Larry Charles' Dangerous World of Comedy (2019) s01e01 Episode Script

Part 1: War - The Survivors

1 How do you break into comedy in Somalia? What if you're the funniest guy in ISIS or Al-Shabaab? Can you make a living as a comic in Iraq? What do dictators find funny? As the director of Borat, Bruno Stop the car! Religulous I'm in the Vatican! I have traveled through the comedy danger zone and lived to tell the tale.
Now I will talk to the comedians and actors and TV and film makers who make comedy in dangerous places and call it home.
But the dangerous world of comedy is not just about comedians.
It's also about the people that make it a dangerous world.
Murderers, terrorists, extremists, and what they laugh at.
We will explore comedy in places where nothing is funny, in places where it doesn't belong.
Together, we will be shocked and outraged, angered and upset, offended and insulted, and laughing our asses off.
By knowing a country's comedy, you will know its past, present and future.
Yes, it's a dangerous world.
It always has been.
Filled with hate and violence and war, political upheaval and natural disasters, destruction and genocide, but always, and amazingly enough, comedy.
I'm Larry Charles.
and this is the Dangerous World Of Comedy.
When I first had this idea, I started Googling "dangerous countries and comedy.
" To my surprise, there wasn't one notoriously crazy, violent, chaotic country on Earth that didn't have some sort of homegrown comedy too.
So I made a list.
Iraq was number one.
A country with a sense of humor only a thousand years of war could produce.
I will meet Iraqi comedians, stand-ups, TV hosts, radio DJs, political satirists.
People who are making comedy in Iraq.
Obviously, the history of war in Iraq is well-chronicled.
But is there a history of comedy in Iraq? After the fall of Saddam in 2003, there blossomed a sort of golden age of Iraqi satire.
Such shows as Hurry Up He's Dead, about the last man alive in Iraq, and Who Wants To Win The Oil? A panel show where contestants vie for the prize of five liters of crude oil, signalled a new freedom in Iraqi comedy that had never existed before.
Then there's Maisoon & Layla, the Iraqi sitcom starring Edhi Abdul Sattar, the Danny DeVito of Iraq.
[in Arabic] I know, Dad.
Just go and you can count on me! But in the world of dangerous comedy, freedom is often short-lived.
After a string of assassinations, including the creator of Maisoon & Layla, Amjad Hamid, who was also the Head of Entertainment for Iraqi TV, dark satire quickly disappeared from Iraqi TV screens, replaced with an escalation of sectarian violence that rendered all satire meaningless.
The bottom line? By 2008, the boon in cool, contemporary, relevant, entertaining, homegrown Iraqi TV ends as war becomes the dominant mode.
But as we will see again and again, there are many casualties of war, but laughter isn't one of them.
[in Arabic] Welcome to Bezmi Bezm! Bezmi Bezm is a long-running television comedy show shot live in front of an audience in various locations around Iraq.
Over one million people view it weekly on Kurdish television, Facebook and YouTube.
[pretend singing] [warbling sounds] Look, I had just gotten here, so I didn't know if Bezmi Bezm was hard-edged, topical, political satire or silly, broad, slap sticky sketches.
Are they using comedy to poke fun at the issues of the day or helping people laugh and forget for a moment that they live in a war zone? Then I remembered that's why I'm here.
I have a microphone and a camera.
I'll interview people.
Why are you guys here? [in Arabic] Because of Bezmi Bezm.
The kids like it and get happy.
What do you like about Bezmi Bezm? [in Arabic] I like their shows, their comical dialogues and the actors.
They talk about the general problems people face.
The show reflects all of our daily issues.
For example, no electricity, no salary, unemployment.
[in Arabic] People need government They need water and electricity They can't sleep, Because they lack electricity [audience cheers] We're from the United States.
Tell us about the show.
[in Arabic] We're in a land that is always at war.
We're in a land where we have no political or military stability.
People are starving for comedy.
Using comedy, we can tell people: “This is white, that is black.
” - [speaking Arabic] - [audience laughs] [in Arabic] I can't go to the war like our Peshmerga.
But here on stage, for instance, I can volunteer my talent and defend my land and country.
- [high-pitched chirping] - [audience laughs] What's your favorite TV show? [in Arabic] Only Bezmi Bezm.
Do you ever get afraid? [in Arabic] Yes.
Tell us about that.
Tell us about being afraid.
What are you afraid of? [in Arabic] I'm afraid of zombies and monsters.
[translator] "I get scared of zombies and monsters.
" Ah, fair enough.
I guess as long as he's more afraid of zombies and monsters than ISIS and Al-Qaeda, there's hope.
[in Arabic] People need government, They need water and electricity They can't sleep, Because they lack electricity [audience cheers] [cracking chicken joke in Arabic] There is one show and one comedian who might not be here if not for the war, but bad things make good comedy.
That's a dangerous comedy formula.
This is Ahmed Albasheer and this is The Albasheer Show, the Iraqi equivalent of The Daily Show.
The Daily Show has become such a venerable institution, There are now versions of it in many countries.
Why? They're honest and funny and cheap to produce.
But Iraq is different because of the man who sits behind the desk.
He is on a mission.
He is amongst the most fearless comedians I've ever met.
Not just on stage.
In life.
Ahmed Albasheer.
Lots of people think that I'm doing comedy just to laugh.
- Some people call me the clown.
- Right.
They think I'm just jumping around and just laughing about every trouble.
It's not about that.
It's about getting things right.
This is my goal.
Albasheer is making the same political satire as Trevor Noah or Seth Meyers, except about Iraq.
