Modern technology and globalization have made the world a much smaller place and caused us to be more interconnected as people, yet cultural misconceptions persist. Through a celebration of culture and comedy, Just Like Us uproots the widely held misconception that Arabs have no sense of humor – when in fact they laugh, and are, just like us.
This documentary features Egyptian-American comedian Ahmed Ahmed, in his directorial debut, along with a host of critically acclaimed international stand-up comedians. Presented by Cross Cultural Entertainment and Cross Cultural Productions, Just Like Us exemplifies their goal of reintroducing socially relevant issues to the world in an effort to build cultural bridges in this age of greater tolerance, understanding and acceptance. The film documents four countries in the Middle East, showcasing the cultures of Dubai, Lebanon, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Egypt with sold out crowds totaling over 20,000 people.
Bijan Tehrani: What initially motivated you to make Just Like Us?
Ahmed Ahmed: Well there were a few things that actually motivated me, I was traveling in the Middle East for two years and I was doing comedy shows there. When I would come back to the US my friends would ask what I was doing in the Middle East and I would say that I was doing comedy show, then they would ask was I would doing comedy shows for the troops and I would respond no I was doing comedy for the Arabs In English, and they were surprised that the people there actually got the humor. I was anxious to break the stereotype that the Arabs don’t have a sense of humor and in fact they laugh just like us which is the name of the movie just Like Us. The other motivation was that in 2005 I did a comedy tour with Vince Vaughn called the wild west comedy tour and they filmed it and made a documentary, so I was able to kind of see the process of how that works from the inside out. So I adopted his procedure and applied it to our movie, so that was one of my other inspirations.
BT: How challenging was it to make Just Like US?, Especially when it came to the locations that you were shooting at?
AA: We had a couple of challenges in some of the countries where it was difficult to film mainly because they are Muslim countries and some people were hesitant to be on camera. Every time we went through any airport in the middle-east it was difficult because we had cameras and lights. We were also very understaffed and had a short time period to shoot this but we pulled it off and ended up at the Tribeca film festival.
BT: What were you expectations when you did your first comedy show in Middle East and what was the actual outcome?
AA: I didn’t really have any expectations in the beginning because we didn’t know how popular it would become. The first time I went I did a private show and the audience reacted well to it, the second time we went we did a public show and it sold it out in two days and the second show sold out it one day. When we toured the country we sold about 20,000 tickets, so now we see that the expectations are bigger because we know what people want and what we can give them.
BT: How did you control the filmmaking aspect of Just Like US as you were also performing most of the time?
AA: Well it wasn’t easy because I’m hosting these shows, but my main camera guy was amazing, I would tell him to get certain shots and he would get them. It was tough because some of the other cameramen were not as efficient so it was tough at times but nothing that we weren’t able to overcome.
BT: Was this your first experience as a filmmaker?
AA: Yes this was my first and hopefully my first of many. I think that the next step for me is to go into another project, I will continue to have my hand in the other arts, I will continue to do stand up comedy, but I think that directing might be my calling and its happening at a great time because I’m turning 40.
BT: How audiences have reacted to the film?
AA: Well we have only had test screenings two in New York and two in LA and the y went over really well. People responded well to the film, they laughed they cried. I think that it tested about 80% so we’ll see how it does at Tribeca. Hopefully the stars will align and people will get it.
BT: You had comedians with you that were not from the Middle East, how were there experiences performing in that atmosphere.
AA: Every comedian that went over there did their show as if they were doing their show anywhere in the US. The audiences responded really well and the great thing is that these American comedians are now coming back to the US and saying “hey they laugh just like us over there” and this movie is proof of that.
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