Arts, Culture & Media

Three dictators walk into a bar... and a Lebanese satirist becomes famous

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Credit: Courtesy: Karl Sharro
Karl reMarks profile photo

"So Gaddafi, Mubarak and Ben-Ali walk into a bar," tweets Karl reMarks. "After they left, the Muslim Brotherhood won the elections, banned alcohol & closed the bar." 

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Okay, perhaps you prefer this."So three conspiracy theorists walk into a bar. Do you think it's a coincidence?"

Karl Sharro grew up in Lebanon listening to old Woody Allen standup routines and reading Allen's early pieces for The New Yorker. Sharro was amazed at how Allen was able to make satire out of mixing the high-brow and the low-brow.

Karl Sharro (aka Karl reMarks)
Credit: Courtesy of Karl Sharro
Karl Sharro (aka Karl reMarks)

"For me, reading it back in the 1990s in Lebanon, there was something very universal about it," says Sharro.  "It was this great sort of boldness in saying 'I can take comedy, and deal with philosophy and all these big questions of life, and create this absurd situation' and that was the attraction."

Fast forward a few decades and Sharro found himself in London, an architect with a thriving practice. But his longing to write satire gnawed at him. Then came the Arab Spring.

Western analysts, struggling to explain why government after government was falling across the Middle East, offered what Sharro considered very 'reductive' explanations. He began satirizing them online, focusing on the parachute-in style of analysts like The New York Times' Thomas Friedman. Thus was born his alter-ego and blog, Karl reMarks.

"I don't want to come across as saying that no person should talk about another culture," Sharro says. Far from it, he continues, "All I'm saying is, if you want to talk about other cultures or situations, you really have to put in the effort and understand what you're talking about, and if not, then I'll be waiting for you and I'll find a funny way to critique you." 

Sharro's biggest audience is in the US. He says "a lot of westerners and Americans have told me my blog is a bridge to understanding complex things in the Middle East."

But Sharro doesn't limit himself to an English-speaking audience. There is an Arabic version of Karl reMarks, though not everything translates.

Sharro says his Arabic readers are brutal. "They comment, 'This is so absurd! Why did you even waste your time writing this?' which is brilliant."

Sharro says he loves getting these comments because they're so raw and unfiltered. He says writing satire in Arabic is hard and he's trying to spend more time to develop a distinctive style that works in the language.  

So what post on Karl reMarks has gotten the biggest reponse? It was a fake news story about how The Onion was suing Lebanon. Why? Because the country was making the fake American news outlet's headlines sound totally plausible. 

"That's the beauty of writing about the Middle East," says Sharro. "The more absurd situations that you can imagine, the more reality will reward you by fulfilling them."

Karl reMarks describes the budding pen pal relationship between American President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

 

Karl reMarks (with the help of architect Karl Sharro) describes how he would design a building that reflected the politics of the Middle East.

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