Ibn Al-Maghazilee - Standup Comedy
Kaan Ya Makaan, Fee Qadeem Al-Zamaan…
There was a Place, in Times of Old…
Where lived a comedian named Ibn Al-Maghazilee who made his living by performing on the bustling streets of Baghdad. So clever was this comedian, and so comic were his jokes and stories, that any and all who heard him would be convulsed with laughter.
One day, during the reign of the Calipha Al-Mua'tadid, Ibn Al-Maghazilee stood near the entrance to the Calipha's court and spun his stories and told his jokes. Before long, he had many of Al-Mua'tadid's attendants and courtiers gasping with laughter. One attendant in particular was quite taken with Ibn Al-Maghazilee's stories and jokes and lingered for a long time before finally leaving to attend the Calipha.
Not long after the attendant left, he returned, caught hold of Ibn Al-Maghazilee's arm and said in a quiet voice, "When I left, I went to wait on the Calipha Al-Mua'tadid. As I stood before him, I remembered one of your stories and couldn't help laughing. The Calipha saw me and was most displeased. He demanded to know what I found so amusing. So I told him about you and your performance and how I simply couldn't help laughing. Now, he has ordered me to bring you before him and has promised me half of any payment he gives you."
Ibn Al-Maghazilee felt elated by this fortunate turn of events but as a poor street performer he hoped to go home with more than just half of the payment. In wheedling tones he appealed to the attendant, "My Lord, I am a weak and poor man. I believe God has sent you to me as a gift. If you must take some of the payment, would you be kind enough to only take a quarter or a sixth?"
The attendant had no intention of losing a single coin that he felt was his due, so he refused and insisted on half of whatever the Calipha gave Ibn Al-Maghazilee. Not wishing to anger the greedy attendant and thus lose his opportunity to perform before the Calipha, Ibn Al-Maghazilee agreed to give him half of whatever the Calipha gave him. Satisfied, the attendant escorted Ibn Al-Maghazilee inside.
Ibn Al-Maghazilee stood before the Calipha, respectfully greeted him and was politely greeted in return. Then Ibn Al-Maghazilee stood and waited silently while the Calipha finished reading several pages from a book he held. A few minutes later, the Calipha looked up and said in supercilious tones, "You are Ibn Al-Maghazilee?"
"Yes, O' Prince of the Believers," Ibn Al-Maghazilee replied humbly, feeling a little anxious at the sight of the Calipha’s frowning face.
"I was told you tell amusing stories and recount strange and rare tales," the Calipha prompted.
"Yes, O' Prince of the Believers," Ibn Al-Maghazilee said, attempting to smile winningly at the displeased Calipha, "Necessity is the mother of invention. I gather crowds and try to become dear to their hearts with my stories, hoping to live off of their generous contributions."
Thoroughly unimpressed, the Calipha coldly declared, "Then tell me your tales and show me your arts. If you make me laugh, I will reward you with five hundred dirhams. But if you fail to make me laugh, what will you give me?"
"I have nothing but my backside," Ibn Al-Maghazilee said with a cheeky grin, "You may whip me as much as you choose with whatever you choose."
The Calipha's reply was unamused, "I agree. If I laugh then I will give you what I promised you. If I don't laugh, then I will whip you with that whip on the wall there, ten times."
Ibn Al-Maghazilee considered the Calipha’s words for a moment but then he dismissed any disquiet he may have felt. He told himself that a Calipha would not hit very hard so he had nothing to fear really. Then he turned and saw that the whip seemed to be hollow and he found himself worrying about the consequences if he could not make the Calipha laugh. It makes no difference, he told himself, I will make him laugh and get the dirhams; that whip will never be used.
Ibn Al-Maghazilee stood before the Calipha and started to tell his tales. He spoke of bedouins and judges and scientists. He told jokes and puns and used quips. He made up silly tales and he recounted hilarious true stories. Everyone at the Calipha's court fled to conceal uncontrollable fits of laughter and even the servants slipped away to laugh until they cried. None of them wished to show their mirth to the affronted Calipha. In contrast, all through Ibn Al-Maghazilee's hilarious performance, the Calipha Al-Mua'tadid did not so much as twitch his lips.
