With immense sorrow last week, Egypt bid the legnedary comedian Samir Ghanem farewell. One of the country’s most talented artists, an icon of the theatre as well as the screen, Ghanem was a source of joy and delighted all Egyptians all across society for decades. Ghanem had been hospilised with Covid-19 complications since late April when he passed away at the age of 84 last Thursday.
The news prompted a tide of emotion on social media, with even the most playful parodists making sincere statements of grief. Ghanem’s audience turned out to be even larger and more diverse than previously thought.
He was a remarkably versatile artist, a singer, dancer, proto stand-up comdian and cabaret performer who worked across forms for nearly half a century, never stopping until the last minute. Between theatre, cinema, television and radio, he has over 250 art works to his name.
Born on 15 January 1937 in Assiut, Ghanem graduated from the Faculty of Agriculture at Alexandria University. He started his career in 1963 as a member of the trio Tholathy Adwaa Al-Masrah (The Trio of Stage Lights), a stand-up comedy troupe with the late Al-Deif Ahmed – its founder – and George Sidhom. The troupe practically invented a concept of stand-up comedy starting in the 1960s, presenting a huge number of sketches in films, usually small contributions that nonetheless put them on the map for many years to come. They also stagwed their complete own stage comedies like Tabeikh Al-Malayka (The Angels’ Cooking, 1964), directed by Hassan Abdel-Salam, Al-Ragel Elli Gawez Merato (The Man Who Gave His Wife in Marriage) and Hadath fi Ezbet Al-Ward (Happened in the Flower Farm). They also presented the first ever Fawazir Ramadan (or Ramadan Riddles show), named after them and written by Hussein Al-Said. It went on for ten years.
The trio starred in films like Akher Shaqawa (Very Naughty, 1964), directed by Eissa Karama, 30 Youm Fil Segn (30 Days in Prison, 1966), directed by Niazi Mustafa and Al-Maganen Al-Talata (The Three Madmen, 1970), directed by Hassan Al-Seifi and featuring Naglaa Fathi, Mahmoud Al-Meligi and Zahret Al-Ola.
Ghanem also appeared individually in Saghira Ala Al-Hob (Too Young for Love, 1966), directed by Niazi Mustafa, starring the legendary Soad Hosni and Roushdy Abaza. He played the role of assistant director to filmmaker Kamal (Abaza), who is looking for a little girl to play the lead and finds Samiha (Hosni), who is not as little as she manages to persuade him, who also starts a love affair with him in the guise of her older sister Nadia.
Ghanem collaborated one more time with Soad Hosni on Hassan Al-Imam’s Amira Hobi Ana (Amira, My Love, 1975), written by Salah Jahine and featuring Hussein Fahmy, Soheir Al-Babli, Emad Hamdi and Karima Mukhtar. In it he plays Adel (Fahmy), the manager of a company who he is married to Nabila (Al-Babli), the daughter of company owner, but falls in love with Amira (Hosni).
In 1970 Tholathy Adwaa Al-Masrah lost its founder when Al-Deif Ahmed died, though Ghanem and Sidhom continued to perform under the same name until 1982. It was never quite the same, however.
Tholathy Adwaa Al-Masrah
One of Ghanem’s earliest stage appearancea was Mosiqa fel Haii Al-Sharqi (Music in the Eestern Neighbourhood), a hilarious version of The Sound of Music directed by Hassan Abdel-Salam, starring Sidhom and Safaa Abul-Seoud. Playing the role of sea captin Ezzedine Al-Hosseiny who faces the challenge of raising seven children on his own after the death of his wife, Ghanem engages a young musical nanny (Abul-Seoud).
He played the unforgettable role of Suliman Al-Ankash in Khali Balak Min Zuzu (Watch Our for Zuzu, 1972), starring alongside Hosni and Hussein Fahmy, directed by Hassan Al-Imam. A musical combiding drama and comedy, it is the story of the emancipation of Zeinab Abdel-Kerim (Zuzu), a university student who comes from a family of belly dancers from Mohamed Ali Street but falls in love with Said (Fahmy), the director who studied in Italy and comes from an aristocratic family.
In 1976, Ghanem and Sidhom starred in the timeless Al-Motazawigoun (The Married Couples), as Massoud and Hanafi, respectively, along with Sherine as Massoud’s wife Lina. The play gained unprecedented success and became one of the comic stage’s timeless classics, inspiring generations with laughter and entering into the language of daily conversation and the collective memory.
