Culture

Meet this very popular stand-up comedian from Saudi Arabia

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Fahad al Butairi first got into comedy back in 2006, when he was a student at the University of Texas at Austin.

Born in Saudi Arabia, he had moved to Texas to study geophysics. And it was during those days that he discovered stand-up comedy.

"I happened to try out a few open mic nights at the local comedy clubs there and found out that I'm pretty good at it," he recalls.

Butairi loved performing on stage and being a Saudi student in Texas gave him plenty of material.

The title of his TedTalk back in 2011 was "Haha, Wait, What?"

"It is the number one response when I tell anybody that I am a Saudi stand-up comedian," he explained.

His big break came in 2008, when he auditioned for an act to open the "Axis of Evil Comedy Tour" in Bahrain. The tour featured four Middle Eastern comedians, including Maz Jobrani.

After that show in Bahrain, other comedy shows began in Saudi Arabia.

"A lot of organizers started realizing that there are a lot of stand-up comedians in Saudi Arabia but with no shows," Butairi says.

By that time he was well into bringing his style of comedy to Saudis. His performances were mainly in English so he says he would use material he had in Austin.

Saudi comedian Fahad al Butairi in Washington DC.

Credit:

Ruth Morris

Then in 2010, Butairi and a group of his friends began a YouTube channel called La Yekthar.

Their comedy shows became very popular and the Saudi channel has more than 270,000 subscribers.

Today, Butairi draws ideas from his family — funny situations that happen between him and his parents, for example and what he calls "the clash between generations."

"My dad doesn't get 'that's what she said' jokes," he says. "So I would say 'that's what she said' and he'd pure-heartedly ask me 'OK, who is she and what did she say?'"

Of course, working in Saudi Arabia has its limitations. Butairi says he has official permissions from the Saudi government for his shows.

"The red lines are pretty standard — religion, [...] direct politics, and explicit content," he says.

But he views these restrictions as a challenge that invigorates his comedy.

For example, Butairi and his team criticized the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. They set their words to the famous Bob Marley song "No Woman, No Cry."

The episode got a lot of attention. It has been watched more than 13 million times.

Related Stories