Ahmed Taha  /  NBC News
Iraqi comedians Nahi Mehdi and Ihssan Dadoush are the stars of the best-selling Kashkool Comedy Show.
By Reporters
NBC News
updated 4/25/2005 2:22:07 PM ET 2005-04-25T18:22:07

The Bedouin furiously rubs his lantern while ordering the genie to come out and grant him his three wishes. The genie emerges from the lantern in full splendor, and bows down in front of the grinning Bedouin.

"I am at your service sir. I am prepared to grant you three wishes and fulfill your dreams.

"But as you are an Iraqi I have to warn you from the start that there are three things I can not change for you in Iraq: Security, jobs, and the infrastructure!"

The crowd, which had gathered around the small wooden stall to watch the TV show, burst out in laughter.

The market in downtown Baghdad offers all manner of entertainment videos and movies. Choices range from video of a Sunni cleric preaching in favor of the Fallujah insurgents, to a local belly dancer with dark long hair dressed in a tight, colorful dress and dancing in a provocative manner. For the right amount of money even adult movies can be purchased.

But these days the best-selling item is the Kashkool Comedy Show starring Nahi Mehdi and Ihssan Dadoush. “I sell about 150 copies of their episodes every day. Their show outsells all the other ones, like insurgents videos, belly dancers or even music videos,” said the stall’s owner Ahmed Al-Lami.

Giving people something to smile about
Mehdi and Dadoush have been entertainers for years. They have performed in plays and on TV series, but they never had the chance to work together as a team.

“The older actors felt very threatened by us and made sure we could not get any serious opportunities,” Dadoush said.

After the war the pair were hanging around Baghdad’s convention center at the offices of Iraq’s new TV station. The station program director offered the men a chance to produce and star in a new comedy show.

“We felt that the Iraqis needed something to smile about,” Dadoush said. Despite the risks facing them, they set about filming in Baghdad — a town filled with all the inherent danger so familiar to all.

“People were looting and robbing. Guns were going off all the time and the military was everywhere. But we just went about our business,” Dadoush said.

“Freedom of expression is the best privilege we gained with the fall of Saddam’s regime. Under his rule the secret police would go over the script. Once they made me drop a skit from a play because an actress’ character said that her favorite meal is venison just like Saddam,” Mehdi said.

Free to mock government
Now Mehdi and Dadoush set out to criticize the government. But instead of getting into trouble, the men occasionally get calls from government officials thanking them for pointing out problems.

Recently Mehdi portrayed a man sitting in a bathtub while trying to row down a certain street that was flooded by sewage. In the sequence, Mehdi’s character calls his friend on a cell phone to apologize for being late because the sewage was particularly thick that day.

“One week later the district manager called me up and assured me not only was the sewage system fixed, but the road was repaved,” Mehdi exclaimed.

Dadoush, a short man sporting a goatee with a slim built, is much more polite and courteous in person than some of his aggressive characters. But, Mehdi, a tall balding man with a trim beard, is almost as excitable as the roles he favors in the show.

Turning grief into laughter
Their aim is to lift Iraq out of its funk. 

“Comedy is the best way to highlight all the bad things that are happening to us and our fellow citizens,” Dadoush said.

“Not only are we delivering a statement about the suffering of the Iraqi people but the show has given new meaning to my life,” Mehdi said.

Tahseen Salih, who was buying a copy of the show, likes how Dadoush and Mehdi deliver their message.

“They have managed to funnel our grief into laughter. Instead of worrying about power shortages, flooding sewage pipes, the never-ending traffic jams, and the constant insecurity among other ills, they make us laugh bitterly and help get us over our sorrows,” Salih said.

The two comedians are basking in their new-found fame. They have acquired a lot of fans and recently moved the show to a better TV channel as well as adding a radio program.

But Dadoush and Mehdi have set their sights on a bigger challenge. “We hope that in the near future we will be able to present our style of comedy to the entire Arab audience,” Mehdi said.

Babak Behnam is an NBC News Producer on assignment in Baghdad. Ahmed Taha works in the NBC News' Baghdad bureau and reported on this story.

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