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Fahad Albutairi

Meet the standup leading the comedic revolution in Saudi Arabia.

Stand-up comedy may have been born in the United States of Vaudevillian heritage, but the format’s simplicity and endless flexibility have attracted fans and followers across the globe. In Saudi Arabia, its popularity can be attributed to one man. Fahad Albutairi is often credited as the first Saudi to perform stand-up comedy professionally, following a performance in 2008. Now the 30-year-old comic lords over a massive YouTube empire that has racked up nearly a billion hits. His next challenge is to change the way Saudis view entertainment forever.

In a country known for political conservatism, comedy may seem an unlikely hit. But Albutairi says that young people in the region—a huge contingent of under-30s armed with smartphones and high-speed internet—are cautiously experimenting with comedy via outlets like YouTube. “They’re not so much willing to test the boundaries as basically not sure what their boundaries are,” he explains over a Skype call from Riyadh. “A lot of them are still trying to find their opinions, their own voices in a quick-developing world.”

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