In 1977, he was the star of the TV series Hekayet Mizo (Mizo’s Tale), written by Lenin Al-Ramly and directed by Mohamed Abaza, and starring Fardous Abdel-Hamid. He played Moataz Abul-Ezz or Mizo, who inherits a huge fortune and spends it recklessly.
Some Visit the Marriage Officiate Twice
Along with Adel Imam, Nour Al-Sherif, Mervat Amin, Lebleba and Sidhom, he also starred in filmmaker Mohamed Abdel-Aziz’s Al-Baad Yazhab Lel Maazoun Marteen (Some Visit the Marriage Officiate Twice, 1978), a comedy about marriage and relationships and jealousy between couples.
Ghanem and Sidhom also starred in the play Ahlan Ya Doktor (Hi Doctor, 1980), directed by Hassan Abdel-Salam and written by Faisal Nada, playing the role of doctor friends Nader and Al-Zanati, respectively, each of whom is trying to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible.
Ghanem starred in a huge number of films including Al-Banat Aiza Eih (What Girls Want), directed by Hassan Al-Seifi, featuring Soheir Ramzi, Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, Hayatem and Ahmed Adawia, following the story of a young woman, Laila, who rejects the concept of marriage but eventually falls in love, as well as 4-2-4 (1981), a football-focused comedy directed by Ahmed Fouad, featuring Younis Shalabi, Lebleba, Ahmed Adawia, Farida Seifeddine and Ali Al-sherif.
The death of Ghanem’s brother and business manager Sayed in 1982 left him severely depressed for a long time, but his career continued.
He starred alongside Farid Shawky, Karima Mukhtar, Ahmed Rateb, Issad Younis and Dalal Abdel-Aziz in Omar Abdel-Aziz’s Yarab Walad (A Boy Child, Amen, 1984), one of the best loved screen comedies of all time.
Again he collaborated with filmmaker Omar Abdel-Aziz in Al-Ragol Aladhi Aatas (The Man Who Sneezed, 1985), starring Laila Elwi, Shahira, Hassan Mustafa and Ahmed Bedeir.
He also starred in Al-Ragela Fi Khatar (Men in Danger, 1993), Al-Hareban (The Two Fugitives, 1993), Esteqalet Gaber (Gaber’s Resignation, 1992) and Tegebha Keda Tegelha Keda Heya Keda (All the Same, 1982), among many others.
In 1983 Ghanem joined forces with director Fahmy Abdel-Hamid for Fawazir Fatouta, initially under the title Fatouta and the Films, playing the two characters of Fatouta and Samoura. The show gained huge acclaim and public success, establishing a new archetype with the miniature figure of Fatouta in his signature green suit, black shoes and bowtie all too big for him. Another season, Fatouta and the Personalities, was screnned in 1986.
Ghanem presented other Fawazir programmes that weren’t as successful: Al-Motazawgoun fil Tarikh (The Married Couples in History1993), Ahl Al-Moghany (The Family of the Singer, 1994) and Al-Modhekoun (Laughable, 1995).
Ghanem performed in more than 30 plays, many of which are deeply engraved in the Egyptian psyche. The highlights include Goha Yahkoum Al-Madina (Goha Rules the City, 1985), directed by Shakir Khodeir and written by Wahid Hamed, featuring Issad Younis and Ahmed Rateb; Akhoya Hayes wana Layes (My Brother Is Happy and I’m Lost, 1992), directed by Hassan Abdel-Salam, featuring Dalal Abdel-Aziz and Rashwan Tawfik; Al-Ostaz Mazika (Mr Music, 1978); Fakh Al-Saada Al-Zawgia (The Predicament of Marital Happiness, 1980); Meen Goz Meen (Whose Husband, 1982); Al-Enfegar Al-Gamil (The Beautiful Explosion, 1983); Mawid Maa Al-Wazir (An Appointment with the Minister, 1986); Al-Mestakhabi (The Hidden, 1991); and Do Re Me Fasolia (2001).
In 1984, Ghanem married actress Dalal Abdel-Aziz and they had two daughters, Donia and Amy, both well-known actresses.
His last appearances were on TV in 2019: Badal Al-Hadouta Talata (Three Tales Instead of One), directed by Khaled Al-Halafawi and starringhis daughter Donia, and Super Miro, directed by Walid Al-Halafawy and starring his other daughter Amy. In 2021 he also appeared in a Ramadan advertisement for a telecom company.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly