Being a YouTube celebrity requires cutting edge creativity, cunning new media awareness, or utter obliviousity – I like to think of myself as a paragon of all of these.
My name is Hisham Fageeh, and I am the owner of the hit Saudi YouTube comedy channel HishamComedy. The channel is just shy of 3 million views in its 11th week.The channel is distinguished by its stylistic approach to (Saudi) humor, which is a satire faux-vlog of a disenfranchised Saudi guy living in the United States. He uses outdated Hijazi, specifically Makkawi, idiomatic expressions to articulate his disillusioned, cynical view of the American experience.
It started as an inside joke between me and my little sister, Hannah. We always tried to make each other laugh while imitating the nuanced dialects of both familial backgrounds – which neither of us fully-adapted, thankfully.
Our maternal side is [proudly (self-identified as)] “White Trash” American, from the parks and projects of outer Baltimore, Maryland. And our paternal side hails from the undulating hills of the Sulaimaniyah district of Makkah, Saudi Arabia.
But this specific story starts and ends with the Makkawi side. Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, we spent all family occasions exposed to the Makkawi culture which we loved. The innate story-telling abilities of each family member to recount their hyperbolic dramatizations of an incident or a journey are revisited in my character’s lifestyle.
I would call Hannah at the end of a long day and try to make her laugh. This particular night was an all-nighter spent at Butler library. It was too early to call and chat it up with her, so I resorted to Facebook to leave her a video message.
After three failed attempts there (bad internet connection +/- destiny), I resorted to YouTube. I had created my own YouTube channel a few months prior to, in order to document and market my (English-language) stand-up comedy career.
The first scenario for the character, who we will call Hisham2, took place the night before Thanksgiving. He rambled on and on about nothing and then addressed his excitement about Thanksgiving foods. The “game” of this video was to present this archetypical Saudi character that awkwardly embraced American culture.
I liked the video, the idea, the new medium to play with an old tradition, so I made another video. The second video was about Hisham2 involved in a chaotic Black Friday shopping incident, in pursuit of a cheap waffle iron.
The next episode got some recognition, most likely due to its provocative Arabic title: “A Saudi Defends His Honor”. Hisham2 is allegedly being (seduced and) invited by an American girl to come over to her place. He refuses her offer, whereupon she makes the mistake of insulting Saudi women.
The entire conception happened accidentally-organically. The Arabic titles of the videos were done in order to differentiate English from non-English performances for potential stand-up bookers or agents. I approached the titling in a normative fashion, where it would look like Hisham2 named the video himself.
It turns out there are a bunch of Saudis sitting on YouTube looking up the word “Saudi,” in this instance they acted as guardian angels for my “career”.
I never broke character in any of these videos, so people began to think the character was real, and that the videos were leaked unknowingly. All types of different theories developed. For a good reference on the nature of these theories, read: The Theory of Saudi Conspiracy Theory Theories, by Bernard Lewis.
I recorded my 5th video the night I arrived in Saudi Arabia, and this is the video that ended up going viral. I went to bed and woke up to around 150 thousand views. Many of my family members in Saudi Arabia saw me on YouTube before they saw me in person.
I’m about to record my 14th episode after finishing this post; which is a lot harder to write than I expected. Talking about yourself is hard, and it takes extreme humility – just remember that while reading this.
My name is Hisham Fageeh, and I am funny. I was the 9th most viewed comedian (on YouTube) in the month of January.
Come by and laugh, if you know Arabic. Come by even if you don’t.