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Funnyman Mohammed Magdi talks comedy heroes, fake news and Shanghai vs Beijing

We chat to the Egyptian comic ahead of his Sunday set at The Bookworm

With regular appearances at Kung Fu Komedy and a couple of iconic starring roles in Mamahuhu vids, Egyptian comedian Mohammed Magdi's a fixture of Shanghai's comedy scene (and certifiably hilarious). However, for Beijingers less familiar with the majestically maned funnyman, Magdi's also packing some serious comedy credentials – he won the Bangkok International Comedy Festival back in 2017, placed as a runner-up in China's first International Comedy Festival in 2016 and has also appeared on Comedy Central Arabia. We chatted with Magdi ahead of his Sunday night set at The Bookworm.

You just performed a show in Dubai, how was it?
It was interesting. I just did a guest spot, but it was the graduation show for students of the main comedy club there. They've only been doing comedy classes for a few months, so the show was pretty much the first time any of them had ever faced a real audience – and it was packed. More than 300 people, plus a full-on camera, sound and lighting crew. A super intense and high-pressure experience for anyone’s first real show! God bless those comics, they did very well given the pressure.

What originally brought you over to China?
The same thing that brought over every other foreigner you meet in China. No, not studying Chinese. The other one.

How did you get involved with Kung Fu Komedy and Mamahuhu?
I did an open mic at Kung Fu Komedy in late 2013 after I moved to Shanghai, got the comedy bug and never left. As for Mamahuhu, many of the people working with Mamahuhu on scripts and acting are simply comics from Kung Fu Komedy, so I eventually just started appearing in cameos and helping shoot videos. Then I wrote Locked Out, sat down with Alessio Avezzano [Mamahuhu’s creator and director] to hash it out and it ended up being the first time I got to play the main character. We did The Laowai Tea Scammer right after. Very cool experience.

Mohammed as the 'Wolf' in The Laowai Tea Scammer.

Is there a difference between performing in Shanghai versus Beijing? Any changes to material, or differences between crowds?
Every time I come to Beijing, I’m amazed at how much Chinese foreigners speak, unlike Shanghai. We’re notorious for not caring about learning the language, at least in comparison to Beijing foreigners. I see that reflected in the shows – when I talk about how bad my Chinese is in Shanghai, everyone can relate. In Beijing, the crowd's judging me as being lazy or dumb, which really hurts because it’s true. Also, in my experience, the Shanghai shows have, on average, more Chinese people in the audience – especially over the last two years – so I’m hoping to see more Chinese people at the show in Beijing!

How would you best describe your style of comedy? And has it changed over the years?
It's definitely changed a lot over the years. When I first started I had no flow. If you listen back to my old sets, they sound like a guy on a TV contest trying to unsuccessfully squeeze in as many jokes as possible before time runs out. Now I’m leaning more towards storytelling. Even with short jokes, I try to find a way to link them to one of my 'main points'. You can get away with being all over the place in a short set, but not when you’re performing for an hour.

Who are some of your biggest comedy influences?
Too many to count. Bill Burr, Dave Chappelle, Louis CK and Norm Macdonald, to name but a few.

Who are the best comedians you’ve performed with?
That’s a tough one. Drew Fralick, who was a Kung Fu Komedy comic when I first started and has now moved back to the US, is an absolute beast on stage. Prolific writing and great energy. I loved watching Mark Normand, and I've performed with Paul Ogata over ten times and it’s always amazing. Paul’s crowd work is next level.

The last time you performed in Beijing it didn’t end up too well.
Fake news! After the show, I went straight back to my hotel to sleep. Nothing happened at any hutong bars and no one got tested for nothing. You’re fake news. The media is the enemy of the people.

Ouch. Where are you headed to next?
I get to open for Jim Gaffigan in Shanghai next week, which I’m super excited about. It’s already sold out and the theatre holds about a 1,000 people. Then, I'm headlining Hangzhou at the end of March followed by a few dates outside of China in April and May.

Mohammed Magdi performs at The Bookworm on Sunday 10 March (8pm). Tickets are 150RMB at the door and 120RMB presale.

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