For more than six decades, millions of families have been gathering in living rooms around the Middle East, sharing heartfelt laughter while watching Samir Ghanem – acclaimed actor, singer, and, above all, comedian. Born in 1937 in al-Atawlah village, Egypt, Ghanem took his first professional steps towards fame after meeting George Sidhom and El Deif Ahmed. Together, they made the region’s most adored stand-up trio: Tholathy Adwa’a El Masrah. Between introducing TV Ramadan Riddles to the Arab world and starring in a number of box office hits, such as Akher Shakawa (Frivolous Youth), 30 Yom fel Segn (30 Days in Jail), and El Maganeen El Talata (The Three Lunatics), they defined comedy during the 1960s. Ghanem proved his undisputed solo talent after the sudden death of Ahmed in 1970 in the role of green-suited Fatota. Having recently shared the screen with his two daughters, Donia and Amy, and working on a new play, Ghanem is more dedicated than ever in his mission to spread laughter everywhere.
What makes you laugh?
It is not difficult to make me laugh or even cry. I laugh at my own jokes and it shows on stage. The audience also makes me laugh; their reactions and genuine laughter always affect me. With that in mind, no one makes me laugh quite like my daughter Amy and my granddaughter. They never cease to surprise me with their spontaneous humor. People assume that I speak in jokes. My daughters are often asked if I joke all the time at home, but I do not. I am a calm person who prefers not to talk much.
When are you most happy?
The happiest moments of my life are when the hall is full of people who have come all the way to watch me and they are genuinely laughing at my jokes. I also love to hear their comments after the show. Arab guests, for example, often say a prayer for me as a thank you for how much I made them laugh. Many guests have said that I will go straight to heaven because I made everyone happy on that night. Such comments fill my heart with love and happiness.
How did Tholathy Adwa’a El Masrah come to life?
I started acting with George Sidhom and Adel Nasef while studying for my bachelor’s degree at Alexandria University. But, when Nasef chose to travel, we had to nd a third partner. El Deif Ahmed was a student at Cairo University and he was passionate about directing; yet, he had a captivating sense of humor and contagious laughter, combined with a memorable appearance. When we met him, we instantly knew that he was the person we had been looking for. Together, we met Mohamed Salem the director; he was the one who gave us our name as a stand-up comedy trio, Tholathy Adwa’a El Masrah.
How did the sudden death of El Deif Ahmed affect the trio?
El Deif ’s death was sudden and devastating. We knew at the time that we could never replace him. Many people who looked exactly like him contacted us for casting opportunities but we already knew that no one would ever be quite like him. We kept the name, however, but we never became a trio again. Our first production after his death was El Motazawegon (The Married Couple). We never predicted it to be so successful and to live for so many decades later.
Did you expect Fatota to become a regional phenomenon and meet such tremendous success?
To be honest, I was scared of Fatota at the beginning. Aside from how different that character was, the shooting process itself was complicated and exhausting. They used to direct excessive amounts of light on me to be able to shrink my size later on during editing. In parallel, I was required to speak in a high-pitched voice and sing very slowly in order for the sound technicians to turn it into the signature voice we used to hear on TV. But it rapidly became popular and crossed borders before we knew it. Soon, we started organizing special events everywhere around the Middle East. More than 2,000 kids used to attend each performance with their families, all excited to watch Samora and Fatota live on stage. These shows used to be extremely difficult – all the kids wanted to meet Fatota and take pictures with him. But they brought me a lot of happiness, regardless of how hectic they used to be.
What do you think of the comedy landscape nowadays?
The new generation is quite impressive but what truly matters is for them to be able to create a comedic legacy. No one has created a footprint. They are quite funny but their jokes are temporary; you can only laugh at them once or twice. It is only a matter of time before they lose their impact.
What encourages you to pursue such a long career and remain faithful to comedy?
I believe that comedians should continue to work until the last day of their lives, not because they need the money but because standing in front of the audience is a luxury in itself. I don’t think I have lost my inner sense of comedy. I am currently working on a new play called Sebony Atgawez (Let Me Get Married), which revolves around a senior man who is consumed with marrying one woman after the other while being in complete denial of his age. The shows should start in December.
Originally published in the November 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia