Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is the world. By day, Karl Sharro is a Lebanese architect working and living in London. By night, he's the guy behind "Karl reMarks", a satirical blog about the middle east. Kind of a middle east "Onion" but more subtle than that. For example, he has a section on his blog called "Three dictators walk into a bar". Here's a sample: So three members of Egypt's electoral commission walk into a bar, sorry you'll have to wait a few hours for the punch line. That's a good one, you don't have to be Egyptian to get it. I spoke with Karl reMarks recently and I asked him about his habit of having debates about his work, on twitter.
Karl Sharro: Listen, this thing about Twitter, I love it because it allows you to engage and you discover all sorts of really great people who are very smart, but occasionally you get someone whose completely, sort of, for lack of any other words, just out there to provoke in a very dumb and superficial way and I think it almost like it becomes like a mental exercise where you have to engage with them and rebut their accusations.
Werman: Give me some examples of how you engage with your followers, and you don't have to use names.
Sharro: So I was recently talking to someone and I pointed out what I thought were very obvious personality flaws about him and he goes , a line that a lot of other people use on twitter, "you can't to resort to insult just to win an argument". And I said, "Listen in this instance it's not an insult it's diagnosis". So it's that kind of line that keeps you into this sharp kind of banter that I like about it.
Werman: I was intrigued to hear you say that you were impressed by Woody Allen's early standup comedy, and as I was reading through "Three Dictators Walk into a Bar", there was something that I couldn't put my finger on it, but there was something very American about your style. How would you describe Woody Allen's early form of standup that you really like?
Sharro: I think the breakthrough about it from a story point a view, before that if you listen to stand up comedians they were funny but they tended to be less high brow. What Woody Allen did is he took it to that extreme level, if you like, of mixing comedy and high brow or an intellectual kind of approach where he would be talking about philosophy and mix it up with a different setting and then kind of come up with a completely different way of looking at comedy. I think that this was a great sort of boldness in saying "I can take comedy and deal with philosophy and deal with all these big questions of life and create this absurd situation", and i think that was the attraction. I mean it's sadly not something he went on to focus on because obviously his main interest in life was making films. But I think if you read his earlier writing and if you listen to his standup comedy, he creates this absolutely absurd situations that I try to sort of learn from. So , for example, when I write about my guides, and this is something that I do frequently, I do a guide for the moderate travels in Syria because everyone is talking about who are the moderates and you would include things like the red unicorn brigades and other mythical brigades. A lot of that is inspired by Woody Allens way of thinking and kind of approach to comedy. And I think that it's very, very universal, but it does obviously have that American resonance to it.
Werman: Yeah, a certain absurd reference to which I personally appreciate. You also write in Arabic though don't you. I mean, do you translate from one to the other, or are you working in two different orbits, in English and then the other in Arabic?
Sharro: Well, I do it both ways. So sometimes if a particular post is successful, I'll take it and translate it into Arabic. Generally I think i've experimented with that alot, but it needs more work than straight forward translation because the humor is different in Arabic.
Werman: Do you get feedback that it's different from each group, the English readers and the Arabic readers?
Sharro: Yeah, alot of the Arabic readers are completely brutal because this is so absurd why did you even waste your time writing this which is brilliant. I love getting these comments because it's complete honesty. It's almost like to some people it's not even imaginable why you would even go about doing that.
Werman: Give us an example of that kind of a joke that the Arabic Audience just doesn't get.
Sharro: You know the Higgs received the Nobel prize for discovering the so called "God Particle". So I tweeted that the leader of Al-Qaida, , was full of remorse when he heard the news about the discovery of the "God Particle" and he said "We've been wrong about everything we've been doing" and he broke down in tears. And to me this was just an absurd situation as if science can defeat centuries of fundamentalism. So i got a response from someone in Arabic from someone saying, "Is this a joke?". And you sometimes put a voice to these things because you're like "How am I suppose to reply now?". He was genuinely , it felt like a serious question.
Werman: So he wasn't being sarcastic? It was just like "are you kidding me"?
Sharro: No, he was being serious, "Is this a Joke". It's just like the instances where you feel like the humor isn't really translating at all or maybe its laying humor, who knows. But it's just not resonating at all, and I love that because people will say that to you. I think it happens much more in Arabic than it happens in English. It keeps you on your toes if you do something silly, which you inevitably do all the time. I mean I must irritate people so much you know those that find it bitter but whatever because you have to experiment to find new ways of being funny. You can't just rely on a formula and a lot of that is just hit and miss.
Werman: What was your most successful joke that you felt was really funny and got a lot of response?
Sharro: I mean posting wise, I think at some point I was really frustrated with Lebanon and the politics of Lebanon and how everything can be so absurd about it. I came up with this idea of a fake news story that "The Onion", the satirical American magazine, is suing Lebanon because it's making it's headlines sound totally plausible. I was trying for a long time to make a bar joke about three dictators and then one day when we realized that the Muslim brotherhood were winning a lot of the elections, and i said "So Kaddafi Mubarak and Ben Ali, who was the president of Tunisia, walk into a bar. After they left, the Muslim brotherhood won the elections and closed the bar down." That was kind of a way to sum up the Arab Spring, so little did we know we thought that was the end. And that was really one of the most successful jokes.
Werman: Lebanese satirist Karl Sharro goes by the name Karl ReMarks when he is playing his satirical persona. Karl great to meet you, thanks so much.
Sharro: Thank you.
Werman: You can hear more from Karl ReMarks including his imagined dialogue between new pen pals President Obama and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. That's all at PRI.ORG.