Online Merrymakers - ENIGMA

Online Merrymakers One on One with Egypt's Top Digital Masterminds

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The increasing prevalence of social media in our lives has created a platform that wouldn’t have existed otherwise for up and coming entertainers to share their content with millions throughout the world. With that in mind, eniGma’s Mahmoud Al Badry and Laila Rostom spoke to five of the biggest digital entertainment acts in Egypt. Here are their stories:

Peace Cake:

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We’re a creative, video-production agency. We pave our way through using pop culture to create content that will equally benefit our clients and audience.
Kareem Gamroor

Pop culture could be best defined as the entirety of ideas, perspectives, inclinations, and images that are prevalent in any society. Here in the Middle East, however, the concept is very much an undefined phenomenon to most of the population. In other words, we’re all influenced by it to a certain extent, yet nonetheless, have by and large neglected to define it or understand what it could mean for business in the digital boom that we all live in. There are exceptions to every rule, though.

One such exception is Peace Cake, an online content-creating advertising agency that studies internet trends to come up with attention-grabbing products that will satisfy their clients as well as expand their rapidly growing audience base. Peace Cake is comprised of Marwan Imam, Rami Boraie, Kareem Gamroor, and Ahmed Safi, four friends who have combined their various skills to create a well-rounded, tech-savvy machine that is very much built in the now. The company views pop culture to be the way of the future since the internet nowadays is “both a medium and a platform”, as Imam outlines.

Peace Cake’s small size has afforded the company with an avenue to maintain individualized roles and responsibilities that have, in turn, allowed it to have a meteoric rise since its inception last year. For proof, one only needs to look at the company’s clients’ list, one which includes behemoths such as Pepsi, Juhaina, and Nestle. Nevertheless, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the talented youngsters; there have been several pertinent struggles along the way.

Chief among them is the relatively sensitive Arab culture. Put simply, doing art is bound to offend certain subsets of our region’s population, even if it carries around no such purpose inherently. “We’ve had to reshoot and limit so many of our videos just because we thought that they could offend someone, somewhere that could somehow hurt us down the line”, Safi notes.

That lack of creative freedom could’ve forced many companies to shift directions or to quit the business altogether, but Peace Cake is not your average company; they’ve just taken the options that they have, and focused on perfecting them through their drive to not only compete with similar, local agencies, but international ones as well.

Currently, the company has imminent plans for continued growth. To them, the remarkable things that they’ve achieved aren’t a signal to rest their laurels; rather, they’re used as motivation to continue working. Doing what they do best has gotten them this far; doing the same will likely take them even further, all with a never evading smile on their faces. Passion does indeed make everything a piece of cake. Peace Cake, really.

Sarrah Abdelrahman:

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As a female comedian I believe there has to be some kind of space provided to truly speak my mind. I love the internet. The internet is me!
Sarrah Abdelrahman

As a true internet geek, Sarrah was always obsessed with the phenomenon of video blogging, viewing it as a true method of self expression. Although Sarrah shied away from conveying her true identity on the internet, she discovered hope in the idea after the 25th of January revolution, when stating an opinion in a manner of one’s choice was no longer neglected or perceived as objectifying the norms. Sarrah made her first video, ranting over an insulting harassment incident and was immediately perceived as a unique comedic persona, without her knowing that her tone of voice triggered a humorous sense. “I felt the world wasn’t taking me seriously. I then realized, part of my truest characteristic is fooling around and making fun of myself and the things around me, which is not a bad thing at all to be perceived as, so I embraced it.”

You might recognize Sarrah from her breakthrough performance in the 2009 movie Alf Mabrook led by Ahmed Helmy, playing the role of his sister. Although Sarrah put her undying passion for acting on hold, her natural talent was conveyed best through expressing ideas that annoyed her daily and set off peculiar opinions in her head, thus creating life to her online blog, entitled Sarrah’s World, and recording her daily adventures on Snapchat.

Sarrah’s fascination with video-blogging became more than just an outlet of expression, and more of a career path. Hungry to get more involved with not only performing content, but also writing it, Sarrah enrolled in a writing workshop to master the skill. “I realized that there’s an ideal cycle going on for me, writing, performing, and acting, all intertwined in the entertainment world which I believe is more than satisfying.”

Sarrah’s entertainment career, has led her to host the comedy skit Salizone with co-host Ingy Aboul S’oud, critiquing nonsense seen in Ramadan series, centred on their humours and light-wit manner. After the show was bombarded with sexist comments by internet trolls, Sarrah made it her life’s mission to change the stereotypical image of women perceived in the entertainment world. By idolizing the female wave of intelligent, comedic writers and performers such as Tina fey, Lina Dunham and more, she hopes to have her own show one day, one that pushes the boundaries, and ends sexism through her cool and humorous ways.

Ingy Aboul S’oud:

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I decided to do a web series to give my opinion on movies. After the first
episode was a hit, I felt an obligation to continue.

Ingy Aboul S’oud

A film critic’s life is hard. Going on-record with a personal opinion about a movie often subjects the individual in question to a heavy dosage of vitriol from any film’s fan base. Such challenge is even more difficult in our Middle Eastern culture, with its traditional views and relative unwillingness to accept other points of view. As such, it takes a special kind of individual to step into the limelight and be completely fearless when critiquing a picture. One such individual is Ingy, a brave and ambitious 25 year old that cofounded her film-critique, web series, Vignette, in 2015, after first learning the industry’s baby steps on Bassem Youssef’s Il Bernameg.

