Protest forces comic from Dubai gig

Stand-up Sean Meo has been prevented from performing in Dubai after upsetting Muslims.

Police had been alerted to jokes he cracked about the Koran and the Arab language in an attempt to stop him entering the country for a show tomorrow night.

Fearing the local press would whip up a frenzy of protest against Meo, his agent and the organisers of the gig decided it would be safer if he didn’t perform.

Meo’s agent said: ‘It was a mutual decision between us. There was a small but still unacceptable risk to his safety.’

His cancellation from the Laughter Factory gig came after a local newspaper received just one complaint about Meo’s material, based on jokes they had read on the internet.

The complaint said: ‘A report has been filed with Dubai Police to prevent Meo from entering the country for the event on August 30, due to his offensive comments.

‘Meo makes fun of the Arabic language, culture and Dubai's heritage. He also denigrates the status of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.’

The complaints are thought to have been prompted by jokes cracked at Montreal’s Just For Laughs comedy festival last month, and reprinted on the Montreal Gazette’s website.

He told the Canadian audiences: ‘In Dubai, I got a throat infection. I coughed up phlegm and accidentally ordered a taxi to the airport.’

And: ‘Get a copy of the Koran and you'll always get a seat on the bus. Add a rucksack and sandals, and you can drive the damn thing.’

Meo’s agent Ian Wilson told Chortle: ‘Sean is upset on two counts. One that he will not be playing the gig, secondly that he didn’t mean to cause offence.

‘We only heard about this yesterday, and were gobsmacked such fuss could be made by one person based on what hey read on the internet, out of context.

‘There was uncertainty about what the local newspaper would make of this, especially because Dubai has a completely different society and legal system to us.

‘It was a mutual decision to pull the gig. It was the only sensible thing to do.

‘Sean obviously offended someone, even though he doesn’t mean to be. These were jokes that were cleared for broadcast at primetime on Canadian TV – imagine what the BBC would be like if it didn’t broadcast something that offended just one person.’

Wilson said Meo’s material did contain a grain of truth, but twisted to make a joke.

‘The truth is that there is a real, but minimal, risk that when I leave the house I will be blown up by Muslim terrorists, just as a few years ago there was a real, but minimal, risk that I would be blown up by Irish terrorists.

‘Laughter is an intelligent form of release for these tensions. It helps break down racist stereotypes by laughing at them.’

After local newspaper 7Days reported the complaint, a spokesman for The Laughter Factory said: ‘We have pulled Sean from Friday's show. We felt it was the right thing to do after this was brought to our attention.

‘In ten years of running this event we have never had a complaint before, so when we do we take it very seriously.

‘In Sean's defence, he has no control over what is posted about him online and sometimes, taken out of context or misrepresented, words and sentences can take on different meanings. But that is beside the point. We live in an Islamic country and we must respect that.’

Meo, a former snooker player, has been a stand-up since 1989. He won a Time Out comedy award a decade ago, and has performed in Dubai before, last appearing at The Laughter Factory, in Dubai’s Courtyard Marriott Hotel, in 2005.

Dubai’s constitution provides for freedom of speech, but in practice the local media is heavily regulated, and foreign publications are censored before distribution.

Published: 29 Aug 2007

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