Comedy comes from Beirut with ‘Love’

Lebanese-born, U.S.-raised comedian Nemr has his share of crazy tour stories.
Like the first time he performed in Saudi Arabia and broke the law by allowing men and women to sit next to each other in the audience. “The religious police heard about it and tried to get into one of the shows, so I impersonated the bodyguard of the American ambassador to get them to go away.”

Nemr, who goes by one name (it rhymes with “simmer”), has spent most of the 21st century building a massive following — and helping to develop the local comedy scene — in the Middle East. His latest show, “Love Isn’t the Answer,” comes to San Francisco this week.

The show’s title touches on the chaos of current events.

“Right now, when people see all these problems going on, they say stuff like, ‘All you need is love! Love will take care of things,’” Nemr says. “Love isn’t the answer. The answer is actually hate! … When you hate being in a situation, you’re like, ‘I’m going to make a difference.’”

Sometimes, comedy can make a difference. Nemr’s 2017 Showtime special, “No Bombing in Beirut,” was filmed in Beirut and Los Angeles to demonstrate one of his favorite themes: Humor transcends borders, religion and politics. “When you’re watching it, you don’t know I’m switching you between two different continents, because it feels like the same show, the same energy. … I figured if I came here with the same show to make American people laugh, then what else do you need to prove that we’re all the same?”

Nemr’s family fled Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s when he was a toddler, trading their home near Beirut for one in Del Mar, a San Diego suburb. There, he discovered comedy, memorizing routines from comics like Dana Carvey. “I’d tell everybody when I grew up, I was going to be either a Ninja Turtle or a standup comedian.”

When the war ended, and the family returned to Lebanon in 1993, “Our house was riddled with bullet holes. My bedroom had bullet holes in the bed frame, in the closet,” Nemr says. “The roads were destroyed, buildings were crumbling everywhere.”

Still, Nemr fell in love with Lebanon’s “infectious energy of, ‘Nothing can bring us down.’ Because we’ve been through everything 50 times and back. Syria today was Lebanon 30 years ago, for longer and worse.”

Lebanon has been tapping some of that energy during recent struggles against the Islamic State. “ISIS expects to see the country decimated, and instead everybody’s telling jokes,” says Nemr, who currently splits his time between Los Angeles and Beirut. “For the enemy, it’s incredibly demoralizing. That’s the real power of humor.”

“[People say] you can’t find a lot that’s funny with ISIS,” Nemr says. “The reality is there’s a lot that’s hilarious about ISIS.”

“You’ve got to understand, these guys fight in flip-flops. You lose a very important tactical military advantage when you fight in flip-flops: the element of surprise. You can’t just sneak up on the enemy when your slippers are going flap-flap-flap as you’re walking.”

Where: Punch Line, 444 Battery St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 28-March 1; 8 and 10:15 p.m. March 2; 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. March 3
Tickets: $22.50-$25

Giselle Velazquez

Giselle Velazquez was born in the Mission District and now lives in the shadow of South San Francisco's Sign Hill. Her writing credits include The San Francisco Examiner, SF Weekly, Bay Guardian and Ventura County Star, as well as blogging English translations of Mexican telenovelas.

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Giselle Velazquez

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