationalities. Each one comes with a group of friends and family and then there are at least 20 or 30 nationalities in the audience… I don’t think anywhere else in the world has so many different people attending on such a regular basis.’
Last year SUCQ organised the Doha Comedy Festival 2011 which was a series of comedy shows at venues such as Katara and events like the Doha Tribeca Film Festival. This year, the group aims to hold a bigger and better Doha Comedy Festival that involves more renowned international comics.
Overall, Randeree is hopeful for the future of comedy in Qatar. ‘The industry is growing at a pretty decent pace and an exciting future is ahead,’ he predicts. ‘We’re family-friendly and clean. We don’t guarantee that all the jokes are funny,’ he admits honestly and with a grin, ‘but we do guarantee that everyone who comes out has a good time.’
Luckily for the residents and visitors of Qatar, the jokes do not stop during the summer, unlike most other forms of live entertainment. ‘People go away in the summer but the comedy continues,’ Randeree says. ‘People are looking for something to do. You can’t go out, it’s so hot so if you can be indoors you can come and enjoy a live show. And you’re not just enjoying a show but you’re supporting an industry – an infant industry that is slowly maturing.’
The next Stand Up Comedy Qatar event will be held on 12 July 2012 at Bistro 61 in Al Fardan Towers, West Bay. Doors will open at 6pm and the show kicks off at 8.30pm. Tickets will be available on the door for QR35.
Photography: Bilal Randeree (featured image, 2 and 3) and Abel Fernandes (1)
2 – with Maz Jobrani of Axis of Evil fame, 3 – at the Amman Comedy Festival in Jordan