I think Ari Shaffir and I got our wires crossed when he agreed to do our travel series for comedians, My Kinda Town. I sent him the same form questions we send comics when they’re highlighting cities like Denver or Omaha or Bangor. He picked Giza, in Egypt. As such, many of my questions fell flat.
Because of the featured city, Ari’s answers deviate wildly from other entries we’ve run. There are no concrete recommendations on where to get the best food or the hottest clubs and bars to check out, just some vivid ramblings about his adventures. But that’s all fine because Ari Shaffir is freaking hilarious. Besides, his words made me want to visit Giza. And isn’t that really the whole point?
Please provide a brief description as to why your chose to talk about this city?
What do you mean… why I choose Giza? Because it’s magic. It’s the most foreign place. It’s dangerous and welcoming at the same time. And it’s the center of the universe.
Best place in Giza to grab a late night bite to eat?
You gotta walk along the main strip one way or the other until something catches your eye. There’s one road that goes for miles and then feeder streets all over. I’d go down down that road. Unless you feel like doing a side street. If you feel like those look good, that’s where you should go.
Listen to your feelings. There’s magic there. Feelings have more importance in areas where magic his highly concentrated.
Where is the best place to catch a comedy show in the city?
Dude, what? It’s not like that at all. This is fucking Egypt. Half the highway is missing at some point and you gotta drive into oncoming traffic to get around it. For like, 600 meters. With a cab driver who refuses to wear his seat belt. And he made fun of you for putting yours on. And by the way, they pull the seat belts around them so they don’t get a ticket. But then they refuse to click it in. They just rest it there.
Do you understand the amount of effort that takes to NOT fasten your seat belt? “Where can I catch a comedy show?” Get the fuck out of here.
Best place in Giza to grab a drink?
I wasn’t as into boozing there but there were these crazy nightclubs I passed. Egyptian dudes trying to fuck tourists. I met a guy who lost his virginity at 13 to a 31-year-old Belgian lady. He has a thing for older chicks now. That makes sense. I like the coffee places, though. Get some of that Egyptian coffee and sit there around a hookah and watch whatever soccer game is being played.
Bring some sunflower seeds with you. Do that.
Best hangover breakfast in Giza?
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It’d be everywhere. You can find some weird pastries and eggs at almost every shop you go into. It’s all so cheap. Soak that shit up with Egyptian grease and incredibly strong coffee till you’re back on your feet.
Best place to get your coffee fix?
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Egyptian coffee is strange to me. It’s really finely ground. To a powder. Kind of the consistency of flour. The put a spoonful or two in small pot called a T’nika. With some sugar. Fill it up with water and then simmer it sooooo slowly until the water at the top begins to rise. Then you drink it out of super ornate and delicate china that you can’t believe survived any war. It’s great. Tastes of cardamom I think. Not sure if that’s it, but there’s definitely some specific other taste in there. They sell that coffee at every market all over. Cheap as shit. Get some to bring back with you. It’s delicious. Except for the last sip which is basically like shotgunning ground charcoal.
Oh! And I know it’s a T’nika (tuNEEKuh) because I went looking for one to buy after this shop owner gave me a real lesson on how to make it. The mouth of the pot is smaller than the bottom. So the water really does rise as it expands. But he said you gotta do it at a really low heat or the coffee doesn’t really flavor the water enough. It’s strong, though. It got me jacked when I drank two.
Anyway, they make it over coil hot plates. The kind that looks like it’s made from barbed wire. Egypt is the best, dude.
What is the best meal you’ve had in Giza?
My first night. I went down my side street to that main road and after about a mile I found a place that had the proper mix of lights, good looking food, and people to get me feeling right. So I made a bunch of hand motions to the guy behind the counter. Zero English. So we just went back and forth a few times until it seemed like he was asking if I wanted some dish. So I said yes and thumbs upped him and then whatever the fuck he brought me was good as shit.
I don’t know. Maybe chicken. It was delicious. So succulent. There was rice and soup too, I think. I don’t know. There’s an extra taste food has when you had to earn it. It might’ve just been that. But I really liked it.
What’s your favorite memory from this city?
Walking around the pyramids. No doubt. You can’t wrap your head around how big those things are. I got good advice about getting there early and for four hours I really feel like I had complete freedom around those things. You can climb them. I mean, you can’t. But they don’t even start telling you to get off till after 11. And then you can still bribe them a little for another hour to look the other way. The bribery lasted all day with pictures you weren’t supposed to take. But the climbing bribes stopped eventually. I think it was too public.
