Politics, terror are laughing matter on Iraqi TV

Sunday 08/05/2016
Excerpt from Wilayat Battikh TV programme

Baghdad - “The one who makes me laugh the most is this crazy Amir,” said Haj Abu Abdallah, as he burst out laughing. Amir is the main character in a sa­tirical Iraqi television programme Wilayat Battikh (Watermelon State), which has been bringing smiles to war-weary Iraqis by ridiculing poli­ticians and religious leaders and poking fun at Islamic State (ISIS) militants.

“My grandchildren introduced me to the programme, which is quite entertaining and distracts me from political programmes and the news bulletins that only bring news of misery and sorrow. The spon­taneity of the actor Amir makes me laugh and takes me back to my youth,” Abu Abdallah, 65, said.

Satires such as Wilayat Battikh, Wilayat Khurafa (State of Myths) and Al-Bashir Talk Show have at­tracted many thousands of viewers inside Iraq and among the diaspora for tackling social issues and politi­cal crises in Iraq in bold and funny ways.

“These young people have dared to knock down all barriers and criti­cise issues that were taboo without fears and this is what makes them attractive to Iraqi public,” Abu Ab­dallah said.

The cast of Wilayat Battikh, in­cluding Amir Abdel Hussein and Athir Kachkoul, excel in ridiculing normally terrifying characters, such as ISIS militants, corrupt politicians and religious leaders. They are even able to presenting atrocities with a dose of black humour.

The satire, broadcast on Iraqi sat­ellite television Hona Baghdad very late on Thursday nights is also fol­lowed on YouTube and on its Face­book page.

“The youth of Wilayat Battikh have largely succeeded in drawing the Iraqi public through the pres­entation of new faces and young talents and because they deal with a variety of topics in every single epi­sode. The embodiment of specific characters by particular actors is a strong point,” design artist Ali Sami said.

“What’s new is that the pro­gramme did not attempt to emulate Arab stand-up comedies or shows presented by single people but… teamwork with lots of variety, be­sides the fact that it is inspired by Iraqi realities and relates to the Iraqi environment exclusively.”

Wilayat Battikh actor and pro­ducer Ali Fadel said he was thrilled by the success of the programme despite the risk that he and the cast take by being blunt about sensitive subjects.

“What makes us most happy is the amount of love and apprecia­tion that we get from the public,” Fadel said. “We have reached all classes and all social brackets with­out exception. People often stop me in the street to ask about new epi­sodes.”

The idea of producing a comedy show came in 2012. “The begin­ning was with the social satirical programme Oloj May and then we moved on to criticising politics in a clean comic approach, away from slander and calumny,” Fadel said.

Al-Bashir Talk Show, hosted by Ahmad al-Bashir, is another suc­cessful dark comedy acclaimed in Iraq and abroad. Recorded and broadcast out of Amman where Bashir has been living for several years, the show has crossed “all red lines”, attracting millions of follow­ers at home and among expatriate Iraqi communities.

“The fact that it is broadcast from outside Iraq helped the producer overstep barriers, especially when it comes to grilling the mighty poli­ticians and religious figures and militia leaders,” said Anas Baker, a 20-year-old university student and fan of the programme.

“The most daring and attractive episodes is when Bashir ridicules ISIS leaders and followers and blames Iraq’s misfortunes on the extremism of certain Iraqi groups who are quite influential in the gov­ernment.”

In addition to poking fun at the subjects in his narrative, Bashir has a number of comedians presenting scenes linked to the topic under scrutiny. The most popular skits include “ISIS news conference”, in which the “emir” ends up killing the journalists, and the Snickers chocolate ad, in which a hungry ISIS militant turns peaceful and needs chocolate to bring him back to his normal self.

The show, broadcast on DW (Ara­biya) channel in collaboration with Iraq’s Sumaria TV, had several epi­sodes censored in Iraq for ridiculing key Iraqi figures. It is estimated that the number of followers on You­Tube and satellite televisions has surpassed 18 million.

“People need to vent their frus­trations and anger over the political, security and economic problems facing them continuously,” psychol­ogist Ibtissam Mussawi said about the popularity of satire. “Black com­edy has become a weapon used by certain channels to voice people’s demands and to shed light on issues of concern for the public.”

Satires have succeeded in making war-weary Iraqis laugh while dis­tracting them from the hardships of daily life.