UAE-born Ali Al Sayed quit his corporate job to pursue comedy full time. For the past seven years, he’s led a comedy and urban arts school with his wife. And now, his on-screen career is set to take off
I knew my interview with Emirati comedian Ali Al Sayed was going to be fun when he answered my what-did-you-do-before-you-got-into-comedy question with: “I was a fisherman, which is terrible because I’m vegetarian. Also, that was a lie. I worked in events, but the boring exhibition and conference side. It was good. It taught me so much – like never work in exhibitions and conferences.”
But Ali, who left his corporate job in 2008 to get into comedy full time, says he wasn’t always a funny guy. His first performance was a 30-minute set in front of 800 dentists. Paradoxically, the gig was requested by a former boss.
“My family might say I was funny, but if you ask anyone else you’d hear quite the contrary,” he says. “I was always a super serious workaholic and, while I loved to laugh, I didn’t think it was appropriate as I needed to stay focused. Now I’m the polar opposite. If you want to have a serious meeting with me, good luck.”
I was always a super serious workaholic and, while I loved to laugh, I didn’t think it was appropriate as I needed to stay focused
That’s not to say that the entertainer doesn’t take his craft seriously, especially when it comes to making the less fortunate laugh.
Ali and his wife Mina Liccione, a Dubai-based comedy veteran in her own right, have been running their successful comedy and urban arts school Dubomedy since 2008. But it’s the pair’s Clowns Who Care project that was established in 2009 that Ali says he’s most passionate about. It sees the couple travelling around the world to bring laughter to poorer communities.
“If you asked me what my dream was five years ago, I would have said it would be to have my own talk show or act in major feature films, but the joy it brings me to know that I can reach people who are less fortunate and give them a chance to laugh and de-stress, even if it’s just for a few minutes, is priceless.
"It may sound pretentious and very much like the Miss-World, world peace kind of speech but honestly, doing charity work and being able to produce comedy that is effective in terms of having a positive influence on the local and international community is my dream. Don't get me wrong: if a film or a talk show come knocking I'd do it if it made sense, but I won’t take on a role of a ‘terrorist’ just to say I was in a Hollywood movie.”
The joy it brings me to know that I can reach people who are less fortunate and give them a chance to laugh and de-stress, even if it’s just for a few minutes, is priceless
Recently, a casting director asked Ali to audition for a part in Focus, the feature film starring Will Smith. While that particular role went to someone else in the end, there are other plans that will see the comedian on-screen soon.
“I have a new Arabic TV show coming up really soon, as well as an English one,” he says. “I’m also filming my first-ever comedy special entitled ‘Onestly sbeaking’ later this year, producing a few large events in Dubai, and will hopefully start pre-production on my first feature film for 2016.
“As for Clowns Who Care, Mina and I are planning a tour entitled Basma, which means smile in Arabic, that will see us visiting Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, as well as the slums of Bangladesh, to do comedy shows and comedy workshops for the kids living there. I may also pursue my long-lost dream of becoming a hand model for People With Ugly Hands, an organisation that I just sarcastically invented.”