For Ingy, critiquing movies is an avenue to express her views on a matter that she deeply cares about. She doesn’t define herself as a movie critic, since she doesn’t really have any academic knowledge on movie-making. Instead, she sees herself as the spokesperson of a distinct group in our society that is tired of movies “being all about the money, and not about the art.”

Predictably, Ingy’s journey has been fairly bumpy. She has received multiple threats over the past year from big names in the industry. To her, though, these threats are only seen as a motivation to keep doing what she’s doing since it’s obviously working on some level. “I was afraid at first, but then I realized that these are people who can’t take constructive criticism. To many people in the industry, we’re seen as jealous children who simply don’t understand much”, Ingy explains. On a broader level, Ingy sees her film critiquing journey to be one that targets a youth that could in turn pressure major studios into improving their products, rather than relying on tried and tested money-making formulas.

Saying the things that everyone is thinking about, but no one dares to say may not be easy. For Ingy, however, it’s the only way to live. Along with her Vignette experience, she also works on Salizon with Sarrah Abdelrahman and harbors dreams of continuing to expand her influence and continue to grow in her outspoken career journey. Speaking her mind on a topic that she cares about hasn’t diminished her love for it, but has only served to augment it. Fortune does often favor the brave.

Sherif Zaher:

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I love talking about taboo subjects; nothing excites me more than knowing that talking about a certain subject will get people to think.
Sherif Zaher

A joke is only funny if it’s at least partially based on the truth. In that scope, sensitivity is really the enemy of comedy. In Egypt, despite the country being blessed with a very unique and large comedic base, satire acts have often found limited support in the community. That’s all starting to change, however. The mass popularity obtained by Bassem Youssef’s Il Bernameg coupled with the increased prevalence of the internet in the society has allowed for several satire-based comedy acts to attract a sizable following. One such act is Sherif Zaher, a dedicated employee at one of Egypt’s top companies by day, a hilariously bold satirist at night.

Like every standout comedic talent, Zaher feeds off of daily nuisances to create material that is equally real and provocative. He is fine with receiving abuse and alienating certain subsets of our society, so long as his material is real and to the point. In other words, Zaher views offending people as the normal price for doing business. He’s quick to note, though, that his material, while occasionally over the top, is never mean spirited. “Comedy at its core is a reflection of our daily lives. My job as a comedian is to expose these truths while adding my own personal touch for comedic value,” he asserts.

While Zaher started off his satiric journey through performing stand up skits on-stage, he has now completely went digital. Doing so was a timely recognition on his part of the internet’s enormous power as a medium. Through his online channels, the issues that Zaher often chooses to focus on typically involve him touching on the impact that social media has had on the country’s youth, specifically “the catastrophes caused by the generation born after the 1992 Earth Quake,” as he puts it. Put simply, Zaher frequently uses the internet to criticize the flamboyant and attention-seeking antics pulled off by the country’s social-media-enveloped generation, an irony that’s not in any way lost on him.

His satire, at its roots, is really a hopeful plea for people to stop taking life so seriously, and to laugh their way throughout life. He understands that his comedy isn’t for everyone, and that’s completely fine with him. What he believes in, more than anything, is that there’s something to joke about in any individual’s life. It’s all about finding that something, and then laughing about it, because after all, a joke is only as funny as the reaction it gets from the audience.

Tameem Youness:

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I was unsatisfied with the comedy industry, so I thought that I could do a better job than most comedians in the market.
Tameem Youness

Sharp, combative, and expressive, to say that Tameem Youness is a personality would be an understatement. The founder of Raseeni, a comedic web series that delves into many hilarious layers of the Egyptian society, is a true creative force. What he lacks in diplomacy and decorum is more than made up for by his innovative brilliance.

As a former advertising executive, Tameem is very well-versed in internet culture. He understands what sells and what doesn’t better than most, and is very aware of what usually resonates with the country’s internet-savvy audience. Despite the somewhat inspirational concluding messages of every Raseeni skit, Tameem admits that the online show is merely a “method of expression, and not a show that has a Mohamed Sobhy-type of message” attached to it. That kind of freedom is evident with all of Tameem’s online skits. Everything is shot in a free-flowing manner that allows them to be easy on the heart, no matter how controversial the jokes might be.

In many ways, said provocative tactics are what make Tameem such a beloved and inspirational internet personality. He doesn’t hold back. He’s not afraid to speak his mind. And no subject is considered taboo for him. In fact, if there’s anything that truly ticks off Tameem, it’s the general lack of honesty to one’s self that has seeped into the Egyptian society. He defines the growing fakeness, if you will, to be an “agenda.” In devising the term’s name, Tameem affirms that he asked himself a series of questions that led him to conclude that people nowadays have become more concerned with what other people think of them, rather than following their own needs and desires. All of which has led to a degradation of Egypt’s rich culture and customs.

Almost everything that comes out of Tameem’s mouth is convincing. All of his thoughts are presented with an enormous conviction that makes it very hard to dispute them. Underneath it all, though, is a kind, loving guy that cites his mom as his number one inspiration; “not once has she failed to impress me”, he enthuses. He understands that he’s not always the easiest person to understand; his honesty often rubs people the wrong way. But at the same time, he’s content with knowing that he’s different; he’s weird; he’s real. You can’t help but wonder why anyone would have it any other way.

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