Meet the comedy crusaders
Co-founder of the UAE’s pioneering comedy concept Dubomedy, Mina Liccione is no ordinary stand-up. Dubbed Dubai’s ‘First Lady of Comedy’, she is using her skills to brighten the lives of children with special needs. Anthea Ayache finds out how she does it
The children clapped with glee as the clowns performed their stream of comical antics, transforming the common room in Dubai’s Al Noor Training Centre for Special Needs into a haven of joy and laughter, its walls positively filled with the sounds of innocent joy.
As she moved around the room, every ridiculous movement purposeful, Mina Liccione peered out from her oversized glasses and cascading wig to take in the room. Through the use of nothing but raw talent and a little donated time, she had transformed an ordinary moment in the lives of the often-isolated into a joyous one. It was moments like this that confirmed she had taken the right path in life; the one that allowed her to use her abundant talent to put a smile on the most desolate of faces. For, from the start, she’s always believed that “laughter is the best medicine”.
Italian-American Mina, whose favourite act is one she calls the ‘Audrey Hepburn move’ – is the co-founder of Dubomedy, an umbrella group of Dubai-based performance artists. Her partner, both professionally and by marriage, is Emirati Ali Al Sayed and together they formed the comedy collective in 2008. Since then they have successfully launched, among other things, the Comedy and Urban Arts School in the Middle East; the Dubai International Comedy Carnival; Funny Girls; and the muchloved ClownsWho Care project (CWC).
The CWC voluntary scheme, a niche charitable entertainment venture that brings laughter, smiles and comedy to those who most need it, was born from Mina’s past work across hospitals, homes for the elderly and paediatric wards of New York.
Although having performed since the tender age of three, Mina’s calling to use art for good happened in 2001 when she was spotted in the musical Stomp in San Francisco. As the lead comedic role she was approached after the performance by one of her idols, the legendary American actor and clown Bill Irwin. The man noted for advancing the renaissance of American circus suggested that Mina study at the Clown Conservatory, a leading circus school in the US. Offered a scholarship, Mina jumped at the chance and soon found herself attending circus and clown school by day while performing by night.
Part of the programme involved clowning in hospitals, special needs schools and in community centres – Mina’s first exposure to using comedic talent to help those in pain. “All my life until that point I had done comedy because I loved it and loved hearing people laugh,” she says. “But suddenly I realised as an artist you have a much more important responsibility, especially if you’re a comedian. At the end of the day it’s not about making money, or your ego, it’s the exact opposite, it’s about making somebody in pain smile. That’s why I’m a comedian.”
After finishing the course at the Clown Conservatory Mina, who also holds a BFA in Dance from Marymount Manhattan College, an MFA in Experimental Performance Studies and Composition from the New College of