Lebanese stand-up comedian Nemr Abou Nassar is Rolling Stone‘s cover star in its next issue. With a string of shows around the region that regularly attract thousands, six stand-up specials (one of which – Epic – was released as a movie last year) and a TV series under his belt, along with a hugely successful afternoon show on independent radio station Mix FM, numerous hosting gigs, and a YouTube channel that he’s about to relaunch, Abou Nassar has established himself as the Middle East’s most successful stand-up comic.

In Rolling Stone cover story, he explains the evolution of his comedy – moving from the “family-friendly” material showcased in his first special, This is Why I’m Hot (“I hate that show,” he says), to a harder-hitting, more personal style later on.

He discusses how important it is for artists to fail: “I got good by being bad,” he says. “I’m good at failing. And failing sucks, because you get up onstage and nobody laughs and it hurts. But that’s the moment when you know if you’re worth anything or not, because that moment can crush you. It’s very tough. But, if you accept that it’s part of the process, and you understand it, then you can only get better.”

Abou Nassar also talks about his drive to become “the greatest” and what that means to him – “a man who’s able to be the best there ever was, and to achieve his dreams while keeping his principles” – as well as the trouble that expressing his principles has sometimes caused. “There are battles that maybe, in retrospect, I should’ve fought differently,” he says. “But I’m still proud of them, because I did what I always do; I was being honest. And that’s why people like me. And that’s why people don’t like me.”

Nemr Abou Nassar on the cover of Rolling Stone Middle East, May 2014