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The first female comic in Saudi

Stand-up comedy is a serious business for the first female comic in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi women generic
Saudi women face a variety of restrictions

Zubeida Malik talks to "Noufie" who cannot perform under her real name because of the dangers to her and her family.

When 25-year-old Noufie performed her first gig as Saudi Arabia's first female stand-up comedian last weekend, she was more nervous at her lack of prepared material than any risks she faced.

"It was a bit nerve-wracking because I came on stage with not so much material prepared - it was just the first thing that popped in my head," she told me.

"It was also an amazing experience because I got people laughing and clapping at my jokes and I was like 'wow I'm pretty good at this.'

"Later on it became something natural."

I have not met Noufie, I wish I had. We have only talked on the phone but you can tell she is one of life's natural comics.

No role model

With no comic role model she was encouraged by her natural wit. "I'm always a funny person among my family. I'm the life of the party basically - I thought I'm a funny person, let me expand this."

I'm also a risk taker. I would love to get in trouble for something I believe in.
Noufie

She is young, feisty and in a society where there are a variety of restrictions on women she is incredibly brave to be out there performing as a comedian.

Noufie says she wishes that she could perform under her real name, but in the current climate in Saudi Arabia that would make things very difficult for her family.

"I'm not protecting my name, I'm protecting a family name.

She added: "I'm also a risk taker. I would love to get in trouble for something I believe in.

"I hope one day they will understand in Saudi Arabia, this is not wrong, this is not against the religion or anything. I am just there to make people laugh, what am I doing wrong?"

She said her father was very supportive and her mother has come round after initial fears for the family reputation.

Secret gigs

Her first performance was in front of a mixed audience of expats and Saudis but was invitation only.

Comedy nights have been a gradual and recent development - originally comedians from Britain came to perform to private audiences.

In November 2008, the organisers advertised on Facebook for open mike spots at one of the shows, and now there are 12 Saudi comedians who share the stage with comedians from abroad every two months.

They perform in English.

The audiences tend to be 18 to 30-year-old men and women. They are educated, well travelled Saudis who are more exposed to technology and global influences.

One organiser said there is a ''thirst for entertainment'' in Saudi Arabia.

Comedy scene

They can get comedies from the West on Satellite. But there is a sitcom on Saudi TV which is hugely popular, called Tash Matash, which fans say holds a mirror up to society.

Organisers say the aim is to eventually create comedy clubs to enable them to perform more regularly.

Meanwhile Noufie nurtures one cherished ambition: "Hopefully I can tell my name to the public, it's not nice living a double life.

"I would love to come out with my real name - much as I love the name Noufie, my own name is better."




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