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Omar Hamdi: Part-Egyptian, part-Welsh, all comedian Open in fullscreen

Yousif Nur

Omar Hamdi: Part-Egyptian, part-Welsh, all comedian

Cardiff native Omar Hamdi tells jokes for a living as a stand up comedian

Date of publication: 22 December, 2016

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Blog: A mainstay at the annual Edinburgh Festival, The New Arab meets Welsh-Egyptian stand-up comedian Omar Hamdi.
Omar Hamdi doesn't exactly fit the role of what's expected of him as a first generation Welsh-Egyptian lad. 

For a start, the Cardiff-native tells jokes for a living as a stand-up comedian rather than his parents' preference of becoming a doctor or a lawyer.

If that wasn't unusual enough, he's also a BBC One Wales presenter on the show X-Ray, a consumer complaints programme on how businesses scam the public.

He's the son of parents who are both engineers from Alexandria University. Omar describes them as the Egyptian Big Bang Theory, with "my mum being really glam and my dad being super-geeky and academic". 

The 26-year-old Welshman, however, decided to pursue a career in comedy as it became clear he had a knack of making people laugh.

Fast-forward some years, Omar is now a mainstay at the annual Edinburgh Festival, appearing on TV and performing headline sets at the intimate Elgar Rooms at the Royal Albert Hall.

Having graduated from Leeds University having studied Cognitive Science, he still uses his degree in analysing his own behavioural patterns as he talks about his early shows.

"I used to perform three or four stand-up gigs per night when I first started out, but now I only perform one because - subconsciously or consciously - you're going to be saving something up," Omar tells The New Arab.

"My early years were a very good apprenticeship. Comedy is not an easy job and it's not as magical or shamanic as some people think it is."

Comedy is not an easy job and it’s not as magical or shamanic as some people think it is

Omar says he misses the days of performing open-mic nights. "You get the full spectrum of society in one place performing five minutes of jokes," he reveals. "It's almost like the Star Wars canteen."

In terms of his own stand up material, his style is off-the-cuff and impromptu, heavily reliant on audience participation and energy. Think of the free-form persona of Robin Williams and the energetic nature of Lee Evans.

Omar is an unsettled guy; his normal speaking voice is just as loud and fast as his onstage voice. He attributes this to being "very restless with life". His way of dealing with that is to "just give it everything I've got".

Hamdi isn't one to shy away from controversial subjects either. One of his running gags talks of how "Brexit finally made westerners understand the Sunni and Shia split within the Middle East." On one hand it's pretty humorous, but on the other, it has a dark, hidden truth.

Hamdi isn't one to shy away from controversial subjects either. One of his running gags talks of how Brexit finally made westerners understand the Sunni and Shia split within the Middle East

He also insists that one of his biggest obstacles are the critics who want to put him in a box of being a token person of colour in the stand up circuit:

"When a lot of people in the industry see someone from a certain background talking about particular subjects, they feel it’s not original because they've heard it before.” Omar says.

"It's the same way as when they see lower-middle class guys talk about different wines and how much they drank the previous night. If they can't relate to it, then it comes across as completely unoriginal."

Rather than slating them, he sees the Middle Eastern mindset as being a "development world" school of thought as "people in that part of the world need - in terms of hierarchy of human needs - doctors, lawyers and engineers rather than theatre critics, dancers or producers".

Even though Omar is a stand-up comedian by trade, he never watches stand-up live or on television, as he views it as an occupation, rather than something to take pleasure in. You're more likely to catch Hamdi reading a book, meeting a girl for coffee or going for a walk across London.

"I find it very strange that people pay to sit down in a dark room in a pub to watch a guy say some things, and in between people laugh," Hamdi admits.

"I just don't get it myself. I've never quite got over the absurdity of it."

Follow Yousif Nur on Twitter: @yousifnur

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