With a sinking heart, Ibn Al-Maghazilee noted the Calipha's determination not to laugh. Desperate now, and thinking of that strange whip hanging on the wall, he decided to try one last trick. Addressing himself to the stone-faced Calipha, Ibn Al-Maghazilee exclaimed, "By God, I have exhausted my store of jokes and tales. My head is splitting, my skills have failed me and I have never seen your like. But I do have one last joke in mind."
"Tell me," ordered the apparently bored Calipha.
"O' Prince of the Believers, you have promised to whip me ten times in place of the payment. I now humbly ask you to double it," Ibn Al-Maghazilee said unexpectedly.
The Calipha struggled mightily and just managed to prevent himself from laughing. Instead he said to Ibn Al-Maghazilee, "Agreed," then he addressed himself to one of his youthful servants, "Boy, bring me the whip!"
Ibn Al-Maghazilee decided to take his stripes like a man so he offered up his flinching backside just as he had agreed. When the whip landed on his backside for the first time, Ibn Al-Maghazilee inhaled sharply because he felt as though a building had been dropped on him. He realized then that the whip had seemed hollow because it was. The rawhide whip had been wrapped around a line of small rounded pebbles.
As the Calipha, whose dignity had been insulted by a laughing attendant, landed stripe after stripe on Ibn Al-Maghazilee’s backside, the hapless comedian’s ears rang and he felt as though he were going to faint. After the whip had landed for the tenth time, Ibn Al-Maghazilee called out in a shrill voice, "My Lord, a word!"
The Calipha lowered the whip and said, "Speak!"
"My Lord," Ibn Al-Maghazilee began, "There is nothing in this world better than honesty, or worse than betrayal. I have promised your attendant half of whatever you gave me. And you, O' Prince of the Believers, out of your generosity and kindness have agreed to double my reward. Now you have given me half of it, the rest belongs, by right, to your attendant."
As soon as the Calipha heard that, he could no longer control his mirth and he laughed and laughed and laughed. All of Ibn Al-Maghazilee’s jokes and tales which he had so determinedly not laughed at, now flew through the Calipha’s mind and he laughed at them too until the tears were streaming down his face and he was holding his sides, gasping for air. Eventually the Calipha recovered from his laughing fit and he ordered that his attendant be brought before him and in turn whipped on the backside.
Appalled, the attendant said, "O' Prince of the Believers, why am I being punished? What crime have I committed?"
Ibn Al-Maghazilee quickly interrupted, "This is my reward and you are my partner. I have already received my half and now it is time for you to receive your half, just as we agreed."
Unable to object, the attendant had to present his own reluctant backside and submit to ten lashes by the same whip. As he was receiving his half of the reward, Ibn Al-Maghazilee spoke to him, "I told you I was poor and needed the money but you insisted on your half. If I had known that the Prince of the Believers, God save him, gave out whippings as rewards, I would have given you all of the reward."
The Calipha could not help but laugh at Ibn Al-Maghazilee's capering and words. Once the attendant had received his ten lashes, Ibn Al-Maghazilee had ceased his antics and the Calipha had stopped laughing, the no-longer-affronted Calipha produced a bag filled with five hundred dirhams.
"I had prepared this bag for you, but your actions have produced a partner you will have to share it with," the Calipha teased Ibn Al-Maghazilee.
"O' Prince of the Believers, where would the honesty be in that?!" Ibn Al-Maghazilee replied, not at all perturbed, "I only wish you would give all of the dirhams in that bag to your attendant and then give him another ten lashes in addition to the ten he has already received. As far as I am concerned, he can have the entirety of both rewards!"
The Calipha Al-Mua'tadid laughed again and had the monetary reward equally divided between the two men just as the stinging reward had been. Then with a wide smile, the Calipha dismissed both men.