Issue No.
179, March 2013 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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Usama Masri

The common presumption about the Palestinian people is that they resent humour and parody, even though many ironic and sarcastic writers, like for example Emile Habibi, have gained international reputation and recognition.

In this autobiographical article, I will talk about the circumstances and contexts that have shaped my career as a comic playwright, TV and stage actor, and author of jokes and anecdotes. Even though my experience with comedy is restricted to within the 1948 borders of historical Palestine, I have acquired a rich knowledge of the various types of comedy around the world.

I was born and brought up in the Old City of Acre on the Mediterranean. Acre is like Egypt, not just in terms of poverty, but also in terms of sense of humour, for which the Egyptian people are renowned. Unfortunately, however, nothing has been written about this important aspect and I myself have learned about jokes and anecdotes from my parents. In my post-adolescent stage, thirty-five years ago, I started to regard myself as a comedian because I was the first to write and tell jokes and anecdotes. But I never thought that one day I would be a professional comedian despite my experience with humour at the age of twenty.

At that time, I established the first pantomime group within the 1948 borders called Fatafeat il-Sukkar (Sugar Crumbs). Later, the group staged comic scenes only, and today my brother Maysara Masri manages it. Thirty years ago, I also began working for the press since I am also a caricaturist. As such, I was taught by well-known authors like Emile Habibi, Salman Natour, Dr. Edward Elias, Salman Jubran, Ali Ashour, Saliba Khamis, and others. All these authors wrote sarcastic literature and used it in their daily discourse. Their influence on me can be seen in my talent as a sarcastic literary writer, playwright, and songwriter.

In 1992, I established the first professional comedy group inside the Green Line with my colleagues Milad Matar and Said Salameh. We named the group Comedy for Free, and we produced several plays, which were also transmitted live on TV.

During the same period, I co-founded a sarcastic paper called Al-Mihmaz (The Spur), which was an annex of Al-Itihad daily and edited by the satirical writer Salman Natour. The paper introduced readers to Arab and international satire. I contributed to the paper and acted as its assistant editor.

The amount of comedy in my life has helped me become one of the comic symbols of Palestine, especially after my brother Maysara Masri finished his studies in performing arts and together we became comedic actors. Even large companies in the country, such as Toto, cell phone companies, foods and drinks companies, and the post office, hired us to promote their products. We have achieved great success and are still working toward new success stories.

Usama Masri: writer, playwright, and journalist
Usama Masri was born on 22 October 1959 and is currently living in Haifa. He studied at the Terra Sancta School in Acre and attended several drama courses around the country and a screenplay-writing course in Cairo. He worked as a caricaturist for Al-Itihad daily in Haifa in 1983 and, at the same time, wrote for Al-Mihmaz newspaper. He founded and acted in the Fatafeat il-Sukkar Group in 1979. He also started the Masrahid Festival, which features one-actor plays. It was performed in Arabic for the first time in 1992 in Acre and from 2005 to 2010 Masri was the technical director of the festival.

In addition, Masri wrote, translated, and prepared for the stage several plays, including Lazy Boy in 1988 which was produced by Al-Karma Theatre; Gogol’s The Coat, which was staged by Al-Ghirbal Theatre in 1992; and The Electric Post in the same year with Antoine Shalhat. Produced by Al-Baydat Theatre, The Electric Post was staged at the Montreal Theatre Festival in Spain and at the Carthage Festival in Tunisia. Moreover, inspired by Tawfiq Zayyad’s poem “Sarhan and the Pipe,” Masri wrote a short play with the same title, which won the second place in Masrahid Festival in 1995. He also wrote and translated into Arabic Cleopatra in 1996; Dibbo and Naoji, which he produced in Acre in 1999; Dancing with My Father, which was produced by Al-Midan Theatre in 2001; The Shy Vendor for children in 2002, which was adapted from a story by Dr. Ahmed Wahbi; Three at Night in 2003; Dance of the Pen, produced by the Regional Kibbutz Dance Theatre in 2003; Commodities in 2004; The Prince Who Laughed in 2004; Katy and I; and Fulla and Falful in 2005.

 Masri also acted on TV. He presented different TV programmes for children and young people including Friday Walk and In Plain Words. In addition, Masri acted in various TV series such as Amal and Kamal, Viper, and Bringi Family. The plays Masri acted in include Wild Cat, Let’s Become Friends, Don Quixote, and others.

In 2003, Masri established the first Arab Al-Hikma Theatre for the mentally challenged and wrote and produced the first play for it titled The Prince Who Laughed.

In 2011 he was honoured at the International Pantomime Theatre Festival held in Shefaram, and in January 2004 he founded the Palestinian News Agency for Arts and Culture, which he named Tafanin.

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