[in Arabic] Spongebob is supposed to be a boy.
 He moves like a girl.
Sometimes he wears girl's outfits! [in Arabic] Allah! Look at the conspiracies! Albasheer takes no sides.
He mocks both the government and ISIS with equal disrespect.
Here, he lampoons the origins of the barbaric practices of ISIS.
[in Arabic] All these new executions, drownings, explosions, etc.
, who comes up with these concepts? We watch cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, Road Runner, Mickey Mouse.
For example, Tom blows Jerry up, Jerry retaliates with dynamite, burns him, cuts him in half, drowns him.
We are influenced by them.
[in Arabic] Allah, Allah, Allah Our president is staying in power Allah, Allah, Allah He gave every Iraqi a thrombosis Like me, you might not get the references, but you get the idea.
[Larry] Tell me who you were before you were this.
I was born and raised in a very religious family.
They were very, let's say, not extremist, but very close to extremist.
Despite TV, movies and music being banned in his house, Albasheer found himself attracted to Western culture.
And not good Western culture either.
Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears.
Right, right.
Not the coolest music, but the first music that you got exposed to.
No, no, no.
Of course, not coolest of music.
One night, Albasheer's father catches him listening to forbidden music.
He got me watching a song, Backstreet Boys.
And that song, not one girl in that song.
It's only the band.
They are playing music and they are singing.
And he saw me watching the song and listening to my headset and my music, so he kicked me out of the house at 10 p.
in the war on 20th of March, 2003.
- Rockets all over Baghdad.
- Wow.
People are fighting.
There is a massacre going outside.
So he said: "Go out.
You are not Muslim.
You're an infidel.
You'll never be good boy.
" Whatever, these things.
So I was out and I was looking for shelter.
So where do I go? Do I go to the army and tell them: "Please help"? Should I go to Saddam and tell him: "Please, just save me"? - Don't know where to go.
- Right.
Because when you tell someone, like a soldier in the street, wearing a uniform, carrying a weapon, that my father kicked me out because I was listening to a song, in the war, he will never believe it.
- It's absurd.
- "You are definitely a spy.
- Come on, come inside.
" - Wow.
[yowls] What the is he talking about? His comic sensibilities didn't come from TV shows or movies.
He wasn't allowed to watch TV shows or movies.
They came from his desire not to be injured or killed.
2005, I was kidnapped.
Military uniform guys just took about 50 guys from the street.
I was one of them.
I've seen people getting their balls removed.
I've seen someone who got crazy after torture.
- They killed him.
- Wow.
- A lot of - Were you tortured? A little bit, yeah.
A little bit.
Why do you think you weren't tortured more? Why do you think you were able to escape that level of torture? Was it just a coincidence? Just luck? No.
The first moment that I got there, I started to make jokes with them.
Doing a joke on me, on them.
Doing jokes on everything.
So, when they laughed one time, two times, three times, I started to feel safe and said: "This is the way that I approach these guys.
" So even when they were taking me to the torture room, I always used the bottle joke.
Like: "Do anything, but don't put the bottle in my ass, please.
" They were laughing: "We will not do that.
We will fuck you.
" "Okay, fuck me, but don't put the bottle up my ass.
" [in Arabic] Bring him here! Bring him! Bring the bottle! No, no! No bottle! Please sir! - What's wrong with you? - Nothing, sir.
I thought that it was a glass bottle.
It turned out to be plastic.
[Larry] That's amazing because, to me, if you talk to a Western equivalent of you, the Jon Stewarts or Bill Mahers or Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld, you talk to them about their childhoods and how they discovered they were funny; It's like: "I did a little show for my grandparents," or "I was in a talent show at school.
" Spoilt, spoilt.
Right, it's true, because you discovered your comic sensibility - as a tool for survival.
- Exactly.
- I use that with everyone.
- Yeah.
It's always a cheap way to get girls also.
It's funny that you equate those two things also.
Al-Qaeda and girls are the same thing.
I use humor for girls and for Al-Qaeda.
It works.
- It works across the board.
- Works for everyone.
[in Arabic] I love you when you loot I love you when you enslave women And I accept everything from you I believe I could save a lot of people's lives by doing this show, by doing the jokes.
You know, we have a lot of messages from people; they almost joined ISIS.
They almost joined militias.
They said the same thing.
That if you wouldn't speak about the militias or ISIS, - we will be one of their members.
- Wow.
[in Arabic] Welcome to the Albasheer Show! Welcome to the Albasheer Show! I have come to Mosul, and Mosul has been completely liberated, so here I am with you on the Albasheer Show! We recognize political satire behind the desk.
We see it in America every night.
But, in Iraq, they practice political satire in the streets too.
When you do prank-type comedy in America, there's always a chance that something could go wrong.
And sometimes something going wrong is better than something going right.
But when you do prank-type comedy in Iraq and something goes wrong, somebody might die.
This is Put Him In Bucca.
[theme music playing] "Bucca" refers to Camp Bucca, an American high security prison in Iraq.
Modelled after shows like Candid Camera and Punk'd and Jackass and airing on Al-Baghdadia, the show would invite Iraqi celebrities for an on-air interview, but en route to the station, a fake bomb would be planted in their car while they were being searched by Iraqi soldiers who were in on the deception.
The unwitting celebrities were then secretly filmed as they were threatened with imprisonment or even execution.
The show made a big impression all over the world.
It's inappropriate humor that belittles a serious issue.
In fact, the show sparked an online petition to stop it.
