Date/Time10 April 2012 @ 9:30pm
Akmal Saleh rarely does private gigs. You’ll see him on TV shows and he tours frequently, playing sold out shows and festivals, but he tends not to do corporate gigs because “they always go horribly wrong”.
Despite that, he did one a few years ago. It was for an association of Arab professionals, so he did some jokes about the Egyptian regime at the time. What he goes on to describe is the epitome of a nightmare gig for any stand up comedian. He says he was heckled, booed, had people tapping on glasses to drown him out, and then had half the room leave in protest and the other half stayed around “poking me and abusing me”.
The following morning, he says he received an anonymous call at 6am advising him not to return to Egypt, the country he and his family emigrated from when he was 11 years old, because “there’s a file out in your name – what you said last night was reported.”
He has plenty of stories like these about the Egyptian regime, which was toppled last year in a civil revolution, and it’s a serious conversation we have for almost an hour.
The Akmal familiar from television screens – irreverent, cheeky, childishly silly, which has endeared him to legions of fans – is absent. Instead, this is the Akmal who was so moved by the revolution that he’s just spent six weeks and $80,000 of his own money making a documentary about it - with no broadcaster or film distributor yet in place. “A friend said to me it may be the most expensive home movie in history,” but that doesn’t matter to Saleh, who simply wanted to document the courage he saw in Egyptians that he says was beyond him.
Religion is in his craw, and through talking passionately on that topic he reveals a deep humanity and social conscience, often using words like love, compassion, respect, equality, injustice. He’s on the phone from Canberra, where he has been doing some unadvertised trial shows in preparation for his Melbourne International Comedy Festival season of his self titled show. Will we see such things being discussed in the show? Or will that be in the subtext? “It’s buried in the subtext,” he quips. “You’ll have to spend three days digging to find this in the subtext!”
Saleh has been doing stand up for more than twenty years now, first performing under the stage name of Peter Saleh. Since then, he’s reverted to his real name and appeared in movies, TV and radio and on book shelves, as author of a memoir about his journey from Egypt and his life on the Australian comedy circuit.
In that time, religion has always been a theme in his work, he says, as well as more controversial topics such as race and terrorism. This new show will be no different in that it will touch on such areas, impossible for him not to as he was raised in a “very, very religious family”, but he doesn’t want it getting too personal at the same time. “A lot of it will be just jokes,” he says.
BY JOANNE BROOKFIELD
Akmal performs at Athenaeum Theatre from Wednesday March 28 until Sunday April 1, then Tuesday April 10 until Sunday April 22 (except Mondays) at 9.45pm (8.45pm Sundays). Tickets $35 Friday, Saturdays and Sundays; $33 Wednesdays and Thursdays, $30 Tightarse Tuesdays.