Out of Misery, Muslim Comedy

Vulgar sex jokes don't work here! To make Muslims laugh, you have to understand the uniquely different Muslim experience.

What tickles the funny bones of the world's 1.4 billion Muslims? Ahmed Ahmed has some answers.

"How do you know you're a Muslim?" the Egyptian-American comedian asked, recalling one bit that worked in a recent show in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. "When you drink, gamble and have sex -- but don't eat pork."


"People there laugh at the same things we do," Ahmed said in an interview, ticking off a list that included dating, religion, airport security and getting into nightclubs. Not to mention George W. Bush.

Comedy does indeed exist in the Muslim world. But, as suggested by Albert Brooks' recent film "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World," stand-up is still a rarity in Muslim countries.

Films, sitcoms and talk shows have been making Muslims laugh for decades. Newspapers, magazines and theater troupes dish out political satire and poke fun at celebrities and the wealthy. Even jokesters that some regimes just won't tolerate can still find captive audiences in the privacy of dinner parties or the ubiquitous cafes of the Middle East and other Islamic countries, where story- and joke-telling have been elevated to an art form.


Eccentric families, politicians and awkward boy-girl situations are all sources of comic relief from Morocco to Malaysia. At the same time, following decades of colonialism, corrupt regimes and war, many Muslims have become masters at turning misfortune into laughter.

Across the Muslim world, it seems, misery loves comedy.

Consider Mayzoon Zayid, a Palestinian-American who claims to be the first stand-up to perform in the West Bank and Gaza. The winning jokes there were about Israeli curfews, diets, and Arab men marrying one of Bush's twin daughters (both girls, she said, if you're Muslim).

"People there laugh at themselves all the time, because if they don't, they will go insane," said Zayid, 30.

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