The staff of Put Him In Bucca, today's worst persons in the world! Mr.
Ray Charles? - Larry Charles.
- Larry.
Do you want him Is it okay to wear his glasses or without? - I think without.
You have beautiful eyes.
- Okay.
You know who Ray Charles is? - Yeah.
- Do you know who I am? - Larry Charles.
- Okay.
So tell us about how Put Him In Bucca came about? [in Arabic] At that time in 2010, there were many fake security checkpoints set up by Al-Qaeda.
So there was an interest in exposing these fake security checkpoints through a comedy show.
[in Arabic] A bomb! - Do you carry a gun? - Yes, of course I carry a gun.
- Adnan, why do you want to bomb us? - Bomb? I am gonna blow you up.
This is candid camera! [clapping] [in Arabic] Even now, ISIS is setting up fake checkpoints, pretending to be the Iraqi Army and detaining and killing civilians.
We want to illustrate that, even though this looks like an official checkpoint, with vehicles and uniforms, nevertheless, it is fake! These aren't some dumbass fraternity pranks.
These pranks are designed to save lives.
These are political pranks.
Pranks as weapons.
[speaking in Arabic] A bomb! You have an explosive device in the car.
What should we do? Allawy! Allawy! I am going mad! Allawy, why did you say you don't know me? You don't know me? - Do you know Put Him In Bucca Season 1? - Yes.
This is Season 2.
[laughing] Were you afraid that you were going to get killed? [in Arabic] For us, death is ever present at every moment.
It may come from armed groups, from the planting of explosive charges, from hostility or political conflicts.
All of this, it will subject unarmed civilians to death.
So death is ever present.
[Larry] Well, to me, it's amazing that you talk about that so matter-of-factly, when for me, or for Americans, it's a very heroic act for you to try to do a comedy show about that subject with death always hovering about.
[in Arabic] I have a desire, and a wish to become a martyr for freedom of speech, and the killing of media figure Ali to be a motive.
I wish to be the inspiration to get young people moving forward.
I imagine that I may die, they kill me, and citizens react and move forth full force and stamp out corruption.
You are a very courageous man.
- Thank you.
- You're welcome.
Ironically, Put Him in Bucca has been canceled, but fake check points still exist.
[in Arabic] Long live Iraq! Long live Iraq! Long live Iraq! You see a lot of martyrdom in Iraq comedy.
[in Arabic] I got a new belt.
- Suicide belt? - Yes, you just click on this More of a willingness to die for what they believe in.
You don't see a lot of that in American comedy.
American comedians don't want to die for a cause.
They want a Netflix special.
Or a series.
We take it for granted in America that people know how to laugh at stand-up comedy.
They get the joke, they've watched comedians since they were kids.
They enjoy stand-up comedy in all its forms.
But imagine a place where that wasn't the case.
That's the Middle East.
Before people could laugh at stand-up comedy, they had to learn what stand-up comedy itself was.
The audiences throughout the Middle East felt jokes were nothing but insults designed to hurt people.
Why would you do that? Why would you say hurtful things? Why would you say something that was going to make someone angry? It wasn't that Middle Easterners didn't laugh at all.
They did.
But at long, tall tales of human foibles and broad, slap-sticky behavior.
The concept of setup, punchline, laughter was foreign to this part of the world.
But even American stand-up is imperialistic.
We have even colonized comedy.
We're standing in front of the first stand-up comedy club in Iraq, the LOL Club.
We wanted to make a place where we can change people's mood.
That's why we put the slogan as "We'll turn your frown upside down.
" Can anyone perform in English? Yes.
The locals that are not really good in English, are not familiar with stand-up comedy, because we don't have any stand-up comedy in the local language.
So the ones which are already familiar with stand-up comedy, they are the locals that went to English schools or something, they know English, they used to get the jokes and used to interact with the comedians.
How hard is it to find people to perform at the club? That was the hardest thing actually.
We started with actually one guy.
This is the guy actually.
- Hi, how are you? - Mivan.
How are you doing? - You're a stand-up? - Yeah, I'm a stand-up comedian.
I'm going to be a doctor, I'm going to be an engineer.
You know what your parents always tell you.
"Doctor or engineer.
" And then you say: "I can't, I can't.
" Was your first time doing stand-up at this club? My first time doing stand-up was in another open mic bar in Erbil.
- Okay.
- I was really scared then, because coming from a conservative Muslim family, going to a bar is not really good.
We did go to bars but no one would know.
When you're up on stage with a mic, you can't really hide it, can you? Two people laughed, I think.
Second time, three, and then slowly it moved on.
Out of how many? Out of a good 200 people.
So would you say you bombed? Yeah, I bombed hard.
But I didn't really mind.
But the responses got better and better.
And what I liked here was no subject was technically taboo.
Like my stuff was very sex involved.
- Can you give me an example? - Very racial orientated.
Not really, no.
Because you can't remember, or? No, it's really horrible, but it was basic No, no.
You can say anything here too.
Just like at the club.
Give me an example of a taboo like the sex thing.
Whatever you were thinking just then.
So it was like: "My friend was gay.
He came out all over my face," kinda Okay, got it.
- That kind of stuff.
- Yeah, yeah.
- Not that there's anything wrong with it.
- [laughs] What does comedy bring to Erbil that it didn't have? When people have an economic crisis, we have a war, people have cousins that passed away fighting for their country, you need to put comedy into someone.
You need to smile a little bit, because if you don't smile, it's horrible.
I have friends in Baghdad, their family members are dead, - but they keep smiling.
- Right.
