Any good comedian will tell you that from great tragedy you must make laughter. Dom Joly, a Beirut-born British comic heavyweight would know the technique a little better than most.

A comedian and writer who found fame a decade ago with his hidden camera show “Trigger Happy TV,” Joly was born high up in the mountains overlooking east Beirut, giving him the panoramic view of the Lebanese Civil War that would shape the course of his life.

Returning to Lebanon after a long lull for research for his new unusual travel book “The Dark Tourist,” Joly reflects on whether his deep-seated need to laugh in the face of danger came from this moment; watching the chaos unfurl beneath him.

To merely say he had a strange childhood would be an injustice to its true absurdity. The 40-year-old comedian spent his early years at prestigious Lebanese Quaker school Brummana High with Osama bin Laden’s brothers.

The humorist jokes that somewhere out there is a grainy school photograph of him with the bin Laden brood.

You can almost picture it – Joly pulling the sort of ridiculous face that makes him so instantly recognizable today, and the young bin Laden boys with their more cerebral smirks.

“I’ve tried looking them up on Friends Reunited…but nothing,” he says, disappointedly

It is his off-the-wall humor that has gained Joly international recognition, exemplified by sketches in Trigger Happy TV where he shouts at obnoxious volumes into an oversized telephone in inappropriate public places. Another gag sees Joly casually perusing the aisles of a china shop dressed as a bull. To this day he says he still can’t shake off the show’s more memorable catchphrases.

It turns out the show could have gone in an altogether different direction; Joly says his original plan to film in Lebanon was scuppered by problems in getting insurance. It is doubtful it would have enjoyed quite the same success over here: The comedy mostly derives from the friendly sending up of characteristic British reserve.

Dressed as a giant snail, another skit shows Joly slowly crawling along a zebra crossing at a busy intersection, with not the merest toot of a horn or the ultimate display of

Dom Joly in front of the Hariri mosque in downtown Beirut

British displeasure – a dramatic exhale of breath – to interrupt the farce.

“In England it’s like ‘just don’t stab me and I won’t get in your way,’ whereas in Lebanon people would get involved,” Joly jokes. “If I did that same sketch here I would have been run down and then probably shot by hunters.”

Joly’s return to his birthplace marks the end of a long absence. He says much has changed in the intervening time.

“I am seeing Lebanon in a completely different way than how I remember it,” he says, taking in the sites of a newly-restored downtown. “It is a country of constant renewal.”

Joly’s new book will document his travels in the world’s least popular destinations.

Having always had a penchant for holidays in hazardous locations, Joly has already paid a weekend trip to the eerie site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in northern Ukraine and visited the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

It is odd for Joly, who spent the first decade of his life in Lebanon, that its inclusion in his book about “dark tourism” does not feel out of place.

“Beirut is still seen as a place for hardy back-packers,” he says. “Most people still think it is a war zone or, more peculiarly, a country made up of nothing but desert and camels.”

Joly admits to being happiest when he is off the beaten track and wants to fill his upcoming book with stories from places as far-flung as Rwanda and Hiroshima. He had also hoped for Libya, but had to strike it from the list after being denied a visa last month.

“I thought it had something to do with the whole Lockerbie bomber Scottish government fiasco, but no, they were actually just banning me.”

It turned out the Libyan government had taken offense to a piece Joly had written some four years earlier in his weekly column for British paper The Independent about the Syrian secret service, making him persona non grata.

“I love that it is a personal ban against me,” Joly says. “It feels like a badge of honor.”

He admits to being a danger junkie, constantly thinking of how he can add more excitement to a situation: “I think it all began in my childhood. Living in Beirut you had to face things that scared you or they would get the better of you.”

Joly thought growing up in a conflict zone was a normal part of life until he moved in England at the age of eight.

“On my first day of school I flipped open my suitcase ready to swap my M16 shrapnel with the other boys as you would do in Beirut to make friends,” Joly recounts. “It wasn’t long before an ex-SAS guy came and quietly disposed of my collection.”

Joly is not used to being set such boundaries, and says that apart from arrests in America for small traffic offenses he has never been in any trouble, which he calls “quite disappointing.”

“But I know deep down I’m chicken,” he says. “If I ever actually have a bad experience I would probably stop immediately, run home to my family, break down in tears and promise never to go away again.

“I am a coward and that’s the note on which I am going to start the new book.”

“The Dark Tourist” is just one of many projects the busy comedian has lined up. Joly is also planning to take Trigger Happy from the small screen to the silver screen by next year, but is worried about the particulars.

“We need to avoid … taking something that is essentially great on TV and giving it a storyline. All of a sudden [Trigger Happy’s] big mobile guy has a romantic interest and then it wouldn’t work,” says Joly.

So long as he emerges unscathed from his adventures in international danger zones, fans of Joly have much to look forward to.

Photo courtesy of fellow Daily Star staffer Sam Tarling

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