Iraq's TV comedy show courts controversy

Backstage at Iraq's hottest TV talk show

    Just Watched

    Backstage at Iraq's hottest TV talk show

Backstage at Iraq's hottest TV talk show 03:32

Story highlights

  • A trio of old friends from Baghdad have started a controversial talk show
  • It's proved a hit with their predominantly male audience
  • But not everyone appreciates the humor, which often involves sexual innuendo
  • A religious group staged a demonstration outside the show's studio last year

Beset by war and sectarian violence, Iraq has not had a lot to laugh about in recent years.

But a trio of old friends from Baghdad have sought to change that, by distilling the jokey banter of their late-night drinking sessions into a controversial talk show.

Hosted by Yasser Sami and Walid Monam, and produced by their friend Ghazwan Al-Shawi, the show is called "Akou Fad Wahad" -- "There is this guy" -- the typical setup for one of their anecdotes.

The aim behind the production, says Al-Shawi, "was to make people smile."

"We wanted to do anything to make miserable and sad people happy," he said.

Thrills on Iraq's threatened rivers

    Just Watched

    Thrills on Iraq's threatened rivers

Thrills on Iraq's threatened rivers 02:25
PLAY VIDEO
Peace and prosperity in 'the other Iraq'

    Just Watched

    Peace and prosperity in 'the other Iraq'

Peace and prosperity in 'the other Iraq' 02:52
PLAY VIDEO
Rediscovering Iraq's cultural heart

    Just Watched

    Rediscovering Iraq's cultural heart

Rediscovering Iraq's cultural heart 01:45
PLAY VIDEO

But while it's proved a hit with their predominantly male audience, not everyone appreciates their sense of humor.

Sami describes the first episode, broadcast in the summer of 2011, as "very bold."

"It got us into a lot of trouble because there was sexual and pornographic innuendos, so it was like a shock for all Iraqis," he laughs.

Since then, the show has routinely offended the conservative sectors of Iraqi society with its discussion of taboo topics including relationships and sex. A religious group staged a demonstration outside the show's studio last year, and government censors complained about the content.

Read more: Arab female film directors find acclaim

Sami said a gang even turned up at his house, threatening him. "I can't tell you (who) because this means I will give them another chance to come to me again," he laughs.

The jokes might not be considered particularly edgy to non-Iraqis -- or even necessarily that funny. A typical gag goes like this: "A stoned guy bought two birds for his mother, one tweeting and the other silent. She asks, 'Son, why is it that only one of them that is tweeting?' 'Mother, the other one is the composer,' he replied."

But although the humor may seem mild, Iraq is not yet ready for "Akou Wad Fahad." Sami says the team has had to modify their approach in order to continue broadcasting.

"We changed things in the show," he said. "We used to have a female DJ, but we were asked to remove her from the show, and we did."

Even in the new Iraq, said Monam, there are still many "red lines" that cannot be crossed in entertainment. "Were it not for the limitations that are imposed on us, it would be a much better show. But we have to live with social taboos," he said.

Challenging this, he says, is "impossible," at least for now. But as frustrating as it might be, he and his friends are content to tone down their act, if it means bringing a smile to people's faces.

      Inside the Middle East

    • Aquaventure was expanded in 2013 to include a Leap of Faith ride that passes through a shark-filled aquarium. Visitors can swim in a manmade lagoon filled with marine animals.

      Robot dinosaurs, Lego men and Spider-Man all could become Dubai's newest residents.
    • Al Nassma is the first camel milk chocoalte company in the world. The Dubai-based company had gone global, and Al Nassma products are carried in high-end department stores around the world, including London's Selfridges.

      Not long ago camel milk was an unfancied staple, the preserve of Bedouin herders. Now its becoming a luxury.
    • Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba, 'House of God' that Muslims believe was built by Abraham 4,000 years ago, on September 30, 2014. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshipers started pouring into the holy city for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. This year's Hajj comes as the authorities strive to protect pilgrims from two deadly viruses, Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus or MERS

      Managing over 2 million people during the Hajj takes some serious technology.
    • Sarah Attar of Saudi Arabia compete's as one of only two women from the country at the London Olympic Games.

      More needs to be done so women from Saudi Arabia can become world champions in sports.
    • The Humans of New York photo project exposes the hopes and fears of ordinary people in Iraq and Jordan.
    • Dubai's appetite for construction continues with multi-billion dollar boost to build the world's largest airport.