Because ISIS's whole plan was to make you sad, make you feel bad about yourself, you know? Make you feel bad about being Muslim, about being Christian.
That's the whole ISIS mentality.
And if you're happy and you don't care, even though they're right there, that's, I believe that was our war against ISIS in a way.
The venues for comedy are limited in Iraq.
As you can see, the stand-up comedy club scene hasn't exactly taken off.
For instance, the LOL Club closed in 2017.
But because of already existing technology, low start-up costs and other economic considerations, comedians in countries at war, countries under economic hardships, comedians like Mivan, turn to radio.
3 Babylon FM, this is the breakfast club, the place to be.
This is Noor Matti.
Born in Iraq, he discovers comedy when his family is forced to flee to America, particularly the shock jocks of American morning radio.
Now he is single-handedly trying to import that uniquely American product to Iraq.
We fled in 1992.
This was a time when the north here declared a government, but it was a very bad situation.
There was lots of political rivalry.
My father was going to pretty much get killed if we didn't go.
What was he doing that would have gotten him killed? Being a Communist member.
- How old were you when that happened? - I was eight.
You were eight.
Did your family sit down and talk about: "We are leaving"? Was there a discussion or were you just Middle Eastern families don't sit down and have family discussions.
It's: "Let's go.
We've got to go.
We've got to go now," and we leave.
And how did you go? Did you get in a car and drive to the border? How did that work? We walked actually from here to the border.
- Really? - Yeah.
- And how long a walk is that? - It was a couple of days.
I don't know.
A couple of days.
So would you guys camp out on the side of the road? No.
So it's not an inside road.
You cannot be seen.
It was through these mountainous areas.
Climb every mountain And so you're fleeing Iraq and you want to get to safety and then you choose, of all cities in America, you choose Detroit.
Detroit is literally the Fallujah of the US.
We saw stores and houses in our neighborhoods that looked as if they'd been hit by bombs.
Next summer, it could look like this in the downtown sections of our cities.
But, you know, we knock on Detroit, we joke about it, but Detroit is a wonderful city and I, you know, I defend it whenever I can, even though I make fun of it a lot.
It made me who I am.
I spoke very broken English when I arrived in Detroit.
Thank God for Comedy Central, for those reruns of Saved By The Bell.
Saved By The Bell taught me English.
The bully gets the girl.
I get the locker.
Family Matters taught me English.
Did I do that? Beavis and Butt-head even taught me English.
[Beavis and Butt-head grunt] Shock jocks in America can say the rudest, most ill things.
You sucked him off with her anal juices on his penis? Noor had to adapt that playbook to his new environment.
We can't here, for example, talk about: "Well, who enjoys sex more? Men or women?" That's ridiculous.
You cannot talk about He raised his hand.
[laughs] You cannot talk, you know, things such as sex just blunt like that here.
Or religion.
Or politics for that matter.
These things can get you killed.
He's not joking.
In 2006, Iraqi comedian Walid Hassan was assassinated for lampooning the Iraqi government.
You can't make a joke about honor killing.
But you can definitely make a joke about ISIS after they post a video of beheading people.
- Okay.
- It's going to be emotional.
Please, family Golan, - Your ho - [everyone laughs] You know, we would make them, as we call them, the Washi of the Day, which is our version of the Donkey of the Day.
And we ridicule them and make fun of them and do call them, of course, like you said, goat fuckers.
Right, right.
- You know.
- You said that.
I didn't say that.
[laughs] Laughing at ISIS, laughing at death, I wouldn't say Iraq was a laugh fest, but laughter is what keeps Iraqi spirits alive and the idea of peace alive too.
What's the alternative? Tears and war.
It's true, all the Iraqis I met, despite everything they've been through for generations, still love to laugh.
When you laugh in insanity, are you crazy or sane? As I moved through these wars zones, I realized it was both.
I knew a place where that line between crazy and sane had been blurred.
No, not my house.
I didn't know anything about Liberia until I saw a documentary about it.
I'm gonna eat the Lieutenant-General's heart.
It was the craziest place I'd ever seen.
A country founded by freed American slaves, who then turned around and enslaved the native Liberians.
Eventually, the Liberians said: "Fuck this," and killed the president and 13 ministers on the beach, in full view of the public and media.
This led to a civil war that was so cruel and brutal, so beyond the pale, so absurdly horrible, so over the top, that, like a great horror comedy, with guts spilling out and severed limbs, people didn't know whether to laugh or scream.
What better place to find dangerous comedy? We happened to arrive in Liberia during their presidential elections.
Democratic elections in Liberia mean a lot.
People died for that right, recently, not 200 years ago.
People can finally express themselves without being shot or macheted.
That's not a fear we have when we vote in America.
It's great to meet you.
Duke Murphy Dennis is a Liberian comedian and war survivor.
He actually got his start doing comedy in refugee camps in Ghana when he was forced to flee Liberia as a young man during the war.
Now, like many refugees and exiles, he's returned to Liberia, where he does stand-up, movies [Duke] Why pay another man to do one man's work? hosts a regular morning radio show and hopes to help heal Liberia.
[Duke] We are one people, one nation indivisible.
We are Liberians.
We want to say good morning to everybody from all walks of life.
The east, the west, the south, the north, the center of Liberia, we want to say good morning to you wherever you find yourself.
Well, that's it.
Some of you, you've got a lot of waste in you.
You've got to laugh.
Laugh it out.
The battle-scarred streets of Monrovia still conjure vivid memories of the war for Duke.
This is the EJ Roye building.
