The UAE’s King & Queen of Comedy
Ever wondered what happens when a comedian falls for a clown? You get Ali Al Sayed and Mina Liccione, a hilarious performing pair-turned-married couple who dominate the UAE’s stand-up comedy scene. Ali is one of the first Emirati comedians and Mina is an award-winning entertainer from New York, making them a powerful duo and Ahlan! fave – appearing in our Hot 100 2011 list. They set up Dubomedy, the first comedy and urban arts school in the region, and are on a mission to inject some honest humour into the Gulf. We caught up with them about what it’s really like to be the UAE’s funniest couple.
You’re married and you work together. Do you ever get sick of each other?
Ali: Let’s just say, as a man it is your responsibility to ensure that you provide a very comfortable couch in the living room for arguments that require an overnight resolution!
Mina: We lead our own projects, have hectic schedules and often perform at events independently, so this keeps things fresh and allows us some space!
Mina, you’re a native New Yorker and Ali, you’re an Emirati. Are there ever any culture clashes?
Ali: Honestly, I don’t notice. We’re both really open minded and Mina respects my culture as I do hers.
Mina: Our main difference is dietary as I’m a vegetarian! Another cultural difference that we bump heads on is driving! In America we drive like grandma turtles, and here the driving makes me very nervous.
Mina, you often perform as your alter-egos Audrey Heartburn, Madge Raps and Anna Banana. Who’s your fave to play?
Mina: Audrey Heartburn. Audrey was originally created because I went to visit my great aunt at the senior centre she’s residing in and was deeply saddened by how depressed and lonely many of the residents were, so I created a character and developed a show especially for them! Audrey was inspired by my late great-aunt Lulu, many wonderful women I grew up around in New York, and the TV show The Golden Girls.
Mina, you went to clown school in San Francisco. Was it as funny as it sounds?
Mina: Yes and no. Some lessons were absolutely hilarious, for example spit takes, trips and pratfalls, pancake tossing, spinning plates, bouncy stilts and watching your classmates take huge risks. However it was a vigorous eight-hours-a-day, four-times-a-week programme. It was a lot of work and lower back pain but I loved it!
How do you both come up with your material?
Ali: Most of the stuff that I talk about has happened to me in one way or another. My humour is also to tackle stereotypes, so if I see something I don’t like happen to somebody based on a stereotype they fit, I write a joke about that and hope it makes a difference.
Mina: I’m really a story teller. My comedy process happens in three stages: observation, documentation, exaggeration. I live it, write it down then bring it to life.
Do you ever have moments when you’re on stage and a joke bombs, and no one laughs?
Ali: Of course not, I am the best!
Mina: It happens to every comic, especially when performing to an international mixed crowd. There’s no need to dwell on it or pretend it didn’t happen, just laugh about it and the audience will too.
What kind of humour goes over best in the UAE?
Mina: The laughs come from honesty! Comedy is a celebration of mistakes – the one time that your imperfections are gold!
As comedians, do you get sick of people coming up to you and asking you to tell a joke?
Ali: No, I like it! It’s because they’re so excited that they want to share jokes with us. What is annoying is when people say, ‘Habibi, this is what you should talk about in your set…’
What advice would you give to aspiring comedians in the UAE?
Mina: Write, write, write! Get a notebook and write down all of your ideas for potential jokes and situations from your life experience. Taking a class is also a great starting point.
Dubomedy offers comedy classes. Can being funny be taught or is it something you have to be born with?
Ali: Like sports, you can be born with the talent and the natural instinct, but you must train to learn the skill behind it.
Mina: Absolutely agreed. You can’t teach people to be funny. However, you can help people see the humour in life. It’s an attitude adjustment.
TOP 10 UAE Favourites
THE BEACH: My fave place to de-stress is Jumeriah Beach.
LUNCH: The Lime Tree Café always!
DINNER: Arabic restaurant Reem Al Bawadi – we go there every year for iftar and birthday celebrations!
GET A FACIAL: Eternel MedSpa in Jumeriah has amazing staff!
THE MOVIES: I love going to the movies; my favourite cinema has to be the one at Ibn Battuta Mall.
MINI-BREAK: We enjoy going to Al Ain Rotana for a quick refresher.
BOWLING: Yep, I love it! Dubai Bowling Center is way fun!
VOLUNTEER: I love going to visit the kids at SENSES Center for Children with Special Needs, Mawaheb from Beautiful People and others with our Clowns Who Care Project.
ART: I enjoy seeing art shows or film screenings at Traffic Gallery.
DUBAI FOUNTAINS: I absolutely love dancing along to them!
DINNER: Karachi Darbar is my favourite Pakistani food chain with great food and excellent value.
ESCAPE: Nothing clears my head like a drive down to Fujairah!
SHOPPING: Satwa as the energy, local shops and cheap prices are a very good combination.
MUSIC: Mojo @ Republique: a non pretentious jam of live music and other homegrown shows.
MINI-BREAK: Jebel Hafeet. As a kid, I always went there with my family. I love staying at the Mercure hotel.
LUNCH: Tuscana Restaurant. Make sure you get a seat by the water!
ART: Al Qasba in Sharjah is a real treat, with local artists’ exhibits and great authentic Egyptian food.
WALKING: I love ditching the car and heading down JBR.
SWEETS: If you like your Arabic desserts try out Firas!
PARK: I love strolling in Zabeel Park.