Binge Fringe Magazine

REVIEW: Laughable, Sezar Alkassab, Prague Fringe 2023 ★★★☆☆

The life of a child to immigrant parents is always a story worth hearing, coupled with self-deprecating humour and an entertainer that “looks like Aladdin and sounds like Shrek” and you’ll find it difficult to escape without a few laughs and some stirred emotions. Sezar Alkassab – of Iraq descent – delves into his heritage, growing up in a western world, dating and gender differences, resulting in the obvious, yet masked, yearning to close the gap. Alkassab’s conversational stand up Laughable has a little something for everyone. Alkassab has stated that self-deprecating humour is where he shines, however his connection and pure banter with the audience as well as his touch on some serious topics that we as a society need to consider – delivered through humour – was unmatched. There is a fine line between self deprecation and insecurity, and who are we if we cannot laugh at ourselves. There is so much goodness in this show, oozing in relatable ammo – with just a swelling of confidence, Laughable would land in every country, to every audience on any given day. 

Before appearing on stage, the crowd carried an energy that was infectious. Banter between audience members, contagious laughter filling the room, we were ready to laugh, really, we were ready to play. Alkassab immediately took advantage of this. Getting to know the audience members, working the crowd in a way that made him instantly likeable, gaining positive momentum of laugh after laugh. It was a strong start, we were ready to play and he scored goal after goal. Starting with the very real contrast of the positive direction our world is heading in the likes of body positivity, in comparison to the dark and accepted outlook Middle Eastern families exhibit. With the defensive and considerate “you are body shaming me” measured up to the direct, insensitive, no bullshit “your body is shaming our family” that most Middle Easterners are used to receiving while being fed plate after plate. Being from Middle Eastern descent myself and raised in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia – I cannot stress the truth of this enough. While I laughed and experienced a stirring of familiar emotions, the rest of the audience came through with belly laughs and subtle education to his upbringing laced with a slight cultural shock. Alkassab played this well, as he always seemed to do when he touched on topics that involved a community of people.

He brought in a segment about the difference between gendered friendship groups on a night out which deservedly had a depth of seriousness to it. Explaining how loving and complimentary women are when they see each other in comparison to men, who – at best – receive backhanded compliments such as “I have the confidence of a man that doesn’t realise what he looks like.” Alkassab delivered this with light hearted humour, yet I believe this is something to always be spoken about. He went around to some of the male audience members and proved that they were all familiar with the phrase “who’s your daddy” and extremely unfamiliar with the feeling of being called beautiful. This felt important, although the reaction was the laughter Alkassab had hoped for, I know that everyone walked away with a nagging question of why. Why do they not compliment the men in their lives? Why do most men have insecure relationships with nurturing kindness towards each other? And hopefully, a blatant reminder that men deserve it just as much as women. 

Overall, the show had a strong start, it lost me a little in the middle when the self-deprecating humour really tried to take over and felt as though it was being drilled and doubled down. It played with the line of insecurity, the material was there, but the delivery just needed to be a little stronger, a little more confident, a little less repeated and he would’ve been a killer from start to finish. Alkassab brought me right back in towards the end, talking about dating in his 30’s and what that’s like, always trying to be brief about his history, giving us examples of what it’s like being on a date with him, trying to avoid his long family history of how they ended up in Scotland. Then after some back and forth on his date he delved into the story – we were hooked. I was moved, I related, I felt compassion, I was interested, I was in.

“Did you want another drink? I’m still on the date by the way.” He interrupted the story, he had us all, we had all forgotten he was giving us examples of what happens on every date, rather than just moving us with the story of his past and upbringing – which is a difficult one, indeed. The whole audience broke out in laughter at the realisation of this. Finishing with a statement, well, a reminder, to be aware of the questions you keep pressing because the historical context may not be easy to tell or to hear and to never, ever, answer for those with a harsher history, it is their story to tell and only when and if they are ready.

Alkassab has such a way of bringing humour to topics that are crucial, if anything, the emphasis of determined self deprecation is almost bringing it down. It taints a show fuelled with potential. There is room for it, but he just needs to believe in that part of the show a little more, trust in his voice, deliver it confidently and the potential of this material would no longer be potential, and would just be everything it can be.

Recommended drink: Middle Easterners believe there are few things you can’t solve over tea or Arabic coffee, so grab yourself one of those, enjoy the show, and if some of the content is more eye opening than you expected – I welcome you to our world with a glass of Arak. 

Sarah Kher-Bek

Sarah is a lover of the arts from Australia, excited to experience all fringe has to offer and immerse herself in the culture of this unique expression voice, heart and character. She enjoys involving herself in every kind of performance, reserving a special place in her heart for spoken word, expression through movement, coming of age and all things gender and exploration.

Festivals: EdFringe (2022), Prague Fringe (2023), Melbourne Fringe (2023)
Pronouns: She/Her