As a matter of fact, there was a sniper in this building, pointing a gun right down at the bridge in the corner.
Man, the guy could shoot.
He had good aim? Oh, yeah.
And he was from the AFL, the Armed Forces of Liberia.
- At that time, the war was really tense.
- Yes.
All this area was like a no-go zone.
- The guy was at the top of this building - Yeah.
Looking down on the bridge.
Whosoever, you dare step on the bridge, he's taking you down.
Wow, man.
He was good.
As a matter of fact, when I was coming up, this church, the church I used to come to.
- Right here? - Yeah, this church.
This is the church where our late father lived.
- I mean, we lived in this yard as well.
- Right.
During the war.
We lived in this yard.
I lost my my little sister got stabbed right on the street.
We used to sit here.
I used to sit right here.
We used to be all around here.
This is Front Street.
- Your sister was killed out here? - Yeah.
That's another story.
Do you want to tell that story? Yeah.
But sometimes we say these things to Oh, my goodness, I'm sorry.
It's quiet, but, you know sometimes if you try to tell someone, "Stop," and they don't want to stop the end result's going to be bad.
She was furious.
And then I was saying: "Stop! Stop.
" And she could not stop and she was stabbed.
Oh, my goodness.
And before I could pick her up, put her in the car, go to before we got to the clinic, she died right in my hands.
Like, like I'm so sorry.
But that's life.
Duke's comedy could not save his sister, but in her memory, he is trying to use his comedy to save Liberia.
[shouting] You stabbed me where? Just like Americans laugh at American stuff, Liberians laugh at Liberian stuff.
AIDS, Ebola, funny shit.
Here, Duke does a routine about another favorite subject.
Government corruption.
He said: "But why your dad is not punishing you?" He said: "Because my dad is police.
" He said: "Why?" He said: "I took my test paper I put $10 inside, 10 Liberian dollars I give it to my pa he took out the $10 and gave me my test paper right back.
" [audience yells enthusiastically] [Duke] In the whole of comedy there is no tribe, no religion.
No big shot, no small shot.
Everybody's equal.
Because we express ourselves, everybody laughs.
The rich man is laughing, the poor man is laughing.
That's one thing we have in common.
Everybody laughs.
- Yes! - And everybody's happy.
So comedy, for me, is like a therapy.
It's medicine all by itself.
The healing power of comedy.
I was very into that.
I knew firsthand the power of comedy to bring people together, but war virtually destroyed this country.
And amongst the painful fatalities was the most important television series ever to come out of Liberia.
You are watching the hit show Malawala Balawala.
That's right, Malawala Balawala.
I know it doesn't look all slick and glossy like American sitcoms, but it wasn't an American sitcom.
It was African.
Liberian to be exact.
These people don't have trailers and catering.
They don't have sets or budgets.
But the show spoke to its audience across the continent of Africa, just like Seinfeld or Cheers spoke to its North American, far more affluent, audience by combining African folktales and storytelling with contemporary situations in a way that had never been done before.
Boss man, I've already gone there two times.
Go there now! Balawala! Balawala! [roars] And it wasn't cancelled because of poor ratings.
It was cancelled because of war.
Welcome, welcome.
Do you like to be called Kamara or Kekura or what do you, - Tell me what you like to be called.
- Kekura Kamara.
Kekura Kamara.
Just call me Kamara, call me Kekura, call me Balawala.
Okay, alright, that's good.
That makes it easy.
As long as I don't call you late for dinner.
"Malawala Balawala," it means: "I don't believe it.
But everyone should believe it.
" You played Malawala Balawala.
I played Malawala Balawala and also I was the director.
[Larry] The ninth episode is the story of the blind man - who thinks the man is a woman.
- Yeah.
Although it seems very Liberian, these are actually universal archetypes.
We understand the concept of the trickster and who can't laugh at a blind man? You mean I'm not white? And so the story was like a bomb.
A bomb.
And everyone in Liberia wanted to watch the series.
I mean the next episode.
- Everybody wanted to follow the story.
- Right.
They don't have Nielsen ratings in Liberia, but, for millions of Liberians, they didn't need to be told Malawala Balawala was popular.
It was more than that.
It was a weekly ritual.
Missing it would be like missing church.
[yelling, singing] [Kamara] Unfortunately, by the time of, say, 1990, we jumped into the war.
The crisis started and we had to leave this country to flee in the neighboring countries.
[Larry] I read that a lot of your episodes of Malawala Balawala were destroyed.
Is that true? They were destroyed.
Tell me about that.
When the NPFL wanted to take over the Liberian broadcasting system - they launched RPG into the building.
- Wow.
All of our cassettes at the time we were using - were scattered in the rain.
- Wow.
So this guy came and the goal that we speak, so that's why they This happens a lot.
He's so used to it he just keeps going.
And, by this time, so was I.
[Larry]optimistic and smiling.
We're okay though, right? Jokes and um - Oh.
- Okay.
Welcome to Nigeria.
This never happens.
I am straight.
This is strange.
It's never happened before.
Comedy almost died in Liberia, along with everyone and everything else during that war.
And, ironically, it took the worst Ebola crisis in history to bring it back.
Hundreds of people were dying every week.
There was a shortage of body bags.
I know it sounds like a joke, but it's true.
That is very, very dangerous comedy.
But borders had to be closed off.
Exports had to cease immediately.
That meant that the street sellers didn't have the usual tapes and DVDs from Nigeria or the United States or Asia.
They were desperate.
This forced the birth of a homegrown Liberian comedy industry.
