“We used to live in a house right next to a bridge. When I was little, we were not allowed to go out on the balcony for fear that a car might hit us,” Lebanese comedian Hussein Kaouk told L'Orient-Le Jour.
"During the 2006 war, my father told me, 'Hussein don't be afraid, be quiet, Israel only bombs roads and bridges, not houses and buildings,'” he recalled.
Kaouk continued: “Israel did indeed bomb the bridge, and half our house collapsed. The next morning, I looked at the destroyed bridge. There was still a shell that had not exploded … Everywhere else in the world, the police would have evacuated, cordoned off the area, and the bomb squad would come to defuse it. Not here.”
Kaouk said later that day, a man came to the scene, removed his flip-flops, and started banging on the shell shouting “Down with Israel! Down with [former Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert!”
“I bet that night, Ehud Olmert did not get a minute of sleep. He thought to himself, 'What are we going to do? In Dahiye, people are whacking a shell with flip-flops,” Kaouk quipped in one of his sketches.
He had just finished a performance at a packed venue in Nabatiye, Kfarramane, a village known for its communist past.
Kaouk said a thousand tickets were sold—so many that seats needed to be added. In the end, he performed in front of 1,300 spectators.
“Everything went superbly well,” Kaouk remarked.
Chronicles of an ordinary life
It's hard to forget Kaouk, who has performed on several theater stages — including the al-Madina and KED theaters — and even made a television few appearances. The young actor is easy to recognize with his beard and big hair.
In September 2021, he criticized Hezbollah during a comedy sketch broadcast on the al-Jadeed television channel — an act that resulted in death threats on social media.
In his TikTok videos, Kaouk transforms into the character Ali Alawiyeh, with his sidekick, Kawtharani, who is never seen on screen. Through these characters, Kaouk depicts daily life in the southern suburbs of Beirut known to be a Hezbollah stronghold.
"I'm sure [Dahiye residents] are like many other Lebanese. For me, it's a way to bring people together," said Kaouk. "Ali Alawiyeh says out loud what everyone else is thinking."
Alawiyeh curses his bad luck for having to sleep on the rooftop to escape the heat in the scorching summer nights amid power cuts. Alawiyeh talks about Shiite participation in thawra (“revolution”). He pictures of himself in downtown Beirut, but is always afraid of being seen or filmed while expressing himself, should it result in his inability to return home.
Despite whatever Ali Alawiyeh says, Kaouk says he “supports the resistance.”
Love and benevolence
"I am a member of the Shiite community; I belong to South Lebanon. I know that the people of my community love me because I talk about them, their fears, and their anxieties,” Kaouk said.
“I portray them as they are. I think that their trials and tribulations are similar to those of all Lebanese.”
Last year, his community's love and kindness that protected him from the worst.
"When I ride my moped, strangers greet me and smile at me. Even when the electronic armies (a reference to Hezbollah's online militants] were raging against me," Kaouk said.
Originally from southern Lebanon, Kaouk grew up in Beirut's southern suburbs, where his father runs a grocery store.
"My parents are religious, practicing Shiites and they support the resistance," he says.
He said it hurt last year when he was accused of being “a Shiite of the embassies” — a reference to Shiite influencers or intellectuals that Hezbollah accuses of working for foreign embassies.
"I'm with the resistance, but I think it's okay to criticize the established order,” Kaouk says.
The actor discovered his love for theater in college.
"I spent five years there, going from one major to another." Then he met Mohammad Dayekh, also from South Lebanon.
"I got a part as an alternate in a play Mohammad had written that was being performed at the Babel Theater," Kaouk recalled.
The two men became friends and have been working together ever since, producing plays and comedy sketches that are broadcast on TV and online.
“Before the war, Beirut had 21 theaters. There is nothing left today,” Kaouk lamented.
As he dreams of a corruption-free Lebanon, Kaouk is now preparing a new show in collaboration with Mohammad Dayekh entitled Zhalo min Chaaro (“Drag him by the hair”) — an allusion to an insult he received last year.
This article was originally published in French In L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.
“We used to live in a house right next to a bridge. When I was little, we were not allowed to go out on the balcony for fear that a car might hit us,” Lebanese comedian Hussein Kaouk told L'Orient-Le Jour."During the 2006 war, my father told me, 'Hussein don't be afraid, be quiet, Israel only bombs roads and bridges, not houses and buildings,'” he recalled.Kaouk continued: “Israel did...