Since the turn of the century, Egypt has been known as the Middle Eastern Hollywood; a massive movie industry that included a wide array of artistic genres was produced in the North African country and exported to Arabic-speaking nations throughout the region.
The fifties and sixties were a particularly flourishing period for Egyptian dramas comedies and alike. Names of top comedians like Naguib El Rihani, Ismail Yassin, Fouad Al Mohandes and Adel Emam are still engraved on the hearts of millions of Arab fans across the region.
But as times changed and the Hollywood comics began invading Arab markets, the declining Egyptian movie industry of the seventies through to the mid-nineties was struggling to compete.
Humour and realism
Young Arab generations found respite in western comedies, which they related to more than stagnating, old-fashioned Arabic comedies which didn’t reflect people’s everyday lives. A real transformation, a new generation of comedians, was needed to lead the way.
In the late nineties, a young talented actor with a sense of modern, realistic comedy started breaking through the ranks of Egypt’s state television.
Ahmed Helmy, who graduated from Cairo’s Higher Institute for Theatrical Arts in 1993, kicked off his career as an on-set décor engineer then a TV programs director. He believed in a certain type of comedy that appealed to the younger Arabic generation. One that didn’t play on dancing, jumping around or funny faces but a self-mocking humour, focused on the harsh realities of life.
Helmy’s unique style shone through right from the start; his breakthrough came when he hosted a television program, interviewing kids aged four to ten years old and asked them random questions about politics and economics.
The show went supersonic, and secured Helmy his first movie role in the hit comedy Aboud Ala Al Hodoud (Aboud On The Borders).
Within a few years on and Helmy had become a movie star. He collaborated with scriptwriter Ayman Bahgat Qamar; their signature style was real, serious, yet funny.
Movies like Asef ala el Ezaag (Sorry For The Disturbance) , Asal Eswed (Black Honey) and Alf Mabrook (Congratulations) all became box office hits and were well received by both audience and critics, confirming Helmy’s status as Egypt’s top young comedian.
Revolution and political comedies
Egypt’s Arab Spring of 25 January 2011 has thrown nearly all Egyptians, including actors and comics, into politics. Any art since then has been expected to address politic, and comedy was no exception.
Online shows imitating classic stand-ups were produced at home by amateurs and posted online, talking about politics and tackling various social behaviours in the Egyptian and Arab society at large.
They were made by amateurs for amateurs and have proved to be a great success in the last two years, introducing many new comedians to the movie industry.
After his great success as a movie star, Helmy joins the online fold by taking on Entre ya Net (Enter The Internet), his first online show, which will be shown exclusively on Yahoo! Maktoob for Arabic language speakers.
The first episode of Helmy’s show begins in the first week of December and will continue for 21 episodes. You can find all you need to know about the show on Yahoo! Maktoob Screen.