A constituency of comedians
By DALIA RABIE and AMIRA SALAH-AHMED
Cairo: Al Hezb El Comedy is a movement that aims to nurture local talent, “insha’allah speaking” of course, as its founder Hashem El Garhy, a self-proclaimed creative solutionist, would say.
But be careful, insha’allah speaking and creative solutionst are trademarks, both coined by El Garhy, who has a knack for quirky phrases.
El Garhy, 25, has over the past year built a comedy brand with the motto: “search, nurture and grow.”
Al Hezb is not “just about doing standup,” El Garhy explains, but about creating a community and connecting with an audience. For him, it is more than putting on and organizing a successful show.
“People come to you with the talent and the desire to make people laugh … Al Hezb develops performers, everyone deserves a chance,” he says.
In August 2011, a few months after Egypt’s uprising and as the political sphere opened up, everyone was busy creating new political parties. Inspired by the developments of the time, and perhaps as a jab at the onslaught of new political players, he wanted to create his own “hezb,” Arabic for political party.
But as it clearly states on the Facebook page: “Al Hezb El Comedy has no political affiliations nor any political interests. It’s just a catchy name.”
For El Garhy, a standup comedian, a way to present himself and the community of talent he belongs to, was through creating a platform that would enable him “to perform when I wanted, not when someone else told me.”
The first show was Aug. 19 of last year, and the anniversary is set to have “big surprises.” As a teaser, Al Hezb’s show on July 16 at Left Bank will feature Rami Boraie, Mohammed Shaheen and El Garhy himself, along with the musical comedic duo The No Talents with Ahmed Sharkawy and Mohamed Farouk.
The pool of talent includes comedians who perform in English and Arabic, and they have helped develop Al Hezb, including Noha Kato, High on Bodyfat and Mohamed Morgan. The Interact Improv Group also got their start at Al Hezb in April.
El Garhy, who studied marketing, is the driving force behind Al Hezb, juggling the organization, promotion and hosting of the events, along with growing and developing the comedy brand.
This, however, leaves him with less time than he’d like to work on new material. “I’ve turned into the host more than the performer,” he says unbegrudgingly. After all, “Hezb is my baby…I created it,” he adds, “I love performing, but the backbone is organizing.”
And organizing is a lot of thankless work. When The Egypt Monocle met up with El Garhy, he’d spent an entire day running around finishing up logistical work for Monday’s show, printing out the banners and meeting with one of the sponsors.
“I believe in shabab [youth] uniting and helping each other,” he says. The banner, for example, was made by Hassan Maghraby, a student, and Al Hezb custom made t-shirts were designed by Ultimate Fashion Wear.
El Garhy says he puts his heart and soul into Al Hezb, as well as money out of his own pocket. The only proceeds come from ticket sales and barely cover the cost. Under the concept of an open mic night, El Garhy is not obligated to pay performers, but he wants to in the future.
As a way of developing the brand, Al Hezb maintains an online presence, with El Garhy utilizing social media. His most recent endeavor entails creating, producing and starring in YouTube videos, which he hopes will go viral.
“They say jack of all trades, master of none. But being a jack of all trades has worked for me so far,” he says, and all this running around is, to him, a sign of success.
Man behind the mic
At the age of six, El Garhy moved to the United States, where he lived for 10 years before coming back to Egypt in 2003. Four years later, he auditioned for the Axis of Evil comedy tour, which he says inspired him to get into comedy.
“I tanked, but I said I won’t give up on this until I come off that stage to applause,” he says.
As a kid, El Garhy was dubbed “the funny guy,” something his mom liked to show off, especially his Arnold Schwarzenegger impression.
When he began making his way into comedy, he realized that it’s hard work. “Comedy is not a joke,” he says.
El Garhy prides himself for creating a one-of-a-kind movement in the Middle East. “Al Hezb is a family under the banner of ‘Laughter’,” he says. A banner he plans to stretch outside Egypt.
Instead of putting on shows and bringing in comedians from the US, he plans to do the opposite and take local talent across the Atlantic.
“I don’t need to be a needle in a haystack [abroad], I can be the big fish in the pond here,” he says.
The revolution unleashed a lot of local talent, says El Garhy, and he calls on sponsors to support the comedy scene. “I need someone to believe in this as much as I do…we’re coming after you,” he warns sponsors.
With a view of combining the Middle Eastern culture with the contemporary arts scene, Al Hezb’s logo boasts a fez with a mic for a tassel.
And with all that’s happening in our modern-day lives, people need a way to unwind — which is exactly what Al Hezb commands of the audience: “Fok yourself.”
Don’t worry, fok is just Arabic for let loose. –The Egypt Monocle