Interviewed by: Amina Moustapha, Alia El Saady, Monica Nagy and Adel Salib
A strange combination that mixes between mediums. Is it a short-film? Is it a sitcom? Is it a play? No! it’s Saturday Night Live Bel 3araby. With a cast of 12 people, the show is a chaotic mix of fun and hilarity; it’s a guaranteed recipe for laughter. The Identity Mag team sat with SNL’s cast of comedians to get an exclusive insight about the show.
How did you get casted in SNL?
Leithy: Ever since I was a kid, I felt I was weird, unlike anybody else. I was very bright at school, always scoring the highest grades across my governorate. I was a nerd who decided to major in engineering to please his family, but deep down I wanted to do something different for myself. I joined the university’s theatre and since then I’ve been hooked! I did work as an engineer for sometime, but still acted for independent theatre companies. Eventually, I joined the Center for Artistic Innovation, performed and from there, got into SNL.
Elwy: Dr. Ashraf Zaki met me in the theatrical institute, and asked me to find 5 male and 5 female comedians because he had an important casting call at 2:30 PM. I compiled a list; Sultan was one of them, but I didn’t write my name down. At 2 PM, I still couldn’t locate a single name on my list except for Sultan who was eating shrimps at a restaurant close by. He said he’d finish eating and join me.
Sultan: (interrupting) I really liked the grilled shrimp there!
Elwy: I ended up gathering people from the cafeteria and we headed straight to the theatrical institute where we filled in forms. They then sent us to Karma Co for an audition and asked us to perform one of the 3 assigned sketches. We insisted that we wanted to present something we made up, but they insisted that we shouldn’t. So we insisted some more!
Sultan: No one insists more than us!
Elwy: We performed a piece we’d made up and they told us to come back because they liked our audition tape. Then, we auditioned individually infront of Amr Salama, singing, dancing, acting and impressions! They told us “congrats; you should come to get fitted for costumes!”
Hazem: I lived in Kuwait until I graduated from high school and then came back to study in Egypt’s Future University (FUE). I wanted to get into acting and confidently told my dad that I wanted to study theatrical performance. He smacked me so hard that I ended up studying business instead! Luckily, FUE’s theatre program includes Khaled Galal, one of the best directors in the Middle East. I acted my first play, “Hamlet Million”, under his direction and it previewed at the Opera House. Sarah Nouh, saw me acting in the play and asked me to go to several castings, one of which was SNL.
Tony: I was studying law, and decided I wanted to study theatre instead. It took a while before I was admitted into the Center for Artistic Innovation (Markaz El Ebda3 El Fany). From there, I got offers for ads, one of which was an advertisement for Mobinil directed by Sherif Arafa. SNL happens to be one of the offers I got, and accepted.
Are there any differences between performing in SNL and performing in theatre?
Nancy: Theatre is very difficult, because you’re performing in front of live audience but it’s still a lot easier than SNL. When you’re doing theatre, you learn your lines, rehearse a lot and have plenty of time and space. In SNL, it’s a lot more professional; a lot happens in two days! If a play takes around a year, we’ve got around 7 sketches per week!
Leithy: SNL combines a lot of mediums. You’ve got the aspect of a short film, because that’s what’s on the digital screen. You have the aspect of a sitcom, where you’re focused on your camera and your movement is pretty limited. And you have the theatrical aspect of an audience. It’s a strange collection but it works!
What’s your favorite sketch live or digital on the show?
Hazem: The “Taxi” one was definitely my favorite.
Nancy: The “Kim Kardashian” one.
Leithy & Islam: The “Kabarih” one.
Khaled: The “3antar” sketch.
Shadi: The “Hotel” one with Ruby.
The cast definitely considers each sketch to be unique and special and has its own audience, but they all agreed that “Zizo”’s sketch comes first. It reached more than 15 million viewers; it was the one that made everyone stop and start asking: “What’s SNL Bl 3araby”.
Khaled & Shadi: Would you return to El Bernameg if Bassem Youssef returned? Or do you feel that now that you’re established in a show such as this, especially since you have lead roles, that it wouldn’t be a good career move to go back?
