Last weekend I walked inside a restaurant to find a bunch of people bursting with laughter and a tall pleasant-looking man with a hat holding a microphone and bouncing on his feet with a lot of energy while talking to the chuckling crowd. The face looked very familiar but I just couldn’t place where I had seen the man before...
For the next 45 minutes or so I was one of the many who was laughing, hooting, and clapping vigorously on the many relatable jokes that were being cracked by the talented comedians on stage. After the final act, the man who introduced himself as Abbas Al Lawati, the founder of Humour Infection, came down and made sure he greeted every single person in the audience and patiently listened to whatever each one of them had to say. I was impressed right there.
He finally came to my table and started having a conversation with my friends, which is when I realised that he is the same guy who made me sweat and cry after my super rigorous kickboxing session a few months back. The man wears (literally and figuratively) many hats.
Abbas Al Lawati is a 31 years old full-time comedian who started his journey with comedy 10 years back. Like most comedians, he would always be the funniest guy on the table and was asked by his persistent friends to give it a try. “My first official introduction to comedy was Russell Peters’ videos,” Abbas recalls. However, 10 years back, stand-up comedy wasn’t really a thing in Oman. Not many people were doing it and it definitively wasn’t an organised sector in Oman’s non-existent entertainment industry. So making a name for himself and taking it up as a profession didn’t seem like an option back in 2007.
But for Abbas, comedy was a necessity. “I needed it. I did have anger issues and other problems. I always needed a pen and paper to put down my thoughts.” Most of the times he would end up scripting things that were funny.
“So comedy became my escape,” he said. Slowly he started attending events and started doing stand-up in restaurants and clubs and during events and realised that there was a demand for this art in Oman. Abbas too, wanted people to try out something other than going to a club and just dancing all night and instead have a great laugh on some quality jokes instead. “I’ve saved many people from going home with the wrong people so many times,” he smirks.
On the flipside, there were a lot of people who weren’t accepting or supportive of his talent, including his own parents. “I am half Pakistani and half Omani. My parents sitting in the front row for my show is not something I can expect and I have come to terms with that.”
He understands that his parents will never be able to comprehend his passion for comedy and take it seriously but that doesn’t upset him anymore as long as he is able to pursue it without any problem.
Slowly the comedy scene in Oman started expanding and Abbas noticed that the one thing he needed right now was more stage time. And since he didn’t have more than 24 hours in a day most of which was taken up by his day job as a banker, he decided it was time to quit and give this profession the time and importance it deserved.
He started doing more shows, trying to gauge what the audience enjoyed or what they disliked. “Local content was always welcomed. Anything about the locals or anything that had a local connection is what brought the loudest laughs,” he said.
I recalled the time when Russell Peters was in Oman a couple of years back. While performing in this part of the world a comedian has to respect the societal norms and I thought that this was restricting their creative freedom.
On this Abbas explained how he perceived it differently.
“If I crack a joke on stage and out of the 10 people in the audience eight people laugh and two are upset or offended, I wouldn’t want that.” He explained how it is more challenging to suit the taste of the audience.
“The audience is never wrong. If your joke didn’t work for a few, it simply means that it wasn’t good enough for them.” Abbas himself has had numerous hits and misses over the last 10 years and has now understood what his audience enjoys, which he is trying to impart to the 11 recruits of Humour Infection. “However, the golden rule is to never ever copy a joke,” he asserts.
Abbas and his team are clearly people of strong principals. They meet every week, discuss the technical details and jokes, and rehearse well before their gig. He is open to welcoming new talent and wants to encourage all those who have the comic bug to come to the fore and entertain people of Oman. The Humour Infection has spread its contagious infection to a lot of people in Muscat who just can’t stop going for their shows. Well, it is about spreading the ‘disease’ further and finding more ‘germs’ who can do the job effectively well.