This is Paul Flomo and Angel Michael.
They got their start during the Ebola crisis and now are two of the biggest comedy stars in Liberia.
But, in Liberia, being a big comedy star doesn't pay the bills.
Most big comedy stars have second jobs.
Can you imagine Eddie Murphy with a second job? Getting to Paul wasn't easy.
I thought Los Angeles was bad in the rain.
[Larry] Tell me about the skit you did about Ebola and why you thought your career sort of took off during the Ebola crisis.
Come again? [Larry] Um, you [assistant] He's asking why you think that your career advanced during Ebola.
[Larry] You're speaking English.
That's just what I said! I'm Mr.
Hernandez, the official interpreter.
Welcome to the United States.
Welcome to United States.
Thank you.
The minds of Liberians were stressed out.
Everybody was stressed and they needed something at least to stress free the mind for some time, so they can get their mind off the trauma and seeing all the hardship in the country and things.
So we went back to our drawing board.
We said: "I think comedy could do more good in the Liberian film industry now this time around.
" So we started to shoot comedy.
When we were shooting on set, we put our big drum down with water, our Ebola sanitizers and things, but we're still shooting.
And Liberian comedy was really going.
Because of common rent, you peed on me.
Don't you know I am someone's child? [Larry] Let's talk about your skits with Angel Michael for a second.
- Do you think I’m sexy? - See me! See me! I'm sexier than you! Your mama is sexier than you! Your mama is sexier than me? And she was nasty with me.
Yeah, Angel Michael and I, we are close friends.
We're like brothers.
We live in the same neighborhood.
He called me.
Actually, he said: "Paul, I think there's a need we do a skit together.
" I say: "Fine, that's good.
" So we planned on a date and then when we came up with Jesus Walk On The Water.
That was funny actually.
Call him master.
Tell him master.
- Do you know who I am? - I don't care who you are.
I told your child, before you cross the water I'm not a child! I'm a disciple.
It's not my business.
Give me a chance to explain.
Didn’t I tell you he is rude? We shot Jesus Walk On The Water, and then we put it on social media, people started following.
Let us cross.
I will walk on top of the water.
Let's go home.
I won't cross the water.
There are a lot of bad things in it.
I saw an alligator.
Since then, Angel Michael and I have been working together and we are still working together.
As I speak with you, we are working on something.
We talked to Angel Michael on the bluffs overlooking the beach where the ministers had been publicly executed.
It's now a family destination.
Children play soccer on what were once blood-stained sands.
Tell us about the creation of the character Angel Michael.
Oh, well You know, Angel Michael came about when I drew up my first comedy skit entitled The Angel Refuse To Come To Liberia.
And that was the Ebola time when people were dying every day.
They were sending doctors from America to various African countries, you know, to help to alleviate health problems.
The doctors refused to come to Liberia.
They said: "We can't go to Liberia, because Liberia is affected, heavily affected, with the Ebola virus.
So a lot of people were going to Guinea.
People preferred Sierra Leone, because Sierra Leone's own cases were going down and ours were on the rise.
Now, I tried to turn it around in my own way.
Like God sending angels to the world.
So he sent Angel Paul to Germany.
Angel Paul did not complain.
Angel Samuel to America.
Angel Samuel didn't complain.
But when he said: "Angel Michael, go into Liberia" "Yeah.
" So Angel Michael said: "No, I can't go that far.
With due respect, I think you can find somewhere better for me.
I can even manage with Guinea.
Yeah, but for Liberia, I'm so sorry.
I can't go there.
" I am a young baby.
- Young baby? - A young baby.
So you're a young baby.
What are you doing here? My mama left me at home playing with my friend and I crawled out here.
Comedy is deeply rooted in me.
Tell me.
Tell me about that.
It is deeply rooted in me.
I was born with it.
From childhood, people would say: "You're funny.
You're damn funny.
When you make use of it, you'll get rich.
" So when I saw people doing comedy stories around, I said to myself: "Well, I can do comedy.
I'm a good comedian.
" Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus.
It's hard to make money with comedy here.
Is that true? Oh, yeah, yeah, no money.
No money here.
We're not getting anything.
The marketers make the money.
- Those that market the films.
- Right.
They make the money, because we spend up to $1,000 if you really want to shoot a Liberian comedy.
Then somebody tells you that they want to buy your film for $500 US.
That's an insult.
But what to do? You've just got to do it to survive.
Who knows? I see something great coming out of this work that I'm doing.
I see myself up there.
I see myself riding planes.
I see myself riding the best cars.
I see myself building the best house, sleeping in the best hotels around.
I see myself touring, you know, from show to show.
I see myself raising the flag of Liberia high.
So high.
This is the Ducor Hotel, once one of the few five-star hotels in all of Africa.
Now just one of the many buildings ravaged by violence and looting during the war.
It is here we meet the women of Liberian comedy and listen to their unique take on humor as a tool of healing.
I like to relax.
Can I go different ways? - Yeah.
You can.
- I'm too stiff.
[Larry] Just for the opening shot, so we get kind of a cool opening shot, that's all.
I'm a queen of entertainment because I'm a former beauty queen.
I always look for avenues where I can promote my country positively.
And I go to the beauty queen side, I become glamorous and then, when I want to become this Leftover Reverend Mother, it's a comedy that was created by me when I had a first appearance to do stand-up for the president.
And I decided what could be so funny for her, because I'm like: "My lady's tough.
" So I created this Reverend Mother.
White costumes, like a Baptist Church preacher.
Oh, God, please, we thank you for our president and her vision.
