Adib Alkhalidey (photo: William Arcand-Desgagné)
From the very beginnings of Netflix’s total domination and reconfiguration of the way we watch stuff, the question was asked: what about Quebec? If the streaming giant had enough power to make people cut the cord, was it going to make content for Quebec? It’s been a hot-button issue for years, and Comedians of the World marks Netflix’s first foray into producing Québécois content for the platform. Four local comedians are being showcased with half-hour specials as part of this globe-spanning comedy project: Louis-José Houde, François Bellefeuille, Katherine Levac and Adib Alkhalidey.
“I’m really happy, because I was always secretly dreaming of having some material end up on Netflix,” says Alkhalidey. “When I got the call from my agent, I was first of all really surprised and then a little bit frightened. I had just released my last special last December and I’d put all of my material in it – even the material that wasn’t part of the tour. I really thought I only had a few bits of new material — nothing really ready. Stand-ups want to have 100 per cent sure-thing material in their pockets that they can use anywhere they go, and I wasn’t there when I got the call. I knew that I had enough time in front of me to work something out. I was already working on a new special, so I think it was perfect timing for me to write original content for a unique event.”
The special — which dropped on Jan. 1 — is Alkhalidey’s third after 2013’s Je t’aime and 2015’s Ingénu. The Montreal-born comic (whose father is from Iraq and mother is from Morocco) has touched upon social issues in the past (he even courted controversy in 2015 after a Facebook joke about people who voted with potato sacks on their heads went viral), but the current special touches on more universal and observational topics: childhood, vegetarianism, relationships.
“I had spent a few months in France and Africa,” says Alkhalidey. “I had the chance to write new material and try it out in front of new crowds. When I came back, that’s what I had. I had worked outside of Canada, so when I heard that the Netflix event was an international one, I figured that was the perfect opportunity. I’d been in Senegal and the Ivory Coast and France, so I was actually in a mindset where I wanted to make people from all around the francophone world laugh.”
The scope of the special is also ground-breaking: all 47 specials will be available to stream everywhere Netflix is available, which means that viewers in India, South Africa or Australia may come across Alkhalidey’s special… probably after they peruse their own local offerings. (Though I had early access to all the specials, I predictably only watched the Canadian ones!) For Alkhalidey, that means making sure none of your references are too specific.
“It was really a beautiful event because a lot of stand-ups from France and Lebanon and other countries were all in Montreal at the same time,” says Alkhalidey. “We all gave each other feedback to make sure that we’re still representing our country or our nation, but also acknowledging that we want to be understood by the most people around the world. It was pretty easy for me — I worked on the special with one of my best friends, who’s actually representing France with his own special. His name is Jason Brokerss. He helped me out to make sure that even though I’m from Quebec and I do have a Quebec accent, I would be understood by his fellow Frenchmen.”
Filmed specials are rarely a comedian’s favourite thing. Sometimes you have an off night on the night you decide to film, sometimes the editing slaughters a joke’s timing, sometimes festival sets are pared down from 20 minutes to five for easier televisual consumption. I asked Alkhalidey how that worked with this current special.
“I think I did 33 minutes and we all agreed to cut three minutes out of the special,” he said. “When they first pitched me on the special, they said they wanted 30 minutes. I wrote a little bit more; sometimes, from one crowd to another, you don’t get the same reaction. So I wrote a little bit more, but in the editing, we agreed that maybe three of those minutes were better off removed. (laughs) I just had positive feedback on the material, so it made it easy for me to make decisions. When I started, I was young — I just wanted to feel that I was good, you know? But now, when someone gives me a chance, I want to make them happy to have chosen me. Even though I’m alone on stage, it’s teamwork. You want the producers to be satisfied with their choice. They gave me carte blanche from the beginning!”
The special’s premiere kicks off what’s likely to be a big year for Alkhalidey. His feature directorial debut Mon ami Walid, in which he stars with co-writer Julien Lacroix, is premiering later this month. And later this year, we’ll see Alkhalidey in Xavier Dolan’s latest, Matthias & Maxime. ■
Comedians of the World is streaming on Netflix as of Jan. 1, 2019.