When I was in the US, a friend of mine told me the most popular jokes around the presidential elections that have been preoccupying the American people day an night for a few months now.
The latest one goes: Barack Obama knocks on the gates of heaven wanting to g in. Angel Gabriel asks: “Why should I let you in? “Because I was the first Black American president, says Obama. Surprised, Gabriel asks “When did that happen? Obama says, “Twenty minutes ago!
One journalist also told me a story that’s been going round in media circles about Chelsea, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton, who met Republican nominee John McCain, during Hillary Clinton’s campaign. When she saw him looking angry as usual, she asked, “What’s your problem? He answered, “I’ve got three, Osama, Obama and your mama!
And when Obama beat Clinton and won the democratic nomination, the big joke was that starting next year, we’ll be governing from the Black House.
Last week I attended the opening of the Om Kolthoum exhibit in Paris organized by L’Institut du Monde Arabe. The event was attended by scores of French and Arabs who recalled some of the most popular jokes for which she was famous.
One of them goes: One day, Om Kolthoum was at the old radio building on Sherifien Street. On her way upstairs, she ran into poet Ahmed Ramy descending the stairs. Ramy, who was rumored to have been harbored an unrequited love for her, took her hand and said: “How are you my dear soul? How are you doing my dear soul? What are you going upstairs for my dear soul?
Om Kolthoum was in a hurry so her nephew Ibrahim El Dessouky snapped at him: “Mr. Ramy, he said, “aren’t you on your way downstairs? With typical shrewdness Om Kolthoum said, “How can he possibly go downstairs when his dear soul is going up? [In Arabic the play on words also mean “he’s dying .]
Om Kolthoum was also known for never addressing the audience on stage except by singing, unlike other singers who used to introduce the songs or praise the lyricists and composers. But sometimes she used her lyrics to respond to the audience’s comments.
One Syrian man who was over 80 but had come to Paris especially to attend the exhibit, recounted an incident that took place as he attended a performance by El Sitt (‘The Lady’, as Om Kolthoum was commonly referred to) in which she sang her love ballad “Alf Leila Wi Leila . The man sitting next to him kept calling for encores asking her to repeat a certain verse, which she did several times. As she was about to move to the next part of the song, he started yelling again for an encore. She ignored him and moved on to the following verse which said “Don’t torment me, don’t make me long for you .
Here she looked at him angrily as she uttered the words “Don’t torment me! which caused the audience to applaud her loudly and the man to hold his tongue till the end of the concert.
Until today, when people listen to recordings of this performance, they don’t understand why the audience started clapping before the end of the verse when Om Kolthoum sang “Don’t torment me .
One Tunisian lady who was attending the exhibit asked me: “So what’s the latest joke in Egypt? Tell us a good one like Om Kolthoum used to.
Since I hadn’t come across any authentic Egyptian jokes like those of Om Kolthoum for a long time, I told her, “It’s been years since we’ve had any good jokes. And if I were to recount the latest jokes I’ve come across, they’d be American.
“May God Almighty have mercy on us all! she said.
Mohamed Salmawy is President of the Arab Writers’ Union and Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ahram Hebdo.