Comedian Al-Adhru’i: Prison is gloomy [Archives:2006/962/Culture]

July 10 2006

Saddam Al-Ashmouri
Popular comedian Mohammed Nasser Al-Adhru'i has gained popularity particularly in the city of Sana'a for his politically-charged comic sketches and parodies. He performs at private parties and produces his works on cassettes as well.

Last month, he was abducted by security. He was arrested for a couple of days and then released. The Yemen Times visited him at his home to discuss several things related to his career and recent arrest.

Q: When did you start your career as a comedian? When did you discover your talent?

A: I considered myself an artist since I was born. I may claim that I was a born comedian. However, I started performing in 1992.

Q: Which comedians influenced you both in Yemen and in the Arab World?

A: I have not been influenced by national comedians. However, I am particularly struck by the performance of popular Syrian comedian Duraid Laham (publicly known as Ghauwar Al-Tooshah).

Q: What difficulties do you usually encounter?

A: The major problem was a domestic one as my family objected to my job as a comedian. They, however, succumbed to reality eventually. Another main problem is that of the Ministry of Culture in terms of licenses. If we have adequate support, we will outperform ourselves and establish an interesting comedy theater.

Q: Some accuse you of being politically driven as you are a member of the Islah (an Islamic opposition party) and that you exploit art for political purposes. How do you react?

A: I was accused of graver offences! Yet, I would like to tell you that everybody is free to affiliate with any party they like. Nevertheless, you should not necessarily have be a member of any party either. I may be a member of the Socialist Party intellectually. It must not be a reason for apprehension and intimidation. A citizen should have the choice to affiliate with any political party, whether Islah, Socialist, etc. It is no business of anybody but me. What matters is what I say: do I say something that benefits Islah or the whole people? This is the most important point. Such charges against me are nothing but forms of dictatorship. We are supposed to have democracy, plurality and freedom. The whole Yemeni people used to be one party and there wasn't anything like partisanship. The President himself proposed the idea of being parties and then everybody became a member of one party or the other. This is right but democracy and freedom are inextricably linked. If I am a member of Islah, what does this mean? Does this imply that I am non-Yemeni or non-Muslim?

Q: Why have you limited yourself to cassette production and party appearances? Why don't you participate in a TV production?

A: We cannot get what we want. Imagine that when I want to produce a cassette, it has to undergo a tedious procedure and sustain corrections and the scissors of the censor. It is yet more difficult to have TV productions and even if I become a TV actor, I have to be dictated and instructed. I will not have liberty to express myself freely. They will not approve of my ideas. This is the problem.

Some of my fellow comedians previously proposed certain ideas of theirs to the TV people but they were plagiarized. Then part of the problem is plagiarism. We may develop our own scenarios but they might get stolen.

Q: Who sponsors you?

A: I am self-sufficient. I make use of the money I make at parties and weddings. Nobody ever sponsored me. Official authorities are supposed to sponsor and support the artistic staff regardless of their political affiliation. The point is that such staff should serve the country. It is not important that they be members of the ruling party. The country is for all.

Thus the politically-biased actions may make us dislike the ruling party. One has the right to be a member of the ruling party but this must not be an obligation. Even if you were satisfied with the performance of the ruling party, you may end up hating it because of such prejudice.

Q: It is said that you charge high fees for your participation in parties especially university graduation ceremonies. How do you react?

A: On the contrary. I especially consider the status of university students. The maximum amount is thirty thousand riyals per party. Now, if a group contains, say, fifty persons, then they will pay about five hundred riyals each. It is usually less as groups usually contain a hundred students.

Q: Certain commentators say that your recent works are full of old jokes and that you reintroduce the same cliches. How do you react?

A: This is not true. Such claims are usually rumored by failed competitors.

Q: Another claim against you is that you plagiarize melodies and use them in the songs you perform in the context of your role-play. What do you say?

A: This is a mere claim. I usually perform at parties and parody or imitate certain famous songs using the original melodies. We don't mean to sell them but some people record them secretly and sell them while they are not our intellectual property. I warn people against that.

Q: What kind of relation is there between you and popular Yemeni comedian Fahd Al-Qarni?

A: It is competitive in terms of certain professional aspects. We have not been involved in one work. Each one of us has his own realm of activity but our objectives are perhaps the same.

Q: We heard a couple of weeks ago that you were abducted and put into prison. How and why?

A: The account of the incident is as follows: I was intercepted by a carload of plain-clothed armed men on my way back to my home from a party. The electricity was off at that time. They intimidated me with weapons. If I had a heart problem, I could have died out of fear. I thought that they were a gang and I might have fought back had I got access to a gun. However, it turned out that they were security personnel.

They took me to the political security bureau and searched me and I was blindfolded and led me into a prison cell.

I had no idea why they did this. They told me it was because I imitated the voice of the President. People know that I don't mimic the voices of individuals.

Q: How did you find the prison and how long did you stay incarcerated?

A: Prison is gloomy. However, the prison was clean and I was detained for three days. It was a good chance for me to rest as I had been working continually at parties. God sent those good people to snatch me out of my tiresome job.

The investigation was normal but they blindfolded and chained me up, may be in order to not be distracted by anything else and to recollect things properly.

My advice for those who have a premonition that they may be arrested by the security is to replace their expensive mobile, if they have one, with a cheap one!

Q: Will your arrest change or in anyway affect the course of your profession?

A: Not for the worse. It has of course given me an impetus to go on and continue doing what I did although I feel that I am being watched and my telephones wiretapped. I feel also a little bit of fear since I was arrested because you cannot tell who is who when plain-clothed armed men overpower you with their guns. You cannot tell their identity at that moment.

Q: Do you have a last comment?

A: I do thank everyone who showed solidarity with me: my audience, the public, political parties and press. They wrote about my ordeal a lot and stood by me steadfastly.

Through your paper, I convey this message to the citizens: You have the choice to peacefully change the situation at the upcoming elections.

Short profile:

Mohammed Nasser Mothanna Al-Adhru'i is a teacher by trade. He is from 'Ans district, Dhamar province, 100 kms to the south of Sana'a, and is currently residing in Sana'a. He is married with three children: two sons and a daughter. He is acting now as a director of Al-Hadeel Artistic Band. He has produced several cassettes including “I am Free