JEDDAH — Khalid Khalifa is known as one of the first Saudi stand-up comedians. He has been in the scene since stand-up comedy was first gaining a foothold in the Kingdom in 2008.
According to YouTube, Saudi Arabia has the highest consumption of YouTube videos per capita in the world. Out of 167 million views a day from the Middle East, 90 million originate from the Kingdom.
Stand-up comedy in Saudi Arabia has shifted from English to Arabic in recent times, creating a niche for younger comics who are mining the potential of such a scene. Most comedy series are conducted online by young comedians with a huge following.
Khalifa continues to perform in English, although he is aware of the mass appeal for Arabic shows. “At one time I was sharing the stage with local comedians performing in English, then they changed to Arabic and are now the celebrities and heroes of our country,” says Khalifa.
He remembers sharing the stage with Ibrahim Khairallah, Fahad Al Butairi, and Omar Hussein in Saudi Arabia. “They moved on to Arabic and succeeded very well. I’m happy to see where they are now.”
He says he is on a path of self-discovery, getting closer to doing what he loves. “I am learning more about my audience and how different they are from an audience of an Arabic stand-up comedy show and then I concentrate on how to deliver what they want.”
Proud of brother
He says that in Saudi Arabia, some talented people might have to wait until someone makes the first move, which encourages others to do something.
“Now I hear it’s about 50 YouTube shows in Saudi Arabia. Everyone wants to get a piece. I’m proud of them and especially proud of my brother Hisham who was influenced by me and actually went ahead and created his own show YouTube.com/JustForWanasah. He’s blown me away with his ideas and creativity. Now I am involved with him in a supportive way,” says Khalifa.
Asked why he does not have his own YouTube show, he says he’s working on the concept for “The Khalid Khalifa” show. “It started with directors of ‘La Yekthar’ Alaa Yoosef and Ali Kalthami; they’ve done videos for me in the past like a Ramadan ad parody and a music video parody (YouTube.com/Khalid411). One day Ali and I were driving to the east and he saw a sand dune and decided to take some shots with our video camera. Later on he put it together and ended it with ‘The Khalid Khalifa Show,’ coming soon.
“I appreciate his effort for doing that because he thought that would inspire me to go ahead and make a show. He even filmed an MTV cribs parody of my house, but I was such a procrastinator and didn’t finish it. I guess I just need a good kick to just get on with it and other projects,” he says.
Messages through jokes
Asked if his shows have a message or are just meant to make people laugh, Khalifa says: “Yes, there usually is some form of message mixed randomly with funny things. I have a joke about a hypothetical situation where if I had to call an ambulance or the fire department and describe where my house was, it would be very tricky and maybe not accurate.
“As you know, we don’t have an accurate address system here in Saudi Arabia, so an ambulance or the fire truck would have a better chance to get to my house if I ordered a pizza from their area and have them follow the pizza delivery car to my house.”
Khalifa describes his short-lived period on stage as the transition of comedy sitcoms. He also admits that opportunities are better outside the Kingdom. He recently performed in Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain.
Born in Woodland, California, Khalifa has lived in the US and Saudi Arabia.
He went to the US to study business administration/marketing then acquired an accounting degree from Saudi Arabia. Currently, Khalifa is pursuing personal property investment in the UK alongside living his passion for stand-up comedy.
“Both are pretty easy, great money, and I have spare time, so I have decided to get back into the world of ‘corporate slavery’ because weirdly enough I miss it. But I’d like to find anything related to social media,” he says.
Bringing back English
With his upcoming show, Khalifa wants to bring back local English comedy to the Kingdom, different from the generic trend most are following. “People want to know and see more about KSA and they’ll want to see and hear things in English. That’s where I want to come in. One thing that surprised me is that there is a huge audience that watches the local Saudi Channel 2 from outside the Kingdom than those in it, which inspires and motivates me.”
He remembers his friend Imran Al-Aradi, a comedian from Bahrain, as saying: “If we can laugh together, we can do anything together.” Khalifa says he wants people to know that.
He also says he loves sharing experiences: “If you see me, please come and say hi. I am always up for meeting new people, especially those who are serious about stand-up comedy in English.”