Qatar Stars: Halal Bilal

06 Feb 2013

Halal Bilal is the founder and host of SUCQ (Stand Up Comedy Qatar) – pronounced ‘suck’ – a local amateur comedy group. Ahlan! Qatar caught up with him to learn more about how he’s growing Qatar’s comedy industry

Since moving to Doha a couple of years ago Bilal, as he likes to be called, has established a local comedy scene that appeals to a hugely diverse audience. And although he denies it, we think that as well as being hilarious on stage he’s also pretty funny off it too.

You are the founder of Stand Up Comedy Qatar and also the gig’s host MC! It’s fab. How did the idea come to you?
I was doing stand-up comedy in South Africa and the UK before I arrived in Doha in 2010 and knowing I was going to be here for a while, saw an opportunity to work on something properly. What pushed me to do it on my own is largely related to the fact that my wife wears the hijab and in Doha, because the existing comedy scene all centred around a bar, there were rules about who could go and watch. I wanted to create something for everyone to enjoy and so initially started doing small gigs at Columbiano Café near the Radisson Blu. We then got asked by the Doha Film Institute to take part in a comedy competition in Doha and subsequently at a festival in Jordan. So we started a grass roots comedy movement here – a coalition between everyone interested in comedy – and it grew from there.

Your real name is Bilal Randere. Why use Halal Bilal as a stage name?
When I was at university, my friends nicknamed me Halal Bilal and I guess because it rhymes and rolls of the tongue, it stuck. People recognised me as Halal Bilal from my first youtube comedy clips and it worked – Halal Bilal the comedian. It gave me an opportunity to separate my two personas. During the day I am a journalist working in the newsroom and in the evenings I am a comedian making people laugh.

How easy was it to establish the brand and secure comedians to take part?
We were offering something new in Doha, a comedy show aimed at everyone. When we announced the first show it got people interested. Our comedians don’t swear and they don’t use any offensive material. We want to appeal to all nationalities and cultures and to all ages. Getting people involved does take a lot of hard work. We have open mic nights and run themed workshops. It’s not easy but it’s not impossible.

Is there much comedy talent in Qatar?
More than you think - and that’s another key to our success. People hear about the comedy night and they think ‘let’s go because we have nothing better to do’. But then they come and they are surprised to see a Qatari man on stage giving an insight into his personal life and making people laugh. Even if it isn’t hilariously funny, it’s still extremely interesting.

Does Qatar ‘get’ stand-up comedy?
I have done comedy in many places around the world but here, you have an audience of around 20 or 30 different nationalities. Nowhere else in the world do you have that. The reason we do well here is because we appeal to a diverse audience.

You are pretty hilarious if we may say so. And you seem very spontaneous with your delivery. Do you have to practice much or does being funny come naturally?
While not everything is rehearsed it is prepared. Initially I was one of the performers but now I’m hosting and it’s totally different. I need to make sure that the energy of the audience remains high between performances and that if one comedian bombs then the rest of the show isn’t ruined. My own stand-up comedy has suffered to an extent because I have had less practice than I would like. However, I have become very comfortable as a host.

Do people expect you to be funny all the time? Does that come with a lot of pressure?
Not really. Most of my socialising is done with people who knew me before I was a comedian or with people who find out I am a comedian later. So they don’t expect me to be funny all the time. Plus it doesn’t always work that you are funny on and off stage. Some people are hilarious on stage and serious off it and some are not funny on stage but are funny off. I think I am probably quite serious off stage. I’m a news journalist and when I tell people I am also a comedian they often don’t actually believe me.

How on earth do you find the time for everything?
It seems to work itself out. In 2011 I was really busy working 15 hour days which in a way forced me to find better and smarter ways to manage the comedy. The comedy has grown organically and I think that’s how it has worked.

As well as the local talent that takes part in SUCQ, you have also managed to bring out internationally-renowned Mexican comedian Gabriel Iglesias a.k.a. Fluffy. Do you plan bring out more big names from the world of comedy?
Yes, that’s definitely the plan for 2013. I am partnering up with Qatari comedian Mohammed Kamal who I worked with to bring out Fluffy who visited Doha as part of his regional tour. It was a great learning experience and one which will really help us to bring out other comedians.

INFO: You can find out more about upcoming SUCQ gigs by visiting their website or by liking their Facebook page

My Qatar Essentials
Bilal shares some of his fave things about Doha.

1. The people. I really enjoy the amazing diversity here with different nationalities, ages, religions and backgrounds. I learn something new every single day.
2. Karak. Having never been a tea drinker I was surprised I enjoyed it. Now I try very hard not to get addicted.
3.Katara Mosque. I go there at least once a week and enjoy the beautiful structure and small community of staff working there.
4.Twitter. Without it, I wouldn’t have access to so many different people. Talking to strangers has never been a fashionable thing to do but interacting with total strangers on Twitter is welcomed.
5.Museum of Islamic Art. When the weather is good, the coffee shop at the end of the park is the best spot in Doha. I also love the exhibitions.