We know she will complete our mission.
Today, we know the importance of education.
God, please do not give opposition around the world no visa extension.
And I decided to go political, historical and biblical.
And the Leftover Reverend is a woman who comes out there.
When I'm in that character, I'm coming out there to talk about Liberia, but not insulting the country.
But it should come in a way of making people laugh.
You don't have to be nasty.
Let us pray.
Oh God, I thank you for Liberia.
As I stand here, I'm suffering from diarrhea.
Anybody else here with diarrhea, cure them with gonorrhea.
Roseline Blamo is a Liberian and a librarian and a comedian.
It's a three-storey building.
The first floor I build with mud.
The second floor I build with debris.
The third floor I build with zinc.
But because the weather has been so bad, it gave me a compulsory swimming pool.
For me, being a comedian, it helped me a lot in my own personal life.
Like it helped me when I lost my marriage within a year.
It helped me when I lost my mother.
Some of my jokes, I would listen to and sometimes people will bring it back to my face and then it would help me laugh and then tear the stress out.
Because comedy has a very important role in human life.
Sometimes, you don't know what another person is going through, what they have been through the whole day.
And then they come home, maybe they need something to just relax themselves and then, if they come home and meet another trouble, it's like putting them on fire.
So if you crack a joke or something, I think you will heal that person.
Then maybe the person will calm a little bit and explain what happened to them.
What I normally do when I see issues coming up, when people need to laugh, because no matter what you do, sometimes a little laughter, it takes away the stress.
Comedy for me is not being silly.
It's a message person.
It's a therapy.
To make people laugh is not very easy.
Super Mama and Mamie first came to fame in the hit comedy Samaguan In Love.
Although both very talented, their careers are based on the luck of literally sidestepping death during the war.
Then you say nothing! What do you want me to say? Oh, you don't know? You don't know what to say? [Larry] Tell me about your childhood.
Were you funny? The time when I was a kid? - Yes.
- Yeah.
Very funny.
Yeah, me can dance.
I used to dance.
Yeah, I'd be dancing.
I'd be dancing.
Music, yeah.
And how about you, Mama? Were you funny as a child? Yes.
I came up, we used to dance, culture and things.
You know? Yeah.
I have a style now.
Some style.
Very entertaining.
Is it difficult to be a woman in comedy in Liberia? How tough is that? - It's not difficult for me.
- It's not difficult.
I can be part of it, because I want to be a fool, a stupid person to be in Liberia to be there doing comedy.
And how about for you, Mama? Myself, it's good for a woman to be a foolish person.
Yeah, so now your foolishness can carry you Carry you somewhere.
But being a female comedian in Liberia, you know, we're getting really into comedy now, to understand our comedy and our stupidity.
So the challenges for me is I have to accept that I'm gifted and when I need to go to comedy, I have to go 100%.
You know, most of the male comedians, they're like, you know, acting like Mickey Mouse.
But, you know, I have a story, I have a concept, awareness, message, what you really want to sell.
So the challenges with the men, I mean, I'm not afraid.
I think, if I go 100% every day they're gonna have trouble.
[laughs] As you can see, these women are bursting with pride and joy, but their smiles conceal the pain they endured during the war.
I had my son in 1989, just before the war and then during the war, I don't like to talk about it too much, the war.
He lost an eye.
So I was talking to another woman about what was happening, where are the dead bodies and things, and while she and myself were talking, a new bullet came and hit her.
So I just saw her going down slowly.
A pool of blood started coming out.
She started jerking.
He beat the man with a mortar pestle and killed the man and threw the man's body in the bush.
And I was standing next to him.
I was the age of 12.
One of the rebels raped me.
That's how I had my child.
[Larry] Tell us about passing through General Butt Naked's checkpoints? Super Mama, Duke, Evelyn, Kamara, Roseline, Paul, Mamie and Angel Michael.
They went through a lot of pain and loss during that war.
They lost parents and siblings and friends.
One of the main perpetrators responsible for that pain and loss, and still upright, is this man.
The outrageous, larger-than-life, charismatic, yet psychotic General Butt Naked.
Butt Naked's checkpoints changed day to day.
We were passing through a checkpoint all the way to his gate.
We saw human heads.
Then the intestines at his gate.
So you saw severed heads? - More than a hundred.
- Yeah.
So passing were other pregnant women in front of us.
He started betting.
"A boy, not a boy.
" We've seen a lot of things.
It's not for fun.
Yeah, the war, God saved some of us.
Right in front of me, he split a woman's stomach.
He took the child out.
So they were betting on whether it was a boy or a girl? He said it was a boy.
The other friend said a girl.
When he took the child out and it was a boy, he shot the man.
- Wow.
- Yeah.
He killed him right in front of all of us.
- So you were very lucky it wasn't you? - Yes.
- I was so blessed in the whole war.
- Very lucky.
[Larry] So what do you think about General Butt Naked today? Do you think he's a changed man? When he told us that he was changed, to my greatest surprise, when I went in town, I saw him preaching.
The angry crowd almost jumped on him to kill him.
- He should kill himself.
- Yeah.
Me, I get the opportunity, I would kill him.
- Yeah.
- Yes.
- Yeah.
- He did a lot of things.
[Larry] I have a couple of questions.
If you're not comfortable with them, don't answer them, okay? You can be totally honest about that, okay? But I'm kind of curious.
I've read that you've eaten human flesh.
Okay? What does it taste like? Some parts taste like like pork ribs.
Human is closer to a pork.
