"Live from Cairo...it's Saturday Night!" An Arabic version of Saturday Night Live is airing across the Arab world for the first time this weekend, offering a Middle Eastern twist on the venerable US comedy show, the AP reports. In a newly renovated theatre in the Egyptian capital, the live audience laughed their way through the shooting of the first episode on Tuesday. The host was Donia Samir Ghanem, one of Egypt's top female comedians, who cracked jokes at her own expense and sent up stereotypes of different Arabic countries. All the elements of SNL were there: a celebrity guest, music performances, live sketches, videos, and parody news—but when it comes to politics, they're playing it safe.
A large number of Egyptians now complain of a gap in satire, but in a country that has suffered years of political turmoil, comedy writers are aware that some subjects are off-limits. "It's a challenging time for anyone who writes in Egypt," says George Azmi, the lead writer on SNL in Arabic. "Everyone is antagonized...You cannot make a decent joke without offending someone." SNL in Arabic's team hopes that, if they pitch the gags right, the Middle East is the perfect place to launch a new comedy show. Egypt is the Arab world's biggest market, with 90 million people, and it is known across the region for its sense of humor. So how'd the first episode turn out? "It was very funny; I didn't expect it to be that funny," says one person who saw it. Sounds about right for SNL.