Hamad al-Amari starts out his main stand up comedy routine wearing a traditional Qatari thobe and headdress, and speaking in broken English, offering the sort of observational comedy about life in Doha you’d expect from a 20-something Qatari. Only a few minutes into the set does he switch to his natural accent, which is thick and Irish.
A Qatari who grew up in Ireland, Mr. Amari’s comedy is as much about his own mixed identity as it is about the ethnic melting pot that is Qatar. The tiny nation in the Persian Gulf has about 2 million residents and under 15 percent of them are native Qataris. Outside of the office, there’s often limited interaction between the locals and expats, something that bothered Amari when he resettled in Qatar.
“When I came back I realized that everyone was speculating. Qataris had their views about expats and expats had their views about Qataris, but they never talked to each other,” he says. “I felt like the medium of comedy was good so people would relate to you and understand the issues that you’re talking about but can also have it presented in a light-hearted manner. You’re not being told off.”
Most of Amari’s material is inside jokes about life in Qatar, like a story about incorrectly serving coffee to an older family friend at a traditional gathering or good-natured ribbings of different expat groups. One of his biggest laughs is a joke about Qatari drivers who speed up behind other motorists and flash their brights until the car lets them pass.
Amari has only been doing stand up for about a year and a half now, but he’s already developed enough material to perform for up to 45 minutes. He’ll be one of the first people to tell you that his act is still a little rough around the edges, but for a beginning comic in a country without a real comedy scene he’s managed to make considerable headway.
He’s considering spending time in Ireland developing his comedy act the way all comics before him have: the painful process of trial and error in front of a live audience, but he says with the amount of opportunity for young, creative people in Qatar right now he plans to be here long term.
Indeed, many young Qataris like Amari see unparalleled opportunity to fulfill their goals, debunking the widespread misconception that Qatar’s wealth has made the young generation lazy and unambitious.
On the contrary, he says, the nation's natural resources provide a "safety net" that allows Qatar's bright young people to explore their talents. “If they feel safe," he says, "the things that they’ll come up with can’t be measured.”"