Tue, 01 May 2018
Comedian and actor Waddah Swar tickles our funny bone and chats about his latest project.
Even if you think you haven’t heard of Waddah, you probably have! When you hear one of those deep voices in film trailers, there’s a good chance that one of them is his.
Waddah caught the funny bug at the age of 17, when he saw Martin Lawrence’s show Runteldat in Washington DC in 1998. “There were probably 30 to 40 thousand people, and it was just the way he made me laugh. I was so inspired that I could do this,” says Waddah.
He tried his hand at stand-up comedy in Florida, US, and had his first job at a comedy club, where he was reassured of his talent. “Comedy clubs in the US are like gyms to comedians,” he says. “It’s where you go to work out, you try your jokes. The organisers would bring thousands of people and just throw you to the crowds. You’ve got to be really good, because you don’t come back next time. It was like gladiator mode.”
After 19 years in the US, Waddah returned to Bahrain. Noticing a gap in the market, he was among the pioneers who ignited the comedy scene on the island. “We brought the Axis of Evil crew and did the first comedy show in 2008,” he says.
Waddah had his big break opening the show for Maz Jobrani. “It was a big boost, and I worked with lots of celebrities after that,” he says. “At Dubai Comedy Festival, I was with David Chappelle, Eddie Griffin, Trevor Noah and Gabriel Iglesias.”
Having worked alongside regional and international celebrities, he says he enjoyed working with Russell Peters the most. “Standing among these international stars carrying my country name is a great honour,” he says.
Waddah has been entertaining audiences in the region, switching from English to Arabic, and still managing to deliver the punchlines. In 2013, he was crowned ‘The Funniest Arab’, winning the Kit Kat Comedy Break show, as the sole representative from the GCC. “I felt like a million bucks,” he says. “I also did the world championship before the Laugh Factory in LA in 2015, and came third worldwide.”
Changing his jokes to suit the crowd, Waddah prepares for gigs by researching the culture of the country he’s visiting. In terms of the inspiration for his new material, he says: “My situations, family, work, marriages, relationships. It’s best to keep the comedy clean. This way you can hit so many levels, from young to old. In the end, it’s like therapy because instead of talking to a doctor you talk to thousands of people.”
Enamoured by his voice, people started offering Waddah voiceover jobs, which snowballed into acting. Talking about his latest Netflix project, Medinah, he says: “A production company from LA contacted me; they were doing a series for Netflix. Immediately they said, ‘The character is such an evil guy, you’ll fit perfectly.’ I always get the evil bad guy. I think it’s because of my voice.
“I play the character Jatal, the leader of an army. It’s a sci-fi series in English but there’s Arabic in it and Arami, which is the oldest language in the world. It was tough and a lot of work.”
Medinah has some big stars, including Natasha Henstridge and Eric Roberts, with Season One to be launched at the end of this year. Waddah is also lending his voice for an animation film about animals, where he’s playing yet another bad guy!
Waddah’s advice to youngsters trying to break into the field is: “Don’t sit in your pool wanting to be the biggest duck. See what’s out there – learn languages, accents, get into trouble. Getting into trouble is so funny, afterwards.”
And the secret to making someone laugh? “Let them know you went through more pain than them and you’re still standing,” he says.
• He was a commercial airline pilot.
• He was the first Arabic Bahraini to do a full tour in the Laugh Factory.
• He says Saudis are his best audience.
• Cooking is his other passion.
• He owns Badawi Restaurant, with branches in Hoora and Seef Mall Muharraq.