Everything You Need To Know About SNL Arabia

25/02/2016

After a certain satirical phenomenon went off the air in 2014 for "مايصحش كده"  reasons, the industry was a comedic wasteland that was left clambering to fill the gap in its wake, but to disappointingly underwhelming results. However, Arab nationals now have a reason to temporarily look up from their phone screens on Saturday nights, because OSN is now bringing us the Arabic version of the legendary and iconic Saturday Night Live.

SNL, which has been on air since 1975, has for decades been a cornerstone of American pop culture and the launching vessel of dozens of mega successful comedians, including the likes of Will Ferrell, Chris Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tina Fey.

The SNL Arabia Team

The team is nothing less than an army of creative and hardworking cast and crew, ranging from the established to the fresh-faced. We'll highlight just a few of the names on the project to give you a general idea of the immense talent put into the making of the show.

The SNL Arabia Team

  • Tarek El Ganainy (Producer)

With commercially- and critically-acclaimed hits such as  El Beyoot Asrar, El Sha2a, and El 3ahd under his studded producer belt, SNL appealed to El Ganainy not only for its legacy, but also for the adrenaline-pumping thrills he gets from undertaking risky projects.

"We love challenges, so if it's something anyone else can do, we're not going to do it," he told us.

However, despite undoubtedly adding their own Egyptian twist, El Ganainy & co. are staying true to the flagship, having done their thorough research and learning the know-how by attending the whole production process of their American counterpart at the original SNL's studios in New York City. 

The SNL Arabia Team 2

Photo via Shadi Alfons

  • Amr Salama (Director)

The show’s directing efforts are in the hands of none other than the screenwriter, auteur and all-round critics’ darling, Amr Salama. Known for heavier feats such as Asmaa and Zayy El Naharda, he has also played with lighter material such as Sone3 Fi Masr and the socially-biting Lamo’akhza.

"I thought it will enrich my experience as a director," Salama shared on what working on SNL is like. "But it did more than just that. It taught me what it's like to be an "Entertainer". Like Michael Jackson, he was not just a singer or a dancer, he was an entertainer. It's way more fulfilling to learn how to fully entertain an audience."

The SNL Arabia Team three

Photo via Amr Salama

  • Shadi Alfons & Khalid Mansour (Performers/Writers)

The AlBernameg alumni went on to enjoy success together in last Ramadan's El Tagroba El Khafeya, as well as on individual projects. The duo will lead the cast as sketch actors and Weekend Update pundits (think AlBernameg, but shorter) as well as their double duty as writers. But they're not overwhelmed about the live aspect, as "live sketches are very similar to what Khalid and I did on Albernameg," assures Alfons. Not to mention that being a cast member on SNL is a dream come true.

"It's something I've always wanted to do," says Alfons. "I've loved the show since I was young."

The SNL Arabia Team four

  • George Azmy (Head of Writers)

Azmy gained widespread popularity during the brief rise of stand-up on the heels of Axis of Evil, for his sharp observational comedy akin to a more sardonic Jerry Seinfeld. Azmy then pulled a David Copperfield and disappeared from the stage and went back to his main profession as artist and illustrator. The comeback of the reluctantly successful comedian is definitely something to look forward to -- we're waiting to see his analysis of the absurdity of Egyptian life and culture.

  • Sherif Naguib (Writer)

Sherif Naguib is a talented screenwriter who's been around the showbiz block, with an impressive resume that includes writing stints in super quotable hits such as La Taragou3 W La Esteslam. 

The SNL Arabia Team five

Photo via Amr Salama

  • Amr Sokkar, Ahmed Kamel & Ahmed Saad (Writers)

The Facebook wunderkinds have conquered social media and soared into the biz, with Sokkar and Kamel having already contributed to big projects such as the Samir Ghanem/Donia Samir Ghanem-fronted Lahfa. The trio will add a youthful -and probably very meme-able- factor to the SNL appeal.

selfie The SNL Arabia Team

Photo via Amr Sokkar

The Making Of SNL Arabia

The show is an all-round extravaganza of almost every type of entertainment. There are the live sketches, the headlining host, the pretaped digital shorts, the newscentric Weekend Update, and the musical performance. Perfecting the outcome of such an all-inclusive show is no easy feat, and it's labeled as "the hardest format for a program in at least the Middle East" by the ones laboring behind it. 

"It's like shooting a movie every week," says El Ganainy.

And much of the kudos is due to the magician, Ali Hossam, whose set designs and work ethic are nothing short of a work of art. "Every week I go on set I'm amazed! The details and effort put into them are meticulous," says Alfons.


the Making of SNL Arabia Team

Guest Hosts

One of the most exciting features of SNL is the guest star. Seeing an Oscar-winning thespian miles away from his comfort zone performing silly sketches, your favorite pop star delivering a stand-up monologue, or a blockbuster name that's usually found fighting aliens in a cape and cliches, spoofing politicians. It’s nothing short of a badge of honor to be asked to host the show, the stars are even sometimes remembered for their hit sketches more than some of their own work.

But one could question whether Arab stars would be willing to take the risk and welcome the idea of being vulnerably out of their element and in front of a live audience and millions of viewers.

"A lot of the potential hosts don't know about SNL, so they get worried,” says Alfons. “But after they get into the process and see the results, they love it.”

El Ganainy says that convincing the stars gets easier one episode after another. Their first live host was Donia Samir Ghanem, and Mona Zaki will be on this week.

"Live audience is borderline theater. Most of the guest stars haven't done theater before so it could be intimidating for them. However, some are already fans so they get excited to be part of it."

Amr Salama highlighted the difference between working with actors on film sets compared to them on the show: “When you do a film or a series, you get to work with the same actors or stars for the whole project. But in a project like that, you work on each episode with a new star, get to know him or her and know their personality and capabilities. It's like the longest casting experience,” he wrote on his page.

With a wide variety of hosts ranging from established comedians to mega-movie stars to politicians in the American SNL repertoire, and upcoming hosts including Dorra and Ruby on SNL Bel3araby, do they have a dream guest st--? “Bassem Youssef!” He’s ours too, Alfons. Amen to that.

SNL Arabia is on OSN every Saturday will air on CBC in April.

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