Khaled: Anytime, anywhere. In any era, in any dimension! He only needs to ask and we’ll be there in a heartbeat.
Shadi: He told us that a day would come when he would be banned from working, and each one of us would have to find their own path. He was certain that we would all succeed in our careers; his prediction came true. We were all thrilled when we saw the tweet he posted about our show.
How much of the show is improvised?
Merna: We do have a space to improvise and perform spontaneously and without preparation but only during the rehearsals. If I have a line that I want to add to a scene, I would ask our director Amr Salama to try it out during the practice sessions. Always welcoming, he would say:“Let’s give it a shot”. If it’s good, we would put it on the original script, if not, it will be disregarded.
Hazem: But while performing live on stage, improvising isn’t an option, and that’s for two reasons. First off, the person co-starring with you in the sketch will get confused and won’t know his cue if you keep adding unscripted lines. Secondly, the cameras are set in specific positions, so if someone said something unexpectedly, it will probably go out of the frame, and will only be in the background.
Which political figures would you like to see on the show?
Shadi: From the smallest to the biggest! I mean, Obama hosted SNL, Trump hosted SNL, even Hilary Clinton, who by the way, they made fun of while she was in the episode. We can only hope! But we’ve just started SNL for the the first time in the Middle East, and a lot of people don’t know what the show is about. Our problem right now is the celebrities who don’t even know what SNL is, so when we invite them on the show, they’re pretty hesitant. Imagine if this were a politician who’s also worried about his image and campaign.
But after putting the cast to a vote, they all agreed that either Mortada Mansour, or Tawfik Okasha would be interesting political figures to host on the show if the show was to start inviting political figures.
The show is aired on cable TV, limiting its viewership. Does this make any difference to the reach of the show? Why did you choose this strategy of using OSN? Or are you relying on the fact that the show will appear on CBC to gain more viewers?
Khaled: OSN is a network of high standing that offers popular entertainment content. Broadcasting SNL on their network is in our favor. The genre, where our show is categorized, needs a high production value, which makes OSN once again the perfect choice. They bought the rights to the show and therefore have the right to take broadcasting precedence over other channels.
Islam: The fact that not everyone can access the show, and can only see the sneak peeks that leak on the Internet, gives SNL a charm and makes it unspeakably desirable. It builds up the audience’s expectation for the show while eagerly waiting to watch it on CBC. Of course, we can’t wait to see if it will find an echo with the rest of the audience.
Who is the funniest cast member off cameras?
Tony: During the auditions the crew deliberated to select each one of us because though we are all comedians, we are still divergent from one another. Take Leithy for example, even without talking, something as little as his body language would crack us up. I prefer to keep a serious face while telling a joke.
Nancy: (interrupting) And then he would make us all burst out laughing.
Tony: It’s hard to tell who is the funniest because that’s what we all do for a living.
Leithy: Let’s agree that on camera the one who has the better punchlines would be considered the funniest, but off camera each one of us has his personal signature. Islam kills us each time he shifts the pitch of his voice into a female one, Sultan while laughing and Nancy when she plays with her hair. Elwy makes me feel like there is a battle ahead of us with each word coming out of his mouth.
But we wouldn’t let the cast get away without answering this question. We organized a voting, and almost every name in the cast came up, but at the end it was Ahmed Sultan who earned most of the votes.
Khaled & Shadi: Do you interfere in choosing the celebrities who host the episodes?
Khaled: A show like SNL needs team work. it’s not something someone can pull off on their own. So, the real star here is the team. Different strokes for different folks, so we have to be democratic when it comes to something as crucial as choosing the host. The whole cast and crew always have a round table discussion; we put our heads together until we come up with the perfect choice.
What are some lines from your sketches that stick with you guys off-set?
Hazem: Anyone who acts on the show has a line that sticks with them. I keep telling Yara lines from her part as the granny in the “Zizo Song” sketch when she went in and said “3’any ya 7abeebi” I say it all the time! As for me, I’m always doing the character of the taxi driver in my sketch!
Sultan: Everyone sees me as the Adel Emam guy! It’s starting to ruin my chances with the ladies!