Did you hear the one about the Egyp­tians in China?

China Daily (Canada) - - EXPATS - By LI LIANXING lil­ianx­ing@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Telling funny sto­ries may be­come the new way to un­der­stand a strange cul­ture thou­sands of miles away, ac­cord­ing to 26-year-old Egyp­tian Mo­hammed Magdi, a part-time stand-up co­me­dian in Shang­hai.

Magdi works as a mar­ket­ing team leader for China Tele­com in Shang­hai, pro­mot­ing new pack­ages in the ex­pa­tri­ate com­mu­nity.

But what makes his life vi­brant and ex­cit­ing is his po­si­tion as a stand-up co­me­dian on week­ends at a lo­cal club called Kung Fu Kom­edy.

“Peo­ple of­ten have a lot of ig­no­rance and mis­un­der­stand­ing about Egypt, Is­lam, Africa, and the Middle East. It doesn’t only hap­pen in the Chi­nese com­mu­nity, but also to many other for­eign­ers, too,” he said. “Liv­ing in a global, cos­mopoli­tan city like Shang­hai ac­tu­ally gives me a very good chance to tell my sto­ries to a larger au­di­ence.”

He said it’s too cliched to claim a role as a cul­tural am­bas­sador be­tween two sides, but it is a fact that many peo­ple don’t know any­thing about Egypt apart from in­sta­bil­ity and rev­o­lu­tion. Thus his role is to cor­rect the stereo­type us­ing a per­for­mance that is funny and also makes peo­ple think.

“I didn’t live in a place that has proper stand-up com­edy, which is seen as a copy­right of Western, English-speak­ing coun­tries, and nei­ther did I have any sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence in Egypt,” he said. “But I think there are a lot of ideas that can’t be ex­pressed in a very se­ri­ous way like racism, dis­crim­i­na­tion and stereo­types, and us­ing com­edy is a good way to make an im­pres­sion and help peo­ple re­mem­ber.”

He started do­ing stand-up com­edy at Kung Fu Kom­edy in Septem­ber 2013 as a reg­u­lar on their open mic nights, and now he is a reg­u­lar head­liner and even opens for in­ter­na­tional comics tour­ing China.

He has done shows in many cities across China and other Asian coun­tries, in­clud­ing Bei­jing, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

“Stand­ing at the cen­ter of the stage gives me an op­por­tu­nity to make peo­ple want to lis­ten to me, and I can at­tract them by find­ing in­ter­est­ing ob­ser­va­tions in my life,” he said.

In the club, there is Chi­nese open mic and also English-lan­guage stand-up com­edy shows with dif­fer­ent tar­get au­di­ences. Magdi has at­tracted a large num­ber of lo­cal ex­pa­tri­ates and Chi­nese peo­ple who speak English.

The club was es­tab­lished in 2010 and has reg­u­lar per­for­mances ev­ery week­end. It has in­tro­duced many in­ter­na­tional head­lin­ers to China like Ari Shaffir, Tom Rhodes and Wil Sylvince.

Andy Cur­tain, one of the founders of the club, said Magdi is con­tribut­ing a new per­spec­tive to lo­cal au­di­ences based on his per­sonal back­ground, and also rep­re­sents a voice from Africa.

“But we don’t pick co­me­di­ans through lo­ca­tion — though we have co­me­di­ans from ev­ery cor­ner of the world — but on their comedic tal­ents. Magdi has proven his suc­cess through his pop­u­lar­ity at the club,” he said.

None of the lo­cal co­me­di­ans came to Shang­hai for com­edy, but Shang­hai as a melt­ing pot has in­spired them and pro­vided them with a good plat­form for their per­for­mance, Cur­tain said.

Be­fore ar­riv­ing in China, Magdi worked for Voda­fone as a mar­keter af­ter grad­u­at­ing as a busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion ma­jor from a univer­sity in north­ern Egypt.

He said he needed a new en­vi­ron­ment to re­set his mind af­ter rev­o­lu­tion broke out in Egypt in 2011, so he chose to come to China as an English teacher at north­east­ern China’s Changchun Nor­mal Univer­sity in 2012.

Af­ter all his ex­pe­ri­ences, he said China also has of­fered him a chance to ex­pand his comedic tal­ents, not only to fo­cus on his per­sonal back­ground, but also to take up a broader range of top­ics that ex­pand his range as a pro­fes­sional co­me­dian.

“I used to tell a lot of funny sto­ries re­lated to my coun­try and my cul­tural back­ground, un­til a fa­mous co­me­dian from Hol­ly­wood told me that I should be­come a co­me­dian from Egypt, rather than an Egyp­tian co­me­dian, since eth­nic iden­tity sto­ries had a cor­ner on my pro­fes­sional life,” he said. “So I am try­ing to have 40 per­cent of my show re­late to my back­ground and the rest on other top­ics.”


Egyp­tian Mo­hammed Magdi said his role is to cor­rect the stereo­types us­ing a per­for­mance that is funny and also makes peo­ple think.

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