Arab standup comedy takes centre stage at Algonquin College with John Achkar’s first visit to Canada

The Algonquin Commons Theatre (ACT) goes dark, and a man’s voice tears through the room: “Ottawa, are you ready to have some fun?” On Nov. 15, comedian John Achkar stepped onto a packed ACT stage for the first time to perform his show “Wayn 3ayich?” (Where do you live?). The audience was privileged because it […]
Photo: Brahim Ait Ouzineb
John Achkar’s career started in 2010 and when COVID hit, the few comedians in the Lebanese scene thrived. “The audiences finished all their Netflix shows and thought why not give these comedy guys a chance,” said Achkar.

The Algonquin Commons Theatre (ACT) goes dark, and a man’s voice tears through the room: “Ottawa, are you ready to have some fun?”

On Nov. 15, comedian John Achkar stepped onto a packed ACT stage for the first time to perform his show “Wayn 3ayich?” (Where do you live?).

The audience was privileged because it would be his last performance of this show ever.

The voice backstage got the audience’s permission to address sensitive topics such as religion, race and marriage. The Lebanese fans, who constituted most of the audience, shouted in Arabic, “Do as you please!”

Achkar has a unique approach to comedy.

The commanding theme of his standup comedy is self-deprecation and his shrewd observation of Lebanese society is subtly interwoven into lived experiences.

Achkar met with the Algonquin Times in the green room, casually dressed. Facing a Canadian audience didn’t seem to shake him at all. He tried between questions to have a snack, but his passion for comedy preceded food. On his social media, he asked his fans to vote for the colour of clothes that would fit his Canada tour. Black it is!

“It was evident that (the audience) thoroughly enjoyed John’s performance. The atmosphere was filled with laughter, and the audience responded exceptionally well to his act,” said Tifanni Kenny, the ACT’s bookings coordinator.

Achkar’s career started in 2010 and when COVID hit, the few comedians in the Lebanese scene thrived.

“The audiences finished all their Netflix shows and thought why not give these comedy guys a chance,” said Achkar during the interview.

Despite his successful family business in Lebanon, comedy takes most of his time and offers him a lot of second chances.

For Achkar, failing is part of the comedian’s journey. Lebanese comedians come from a culture where failing is not an option. However, the only way to grow is to fail more and more. It forces them to try new things.

Achkar got out of his comfort zone to start a new adventure on national television in Lebanon. He launched his talk show “Tar El Waet” (Coffee Break) and it is the third-most watched show on the channel.

His fierce criticism of his surroundings, be it his life, his parents or his relations with the other sex, strikes the right note with the audience.

In a country with a 34 per cent divorce rate, Achkar jokes about his own divorce in the show. It took him two years to get divorced after being married only three months. It even caused him separation anxiety.

Achkar lives now in Dubai, but he is not disconnected from Lebanon. For him, every comedian has a unique voice to bring to society. It’s the unique view of a Lebanese Dubai resident.

“People live in a certain microenvironment, like the sectarianism in Lebanon. Comedy is about bringing all these views together to build this society,” Achkar told the Times.

Achkar’s hope for a better country is what motivates his comedy, and it has nothing to do with debunking this or that community.

He made sure to hammer the message before leaving the stage.

“Are we just victims of the system or are we contributing to putting the country in the shitty situation in which it is now?” Achkar said before the end of the show.

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