by Jordan Zakarin
Shiite cleric and sitcom star Moqtada al-Sadr offered to walk back onto the set of his show if the Iraqi government, the producers of Mahdi Comedy Hour, agreed to a number of conditions he set forth on Sunday. The government was considering the idea as of Monday morning, desperate to get their star back after seeing a massive dip in ratings in the short time they went to air without him.
The radical leader and comedian, who is given first billing inMahdi Comedy Hour, broadcast his demands over loudspeakers throughout Baghdad, the Iraqi equivalent to the popular videosharing website YouTube. His most devoted fans, who took to the streets this weekend to protest the absence of their favorite star, went home to pontificate the latest development on a number of popular fanblogs.
“I’m telling you, another night of this hokey, most common denominator ‘humor’, and I really might just shoot somebody,” read an entry to one of the blogs. “They better come to some agreement, because it’s clear that Moqtada really carries the show on his back. Without him, it’s just ‘blah’, another Two and a Half Jihadists, at best.”
al-Sadr made three major requests of the government, all of which point to his growing influence as a prime time star. The first demand was for creative control over the show, including final say on all content decisions. The cleric stated in earlier interviews that he has written a much more risque storyline for next season, but has thus far been stymied in his efforts to get the government to give the more politically incorrect and controversial episodes the green light. He has complained in a number of publications that his producers have been seeking more influence in the direction of the show, which became part of the reason he left the set in the first place.
Second, the radical leader and television phenom asked for his own network prime time special, so that he could “expand the boundaries of comedy and really push the envelope” of what can be aired during prime time. Along with the time slot, al-Sadr demanded to have his own script fully produced, without interference, with a budget of up to $10 million. The government, flush with oil profits, should have no problem granting him such a production kitty. One potential sticking point was his demand that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei be given a guest starring role.
The cleric and Golden Globe hopeful’s third condition, immediately granted by the government, was a paid production internship for his eldest son. “I don’t get as much of a chance to be at home with my kids as I’d like, what with this demanding production schedule, so having him on set would really be something the two of us would cherish,” al-Sadr said. “We’d like to make this a family tradition; maybe he could one day be the Freddie Prinz, Jr. of Iraq.”
American diplomats were more weary of the final demand, fearing a Freddie Prinz, Jr. outbreak throughout the Middle East. “That’s the downside of democracy,” a high ranking coalition employee said under condition of anonymity. “An uneducated electorate can really create a monster.”