In a dimly lit Damascus cafe, Sharief Homsi began comedy night with a quip about war-battered Syria’s modern-day Prince Charming: an eligible bachelor with attractive supplies of fuel and electricity.
“Marry me, I have a bright future: 100 liters of petrol, solar panels to generate electricity and three gas canisters,” Homsi said, performing a mock proposal that had the audience howling with laughter.
Every week, members of Syria’s first stand-up comedy troupe crack jokes about daily struggles such as power cuts and fuel shortages, lightening the mood for despondent Damascenes after 12 years of war.
The audience prefers “to laugh and forget the problems they cannot solve,” said Homsi, 31. “There is nothing else to do but laugh.”
He and a few of his friends founded “Styria” — a mash-up of Syria and hysteria — four months ago, and put out a call on social media for others to join.
The group has since swelled to 35 members and has become a success, regularly drawing crowds at the capital’s Deez cafe.
“The country’s situation is hysterical,” and “filled with problems and gloom,” Homsi said. “We must face it with hysterical laughter.”
The war in Syria, which broke out in 2011, has killed more than 500,000 people, displaced millions, and battered the country’s infrastructure and industry.
In government-held Damascus, religion and politics are off-limits for the comedians, deemed too risky to broach.
Before performances, they meet at a troupe member’s home to brainstorm and try out new lines.
“They told me to draw in the crowds with funny stories,” said one comedian during a rehearsal as the power dropped in and out. “I thought long and hard and found that the funniest thing in my life is ... my life.”
His colleagues encouraged him to talk about his love life.
“He now has so many exes, his life is an equation,” one quipped.
At the cafe, comedian Malke Mardinali, 28, said that the troupe’s inspiration came from “our daily lives, which are full of suffering.”
“In Europe, even under 3m of snow, the electricity still works,” he told the crowd.
“Here, when we hear Fairuz sing Winter Is Back the power cuts out automatically,” he said, drawing chuckles with the reference to a famous Lebanese tune.
Mary Obaid, 21 — the only woman in “Styria” — joked about Syria’s public transport, badly overcrowded as gas shortages push people to abandon their vehicles.
“Syrian buses can accommodate 24 million people,” she joked, referring to Syria’s pre-war population.
“In the end, without misery there is no comedy,” she told reporters.
Fellow comedian Amir Dayrawan, 32, said that doing stand-up helped him “face the fears locked inside.”
Depression set in after he lost his sister and nephew in the conflict, and worsened after a deadly earthquake struck Syria and Turkey on Feb. 6, killing thousands.
Joining “Styria” helped him shake off his despair and cope with his loss, he said, despite having to self-censor.
“We don’t mention politics, though we sometimes hint at sexual and religious issues, but within the red lines,” he said. “One day, I hope we can free ourselves intellectually and discuss any topics without fear.”
Vaccines that protect against severe illness, death and lingering long COVID-19 symptoms from a SARS-CoV-2 infection were linked to small increases in neurological, blood and heart-related conditions in the largest global vaccine safety study to date. The rare events — identified early in the pandemic — included a higher risk of heart-related inflammation from mRNA shots made by Pfizer Inc, BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc, and an increased risk of a type of blood clot in the brain after immunization with viral-vector vaccines such as the one developed by the University of Oxford and made by AstraZeneca PLC. The viral-vector jabs were
Women on Thursday officially joined a so-called “naked festival” at a shrine in central Japan for the first time in the event’s 1,250-year history, donning purple robes and chanting excitedly as they bore a large bamboo trunk as an offering. Seven groups of women took part in the ritual which is said to drive away evil spirits and where participants pray for happiness. Despite its name, those taking part are not naked. Many women wore “Happi Coats” (robes that reach to the hips) and shorts that are typically worn at Japanese festivals, although men just wore loincloths similar to those worn by
DECLINE: About 27 million Argentines are poor, of which 15 percent are mired in ‘destitution,’ meaning they cannot adequately cover their food needs, a study showed Poverty levels last month skyrocketed to 57.4 percent of Argentina’s population of 46 million, the highest rate in 20 years, a study by the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA) showed. The findings quickly unleashed accusations between Argentina’s former vice president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and the government of President Javier Milei, who came to power announcing a series of shock measures aimed at tackling the country’s severe crisis. About 27 million people in Argentina are poor and 15 percent of those are mired in “destitution,” meaning they cannot adequately cover their food needs, according to the study released over the weekend. The UCA’s
‘DRAGON SLAYERS’: The alleged members of a radical protest group were arrested after police accused them of planning a bomb attack during a Human Rights Day rally Fourteen people yesterday went on trial in Hong Kong for allegedly planning to carry out a bomb attack to murder police officers during pro-democracy protests in 2019, with prosecutors invoking the territory’s anti-terrorism act. The defendants, allegedly members of a radical protest group called “Dragon Slayers,” were arrested after police accused them of planning to carry out a bomb attack during a rally marking International Human Rights Day. Thousands of people have been rounded up and charged over their involvement in months of huge and at times violent protests that started in 2019 calling for greater autonomy from Beijing’s rule. Hong Kong