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Steve Kandel Gets Candid

Ahead of his gig at The Tap this May 30th, we talk political incorrectness, hilarious hecklers and the business of comedy with the stand-up star.

Big, boisterous, and bouncing from segue to sassy satire, Saif Abu Kandil, otherwise known as Steve Kandel, takes little to no prisoners with his stand-up routine. Having started out in comedy in 2002, while living in the UK, he then brought English stand-up to Egypt for the first time, before joining the Al Hezb El Comedy crew, making the rounds and churning out the funnies all over the country. Now venturing into a solo career, Kandel has pissed off Israelis in Scotland, nuns at Christmas and Germans in Alexandria. Before he performs at The Tap's comedy night on Saturday 30th May, we try to piss him off a bit...

Tell us a joke.....

A rabbi, a priest, and a sheikh walk into a bar, bartender says. "Oi! No religious material allowed." - Courtesy of growing up in London, not one of mine!

What's more annoying, when people ask you to tell a joke or when people call you Seif instead of Saif? 
 
Good question. I'm usually eccentric and always practising my voices and my bad Arabic grammar so with the odd requests for jokes I reply with the jokes we hear every day... I save my real gags for the stage. As for spelling my name wrong, I grew up in London so I got used to people having trouble with my name.
What are your other biggest pet peeves in life?

Taxi drivers who try to rip me off because of my Arabic fusion of accents; they always think I'm a rich Gulfie. People who smoke while I eat, and narrow minded people.

How did you get into the comedy circuit?

That's actually a funny story; back in 2002 I went to a comedy night at a bar in Wimbledon in London. A comedian on stage was picking on me and I was every comedian's worst nightmare: a funny heckler. The more he picked on me, the more the audience laughed at my answers. I tried going up on stage after the intermission. 12 minutes of ramblings and rantings and impressions later, the compere (host for a comedy night) praised my effort to the audience as "a young Eddie Izzard!" The following week I did a tight five minute set and the epic journey began. I did do the first English comedy night in Egypt at a club in Agami back in 2004, and years later am still doing what I love.

 

 

Performing at Cinzano in Agami, 2004

Where do you get your sense of humour from?

I grew up in London for 30 years so I am very lucky to have had a fine blend of both American and European humour be it TV shows, comedians, movies, or even literature. Usually these days it's every day life and looking at history where I see things I guess others don't see or to some extent other comedians might see.  Sometimes discussing a gag with friends or a comedy song can be broken down. I have been known to rewrite a set up to seven times because often something doesn't sit right. My influences would have to be Robin Williams, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Louis CK, and of course Eddie Murphy.

If you woke up and one of your arms was another version of yourself, what would you do first?

What a bizarre question... oddly enough I would have a jamming session, one of us on the ukulele and the other on an acoustic... I assume you meant after going to the loo, having a cup of tea, maybe hit the beach... (one of the perks of living in Agami, every day can be a beach of a day).

What do the themes of your stand-up sets usually revolve around?

My material has many levels. I do voices but not every person that some may or may not know. I usually like telling true stories about my life around the themes we all think of but never want to address... if I improvise, then that's a whole new level which happens at the best moments. But usually I am blessed where I can be telling a joke and then have a new thought on developing the joke in a new direction.

Is there any topic for you which is completely off limits in your comedy?

I wish I could say no... but growing up in a society like London I learned I might do jokes that outside the Middle East might be construed as "blasphemous"; however I try to avoid politics and religion. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I offend... For me I always pray for open minded people who as long as they can laugh they should be able to have an open mind. I avoid offending people in general, sometimes, people have no sense of humour... what can you do?

What's your full-time job? Is there anything funny about it?

Life... naaaah kidding! Comedy is my full time job... I was a teacher for five years in Cairo but quit in my sixth year to look after my father. While looking after him I was part of Al Hezb El Comedy as the Managing Director. Sadly, my father passed away around this time last year, and in honour of his memory - as he believed in me - I decided to focus on my stand up and at the start of this year, I left Al Hezb El Comedy to focus on my solo career. What's funny is now I am solo, being based in Agami, I am doing all kinds of new tasks, writing a lot more, and have started some projects that I am very excited about, as well as really living life.

Would you rather have legs as long as your fingers, or fingers as long as your legs?

What have you been smoking? Can I have some?! I want have a skeleton of adamantium, retractable claws from adamantium, healing powers, and live in Wayne Manor... Yes I combined Marvel and DC... like an Elseworlds Graphic Novel....

How do you deal with hecklers?

Double tap to the back of their head in a dark alley seven days later... Nah, kidding, depends on the heckle. Some heckles help, very few hinder... unless I had no sleep the night before a show... For example last summer when I was at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, I made an off the cuff remark on stage about a couple leaving the audience as "being Israeli." Someone was offended, I hear "F*** off!" and saw this gorgeous brunette stand up and leave, which threw me off my game for a second. If you want to see how I saved face, watch this video... 

What's the last thing you saw on the street which made you completely crack up?

I got used to Egypt and all the #strangeshityouseeinegypt therefore it is the things I see between my friends and I that crack me up way more... it's one of those you "had to be there moments" but geeks and IT folks will see the hilarity of this... So we're trying to format a hard drive from Mac to PC, and my friend could not find Disk Utility because he was spelling it Disc (DJs only think musically). Then again, what makes me laugh is very different to what I say that makes audiences laugh... My good friends always know what to say to make me laugh.

You're performing at The Tap on the 30th... who would you like to tap?

In celebrity land, Salma Hayek... in the real world I can't say... you know how girls are here in Egypt with public information...

As7ab wala business?

I haven't seen the film but my friends are my chosen family. But never mix family and business, hence why I never let my mom see my shows... she wouldn't approve of my shows however she does support my career in comedy. My mother and certain friends have taken on the role of wartime consigliere during the last few years... because business is war... 

Find out more about The Tap here.

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