By Jennice Fuentes
By looking at his business card (at least the one he gave me back in 2009), you basically get the idea behind the man. Simple and to the point just like his business card: Ahmed Ahmed and a cross right below his name. Cross cultural? This is one funny muslim, I thought. And yes, Ahmed Ahmed, is his real name.
And now, with the release of his first movie, Just Like Us, Director-Comedian, Ahmed is trying to make his mark as not only a Muslim comic but also as a man on a mission. Ahmed’s mission and his first movie, are just like he is, straight and to the point: let’s celebrate the Middle East’s s rich culture through stand-up comedy. Ok. So it may not be an original idea but it’s certainly an uphill battle, so this kid gets credit for going where Albert Brooks tried to go back in 2005 with his Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.
Just like Us documents his travels (along with his caravan of comedians and comediennes) to four countries in the Middle East (Dubai, Lebanon, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Egypt) where he held shows for more than 20,000 people. This exercise of cultural bridge building in the region was more or less successful, depending on the country, that is. For instance, for all their money and savoir faire, folks in Dubai don’t necessary get the joke. Point in case: it’s the only country that banned him because his joke rubbed certain officials the wrong way. But how funny is it that the most conservative country of the four, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, had the funniest contributor of the bunch, a Saudi Prince who could do stand-up himself, only that he was not on stage. And while laughter can play a significant role in social change…maybe this can only happen one day at a time. You get the feeling that they had to be SO careful in each country (except while in Lebanon, of course) that it almost feels like an unbeareable lightness of having to balance humour with respect to delicate sensibilities ended up cutting back on the dares.
Less seems to be more in the region…or so is clear from Ahmed self-assured first time foray into directing.
Just Like Us shows you snippets of what the experience must have been like…Ahmed shot about 200 hours of footage and his first take was 5 hours long. For a movie that ended up being 76 minutes long, it seems that a lot of footage was left on the cutting floor. At least there is Just Like Us Too due next year, so there is hope that this likeable comedian with the funny name will get to apply his craft for longer than 76 minutes. It would only be fair…and funny!
JUST LIKE US opens in Chicago on June 17th at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema – 2828 N Clark St.
Credits: Cross Cultural Productions picture Director: Ahmed Ahmed Producers: Taylor Feltner, Matthew Blaine
Rated R, 72 minutes long