ILQ’s behind the scenes look at The Doha Comedy Festival

Giovanna Albanese's picture
Giovanna Albanese

With the Doha Comedy Festival (DCF) quickly approaching, ILQ thought it would be fun to sit down with Hamzeh Zahr, founder and managing director of The Social Studio and executive producer of the Doha Comedy Festival, to talk about the ins and outs of the festival and what it means for Qatar's burgeoning comedy scene. 

Zahr grew up in Lebanon, studied in Australia, and then started his professional career in Jordan where he was heavily involved in media, marketing, and advertising. After establishing his own entertainment business in Jordan, he was approached by an organization in Qatar and thought Qatar was an inspiring and interesting place to live and learn, so he packed up and moved. 

“I’ve been in Qatar for six years, and since then I’ve only witnessed the growth of this country and have seen my growth as well,” said Zahr. “Naturally, I’ve always been identified as an ambitious person, and I feel that Qatar has well served my ambition. It gave me the tools. It gave me the opportunities.”

Having been molded by his move to Qatar, Zahr founded The Social Studio in 2015. This content hub consistently works to meet two main objectives: to produce entertaining content that represents Qatar, and to help businesses and organizations in Qatar accelerate their objectives and communication goals. 

The Social Studio uses these two objectives to guide their work, and the DCF is a great example of this because it produces entertaining content while helping promote Qatar regionally and globally as an attractive tourist destination.

With Qatar actively working towards becoming a platform for cultures of the world, comedy — especially stand-up comedy — is a great and creative way to help facilitate engagement between various cultures of the world! 

As a positive influence on the culture of Qatar, ILQ wants you to know more about The Social Studio’s four-step plan in organizing the DCF.

Step 1: Determine the core concept of the event

“This year for the first time ever the Qatar Tourism Authority decided to organize the first shopping festival, [Shop Qatar], in our country. We understand how important this is to a lot of businesses in the hospitality, retail, food and beverage industries. At the same time, winter in general, the period between January and April, is the period where everybody [that lives] in Qatar is in Qatar, as opposed to the summer where a lot of expats go back to their countries, and Qataris take long leaves, etc. Looking at these two realities, it was a natural conclusion that this year we must have a festival that offers something for everyone. Based on that core concept we planned the comedy festival to host a night for Arabs, a night for Khaleeji, and an international English night.”

Step 2: Know and cater to your audience

“The most challenging thing for us – and it’s a challenge we always take upon us, is to try to please every single part of our community. Considering that Qatar is a melting pot of different cultures and preferences, it’s a hard challenge, but we always do our best to attend to all preferences and put together a festival that can cater to as much of them as possible.”

When asked if he sees the comedy festival becoming a regular event in Doha, Zahr was enthusiastic. “Absolutely! In 2015 we started off with an audience of 1,000. In 2016 we had 4,000 people, and by the looks of it in 2017 we’re going to be looking at around 5,000-6,000 people attending. Obviously, there’s a growing audience for it, and at the same time, the world has a lot of talents to offer, so as long as there’s talent out there and audiences that are happy to go, why would we stop?”

Step 3: Select the comedians

“Our main criteria was to select the best, and honestly I feel we have the best line-ups for every day [of the festival]…it’s actually been quite pleasant to see how cooperative and excited every artist is [that] we’ve approached to be with us. Getting the artists is probably one of the easiest components of the project because a lot of them are quite happy to be with us.”

When it came to confirming global icon Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, Zahr commented, “I believe that Trevor isn’t just another comedian. I feel that he’s a full creator and an intellectual individual who’s quite passionate and interested in learning about other cultures. He’s a true resemblance of a global citizen which is why we think him coming to Qatar is exciting for him, [and for us]!”

Step 4: Go and have a great time!

The final step in making sure the festival is a success is one that is controlled by you! So take Zahr’s recommendation and “go to the show with an open heart, don’t go with any pre-existing assumptions, and try to have a good time!” 

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