Iraq's TV comedy show courts controversy

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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.

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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.

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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.