From musician to actor to comedy club owner. From Saudi Arabia to Edinburgh. However you look at it, Ibrahem Al Hajjaj has been on quite the journey to make it to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year. I talked to him to find out more about the roads less travelled.
That exchange of energy with a live audience is so special
First off, can you sum up your set in a single sentence.
The crux of From Riyadh to Edinburgh is pointing out the hilarious differences and similarities between people in the UK and KSA.
Tell us about the path you took to stand-up.
I’ve been a musician throughout my life, but in 2014, I joined the National Youth Theatre programme. I am a storyteller and it helped me hone this craft and thrive off the relationship between audience and performer.
Starting off in theatre helped with stage fright, because there’s nowhere to hide in front of a live audience. I took comedy courses as I’ve always loved making people laugh. I suppose it makes sense that I got into comedy.
Earlier this year, your film Sattar became the fifth highest-grossing film ever screened in Saudi. How does performing for a live audience compare to filming?
I love acting in front of a camera, but there’s nothing quite like the immediacy of being on stage - that exchange of energy with a live audience is so special. I really thrive off the relationship between audience and performer. Judging the room and understanding how my performance can affect those watching, and vice versa.
The comedy scene is relatively new in Saudi. How have audiences taken to it?
The comedy scene is very new, of course, so it’s been great seeing first-hand the development of new audiences. I have a degree in marketing, so when I first started some of my uncles and elders in my family said, “why don’t you use your degree?”
Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of love from all generations. After my Ramadan show I get approached by people aged 6-60, and it’s really fun. Now I get plenty of support from all my friends, family, and society, and I really appreciate them for that.
And now you’ve co-founded one of Saudi’s first comedy clubs to help grow the scene further?
The idea to open a comedy club came to me in 2016, but it wasn’t until 2018 that it became a reality. Since then, we’ve held over 200 shows and travelled round Saudi, providing the opportunity for emerging performers to do something they may not have thought an option before.
it’s great to be a part of the expansion of the comedy scene, giving young comedians a place to hone their skills and build confidence. I hope that Saudi will soon gain more of an international profile in the industry.
How do you deal with the differences between audiences at home and those to whom you will perform in Edinburgh?
The cultural differences in sense of humour are an important thing to bear in mind. However, that became the basis of my show: thinking what the weird and wonderful differences between the two cultures are. Opening people’s eyes to these comparisons is the main aim!
Finally, in exactly 50 words, tell our readers why they should book tickets for From Riyadh to Edinburgh when you perform at theSpace on the Mile from 8th – 12th August?
I’m truly excited to meet the people of Edinburgh and make them laugh. If this is their first experience of Saudi comedy, I hope they’ll want to see more. I also hope they relate to what I’ve said. And of course, I hope they walk away having enjoyed the show.