Ahmed Ahmed is a standup comedian who has also appeared in several films and television shows. His newest project is titled “Just Like Us” and documents Ahmed and several other comedians’ tour across the Middle East. Ahmed took time out of his busy schedule to talk with Movie Mikes about his new project.
Adam Lawton: Can you tell us about your film “Just Like Us”
Ahmed Ahmed: “Just Like Us” is a documentary film that I came up with after doing comedy shows around the Middle East. Around 2007 I toured the Middle East with a group we put together called “The Axis of Evil Tour” which was filmed and shown on television over there. In 2008 we toured there again but not as a group and we didn’t film anything. In 2009 we had a tour that lined up with the International cast and that’s when we actually decided to shoot it.
AL: So the idea came about after touring over there a few different times?
AA: I had started a company with my business partner called Cross Cultural Entertainment and under that umbrella we created Cross Cultural Productions. This would be the portion that would physically produce and put on projects. After doing this my partner asked me what my next plan was. I told him I was going to go to the Middle East and he said I had to shoot it. The timing was great and the topic was relevant so that was part of it. A couple years prior I had done a comedy tour with Vince Vaughn called “The Wild West Comedy Show” which was also turned into a documentary film. From that I sort of had an idea of how to make a documentary. Another thing that kind of brought me to making this project was when I would come back from the Middle East a lot of my friends would ask what I was doing over there. I would tell them comedy shows and they would ask which military base. I would tell them we played theaters for Arabs in English and they get it. The film came out really great and I think people will enjoy it.
AL: What was it like touring and filming at the same time?
AA: I kind of bit off more than I could chew! At first I was going to just be the host for the shows however the promoters started asking me to bring comedians. I in a way started to become a talent booker as well as being relied on to do press. I didn’t have to set up the shows but I did a lot of the grass roots work in setting everything else up and promoting. When we started to shoot that’s where I started to turn into the producer/director (Laughs) It was literally 4 days prior to leaving for the tour that my partner said we should shoot it. I didn’t think we had enough time but he was very adamant about finding camera operators which we did. Once we got back to New York we started almost immediately in post production. We set up an office, purchased the editing equipment, hired two editors and began transcribing everything. We had about 200 hours of footage that we cut down to about 72 minutes. I didn’t really know what I was getting into at the beginning but the film has unfolded into this beautiful project that has taken on a life of its own.
AL: When is the film going to be released?
AA: We did a deal with Lion’s Gate Entertainment and the film is going to be available as a digital download through places like Netflix. My company is also going to release the film independently in select theaters. We hope to get the film into about 10 cities. If it catches wind in its sails we will add more cities. We want as many people as possible to see the film.
AL: Do you have any funny stories from working with Vince Vaughn?
AA: Everyday on that tour was a funny day. It went by so fast that we didn’t have a lot of time in each city but just being a part of that tour was really inspirational and eye opening. That tour really prodded me to make my own film. There were just so many funny things that happened. I can’t think of one that really sticks out.
AL: Had you known Vince previously?
AA: I have been friends with Vince for over 20 years. He had come to a lot of the comedy shows I was involved in which exposed him to the other comedians. He then just had this idea to take it on the road and film it. It was great to be a part of that and we are actually doing some follow up shows in June.
AL: Do you have any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
AA: The film has opened up a lot of doors. I was actually invited to attend a dinner at the White House last year because of this film and that opened up some doors for us which took us to Palestine, Syria and a few other places to do some shows. During this time we accidentally shot a sequel and we will probably start going through that material in the fall. Releases for “Just Like Us” are going to be spaced out from city to city and that will probably take us through July. I travel quite regular and have had a lot of inquiries to go to a lot of different countries that have recently opened up.