And would you, would you Would you cook it? Would you How did, how did you eat it? How was it eaten? Oh, my God! Yes, certain parts, like the hearts, for ritual purpose, you don't cook it.
So the heart, you eat it raw? - Yeah.
- Okay.
But other parts, you have to cook it, because it's strong.
You know, in humans are two kinds of blood.
[shouting down the street] [horn sounds] Dangerous comedy isn't just about talking to comedians.
I wanted to talk to people like General Butt Naked and find out what they thought was funny.
And then here I am, at night on a street with no lights in Monrovia, Liberia, on a street the war was fought on, face to face with Butt Naked, talking about eating a human heart raw.
and I'm thinking: "What the fuck was I thinking?" [Larry] When was the first time you watched TV? That's when I was a kid.
Before going to the bush we had television.
And I used to enjoy the In fact, my father made me enjoy it.
It was a common show called Combat.
And the character there used to be called Vic Morrow.
I remember him.
My father would always say that the gods are proud of me.
I'm going to be like Vic Morrow to my people.
That's really great.
- That was a great TV show.
- Yeah.
Did you ever watch comedies on TV? Yeah, there was a comedy show called Malawala Balawala.
It was a local one.
Just stay.
- I must stay here? - Yes! Then they used to have a black guy called Jefferson.
They used to have another one called Sanford and Son.
Do you hear that, Elizabeth? I'm coming to join you, honey.
Tell us how you got to be known as General Butt Naked.
As part of the absurdist comedy of this war, soldiers would adopt comical noms de guerre, such as General Rambo, General Bin Laden and General Mosquito.
- I went naked.
- Right.
to perform my rituals.
So when I went naked Did you always do that or that was a new idea? - No.
I always did that.
- Okay.
But I did them once I'm ready to fight.
And so, when I performed this ritual, a journalist succeeded in taking my picture.
And when he took my picture, it came on the news.
- Naked? - Yes, naked.
And so that's how they called me General Butt Naked.
Nobody knew my name.
I was in charge of everything.
And they saw me naked, so they just said "General Butt Naked".
Now, does humor help in the rehabilitation of the of the former child soldiers? Do you use humor at all? What? Do you use humor in helping the child soldiers rehabilitate What is human? Humor.
Like being funny.
You know, a good, You know, a sense of humor.
Yeah, yeah.
We have a lot of fun.
We have, we have a lot of fun.
We have a lot of jokes.
And things.
I mean, I wondered if you remember laughing with your soldiers? - You know - Oh, yeah.
Tell me about that.
Oh, yeah.
Most of the time we set ambushes, and the opponent or the enemies fall in it and then we play fun out of them, you know? We We lured them to a place where they don't see me.
They're seeing kids.
Kids shooting at them.
And they are coming and the kids are retreating.
And the kids are retreating.
And the kids are retreating and they reach a place like this and there is no way out.
And then I jump from over the fence and I'm standing behind them and they all see me and drop their guns and they start begging and what-have-you and so - So it's funny.
- Yeah.
- So most of the time, we laugh.
- Wow.
It's funny, but it's not funny-ha-ha.
You've killed allegedly, a lot of people.
Do you remember how you felt about it? Did it make you feel good? Did it make you feel bad? Did it make you feel bad afterwards? What was your thinking? What was your emotion around the killing? Well, actually, from the beginning it was hard.
And, after some time, it became normal.
Until the last person that I that I killed.
So it was It was normal at a particular time.
And was that when you found Christ? Yes, the last time.
I wouldn't go to the front line until I appeased my throne.
And so the elders would bring me an innocent child that had to be killed for the ritual.
The cleansing.
It cleansed us.
And so a mother brought to me her three-year-old child.
And I think maybe because the child was not roughed up, roughed up before coming and peaceful, so she was still You know She was even smiling when her mother turned her over to me and laughing and so Then something in me, you know just thought she should not die.
You know, I thought she was so beautiful.
You know.
To die.
So I kept her, hoping that I could find a replacement.
And for hours the elders could not come with a replacement and then the mother came back, because she understood the culture, and it was an easy thing to donate, or make the sacrifice of your child, you know, with the child.
So she understood the culture and came back to appeal if the child did not meet the necessary criteria that I should appeal, because the tribe were dying.
And so I did.
And it was the last time.
[Larry] So, today, in your life I know you have kids and you have a family and everything.
What makes you laugh? Or who makes you laugh? Or what makes you laugh today? Well Bill Cosby.
And his show Kids Say The Darndest Things.
And kids make me laugh a lot.
- Yeah.
- Yes, I love to have conversation with kids.
This is not a dream.
I am in Liberia with a guy named General Butt Naked who was a child murderer, and he has just told me that Bill Cosby's Kids Say The Darndest Things is his favorite show.
That actually happened.
In one bite, wham, and it was dead, baby, but The elections took place soon after we left.
Liberian soccer star George Weah was elected president in a landslide, along with his running mate, Jewel Taylor.
But, in a strange and ominous twist, Jewel Taylor is the wife of former warlord and dictator and convicted war criminal Charles Taylor, who is currently in The Hague for war crimes and rumored to still be pulling the strings in Liberia from prison.
How will the struggling Liberian comedy scene react to these newest challenges? Will it flourish, like it did during the Ebola crisis? Or will it die, like the last time Charles Taylor was in power? In part one of Larry Charles' Dangerous World Of Comedy, we saw how the victims and survivors used the experiences of war to deepen and sharpen not only their sense of outrage, but their sense of humor.
But our tour of duty isn't over.
In part two, we will meet the soldiers.