But dude. I went up and down on those pyramids. Touched stones that workers carved thousands of years before me. That rock being a direct reminder from a different time. It transports you there when you feel the actual stones. I can’t describe it right. I’m kind of an animist so that might be it. You should touch them, though. Wander off to sites that are still being excavated. Get there before the workers and it’s your park. Put your face up to ’em, man. I’m telling you. There’s magic there. All the street hustlers will tell you that. I know they’re scamming you but it’s a scam based on what’s actually there.
On my way out some old man grabbed me from the base of the Sphinx put his fingers to his lips and took me to a cordoned off area. Snuck me past a security guard, over a gate, and down a hole. I sat all alone in a sarcophagus where the most powerful man in the world chose to be buried because thousands of years ago it was an area of high concentration of magic. God? I don’t know. Call it whatever.
I sat in there in silence for five minutes. Gave the dude everything I had in my pocket. He felt bad and gave me back enough to get some tea and a cracker. I gave him too much. But it was so cool. Probably only added up to about $28. Egypt is hella cheap. Carry a bunch of 10s or 20s. They’re worth about $1-3US. They’ll make people look away on almost anything.
Anyway, I left that dude. Wandered back, bought tea, and just took everything in. Eventually, I went back to my hotel. They had a balcony that overlooked the pyramids and Sphinx. At night there’s this light show that’s narrated. They light up entire pyramids all by themselves or in groups depending on what the narration is saying. By that time the acid had kind of worn off and my appetite came back. So the people at the hotel brought me up my dinner and I sat there in the cooling air looking at the light show while eating some unknown dish of possibly chicken or leftover frog from the plague.
What is your favorite thing to do after a set in this city?
Oh. That’s why you asked me about comedy shows. This is supposed to be about places we’ve done standup. All right. I’ll admit I was wrong to shit on you. But no, I didn’t perform in Giza. I just went there after playing Jerusalem and before my next gig in Oakland.
What is a stereotype about the city that isn’t true?
I honestly do not know any Giza stereotypes. I have some I’d like to enter if you’re editing the Hitchhiker’s Guide. But I went in kind of cold. I did hear it was dangerous. Not sure if it’s a stereotype. But I was warned about that. It definitely put me on edge. I felt on the verge of danger the entire time but never anything I can say was anything more than my own xenophobia.
Luxor felt way more dangerous. There were a couple of times in Luxor where I felt like I fucked up and put myself in a bad situation. But that was Luxor. Giza didn’t give me any serious troubles.
What have you noticed about the comedy club audience of this city?
We’ll just skip this one. I feel like it’s been covered.
What do you absolutely hate about Giza?
The hawkers. God damn. You can’t look at anything without 40 people pouncing on you. For real. It makes you keep your eyes on the ground. Which sucks because it’s so wild and new that you want to look everywhere. I don’t know how to deal with it. For sure keep saying “La Shachran.” That means no thank you. Don’t say maybe later. Zero sign of weakness. But also maybe carry around those 10s to get them to go away. It might draw in more, though.
I didn’t try that method so I can’t attest to it. But I will try it if I ever get back.
What is one thing someone must experience when they visit this city?
The pyramids, man. There’s no question here. If you left Giza and didn’t go see the pyramids, you’re an asshole. There’s nothing cool enough to miss walking among the pyramids. And I don’t honestly think anybody would think there was. It’s obvious.
What was your first impression of the city and how has that changed?
It’s dirty and dangerous. Giza has a seedy under-vibe. I still think that. It’s really cool.
What is one thing you haven’t done in the city that is on your to-do list?
I’d like to have a local show me around. Show me where the poverty ends. I want to see who runs the city. See the different areas.
Who is your favorite comic or local legend to hang with in the city?
Where is the best place to grab a slice of pizza?
If you eat pizza while you’re in Egypt, fucking kill yourself. Why the fuck would you not eat everything unique you can while you’re in that foreign a place. Pizza? Honestly. You’re already dead. And don’t go to fucking KFC either. There’s one there. Globalism is on fire right now. There’s a KFC right by the entrance to the pyramid field. But don’t you fucking eat it.
Where is the best place in Giza to party?
That main road. There are nightclubs down there a couple of miles if you make a right. When their sabbath ends they go nuts. Dance up a storm. Bunch of button-down shirts open to the third button and gold chains being thrust off their chests by thick swabs of sweaty chest hair.
Not my scene. Unless you got Molly. I’d probably like it if I had some molly.
Describe the city in one sentence:
I would never do that to a city.