After ten years of absence, the popular comedian and activist Mohamed Sobhy has made a stronger than ever return to the entertainment scene through his new talk show Mafish Moshkela Khales (No Problem at All), now airing on CBC. The show sheds light on society’s problems in an interactive comic manner, which Sobhy has always been famous for. eniGma’s Yosra Shohayeb got the chance to sit with the popular comedian to learn more about his new show, the reason behind this comeback, and his future plans.
must start by admitting that ever since I was a little girl living in the US, I always searched for anything that reminded me of Egypt, whether songs, movies, books, or even a passerby who spoke Arabic. There was one Egyptian TV series full of laughter that brought our family together in the US and reminded us of the good times back home. That TV series was the one and only, Yawmyat Wanees (Days of Wanees), starring Mohamed Sobhy.
So you can imagine what it felt like when I was informed that I was going to interview Mohamed Sobhy this month. I was psyched at the idea and couldn’t calm myself down as I thought that I was going to meet the legend, Mohamed Sobhy, aka Wanees! He had been making me laugh ever since forever, all the while teaching me about family love and discipline. But that’s not all. There’s a very serious side to Sobhy. He is imbued with idealism, strong empathy for the poor, and an immense love for his country. In his profession, he is known to have taught many stars the foundation of acting, and has introduced a number of talented actors to the stage.
At the appointed time for our interview, we headed to Sherif Arafa’s theatre, where Sobhy presents his current talk show, Mafish Moshkela Khales. “Please, wait here. He’ll be with you in a few minutes,” a messenger informed us. This gave me a few moments to get a hold of the million thoughts rambling inside my mind and to try to calm my nerves. But barely three minutes had passed before we were led to Sobhy’s theatre. Finally, the moment had come and I was face-to-face with Sobhy. As he had always done in the past, without saying a word, he had elicited a huge smile on my face. He wore an orange sweater, dark green pants, and brown shoes, and had his glasses on. He looked just like I remembered him, just a little bit older. He was as simple and humble as I expected, politely asking us to have a seat and watch the rehearsal of his show, and telling us sweetly that he would be with us as soon as he was done.
We watched the rehearsal in fascination, observing his every move and every word. We quickly noticed how he was involved in everything happening on the stage. All at the same time, he directs the show, teaches his co-stars every move and every word, directs the cameraman, fixes the sound and lighting, and he amends the script as he goes along. I had read earlier that Sobhy was a dictator on stage, and now I got to see that first hand. However, it’s obvious Sobhy is the kind of dictator you’d like to work with. He is really more of a leader than a tyrant. Everyone feels that they all are working for the same goal and they trust Sobhy to convey their message in the best and most suitable way.
Twenty six-year-old Reem Ahmed, who first acted with Sobhy when she was three years-old, told me, “He teaches everyone everything he knows…. about theatre, about life in general, about discipline and respect.” She started with Sobhy in Yawmyat Wanees as his youngest daughter Hoda, and he’s had a huge influence on her ever since. Reem explained, “Mohamed Sobhy is my godfather. There are no words that can describe our relationship. Sobhy helped raise me as a child. He taught me everything. He taught me how to stand in front of a camera and on stage. He taught me about life, how to respect myself, and how to innovate in my work.”
Reem was thrilled when she knew she was going to stand in front of Sobhy once again on stage through Mafish Moshkela Khales, “I really missed being with him on stage, and I was so happy when he told me, ‘I discovered Reem the kid before. Now, I want to discover Reem the adult,’” she explains excitedly.
Reem isn’t the only one that Sobhy taught life lessons to. Sobhy
enlightened millions of Egyptian homes about society’s social conflicts in the hope of creating change in his beloved country. How did Sobhy do it? Through what he does best; acting. In 1968, Sobhy began his acting career with small roles in several plays with famous actors like Fouad El Mohandes, Abdel Moneim Madbouly, Mahmoud El Meligy, and many others who all had a huge influence on him. In 1980, Sobhy paired up with his longtime friend, Egyptian writer and director Lenin El Ramly, and started ‘Studio 80’. Sobhy and Ramly produced some of the best plays in the history of the Egyptian stage, including El Joker (The Joker), El Hamagy (The Barbarian), Takhareef (Mythologies), Enta Hor (You are Free), and El Baghbaghan (The Parrott), each of which addressed a social issue in Egyptian society.
Sobhy also promoted social change not only through his plays, but also through appearing in talk shows, and most importantly through a number of TV series. His comedy TV series with the most impact was Yawmyat Wanees. It enjoyed a high viewership both locally and internationally. The series, which started in 1994 and continued for six years, is about a man (Wanees) who wants to bring up well-rounded children, but discovers that it is the society itself that needs upbringing. The series discusses different societal and parental issues in a light and funny manner. Another famous TV series that received much acclaim was his 2002 series Fares Bela Gawad (A Night wihout a Horse), which discusses the Arab-Israeli conflict in a comic way. In this series Sobhy really outdid himself by playing more than seven different characters in one series.
And now Sobhy is returning to the limelight after ten years to discuss social issues like education, technology, consumption, parenting, rumors, etc. The confusing part is that he is not doing that through acting but through a talk show, which is something he always refused to do before. So why now, I asked? “I thought my mission is to look at what we need to fix together, to see our flaws and highlight them, to question ourselves, and come up with logical solutions,” Sobhy answered.
In his first episode of Mafish Moshkela Khales, Sobhy explained that for the past seven years many had offered him to start a talk show, but he had never been receptive to the idea. “I felt that now is the perfect time to start a talk show. Maybe because a lot of things have been going on in our society lately, about which I feel have something useful to say. Something that cannot be said in either a play or a TV series. Maybe it’s because art and media complete each other in terms of content and industry. Or maybe because of the numerous changes currently taking place, the media is faster and more prevalent. Maybe because all of us need to understand one another more, to learn together, not in the form of teachers and students, nor experts and citizens, nor philosophers and youth… I am determined to say only what I believe in,” Sobhy says with emphasis. “We have a lot of problems that we must address and for sure our voice will make a difference.”
And indeed his show did receive tremendous positive feedback, and despite its short period, it is already starting to impact people and make a difference. “The show has rapidly become very popular, and this proves that many Egyptians are actually good people, they see the flaws, and long for solutions to our problems as well,” Sobhy said. Sobhy recalled that a fan of the show living in Sweden called him up one day commenting on one of the show’s episodes that discussed parental issues. The viewer told him that the show opened her eyes to the issue of family bonds, and that she couldn’t believe that she hadn’t thought about the importance of calling her mother.
When one person in the audience commented to Sobhy that his motivation for doing the show was probably the money, Sobhy replied sarcastically, “CBC channel doesn’t pay as much as you think. They strongly believe in volunteer work.”
In the meantime, Sobhy is also working on three plays, which will be opening very soon. These plays will usher the return of the Mohamed Sobhy theatre. The three plays, Negoum fi Ezz El Dohr (Stars in the Middle of Noon), Ghazal El Banat (Flirting with Girls), and Khebetna (Our Disappointment), also discuss social issues that Sobhy wishes to shed light on. Khebetna (Our Disappointment) was actually written before the revolution, back in 2007; however, it was amended a bit after the revolution and is supposed to open in the beginning of 2016.