Idol Chatter

Dean-Obeidallah_idol.jpgMaysoon Zayid wants Dean Obeidallah to run for U.S. president–it’s a personal campaign for her. And if he were to run, he’d have my vote. And if not president, I’d nominate him for hottest (as in funny!) comic out there. Just listen to his bit on what Arab Americans get in lieu of a special month (like black history month): “We get Orange Alert.”
How can you not laugh? At a time when Muslim Americans are still stuggling to cement their place as vital, vibrant, non-threatening members of American society, Obeidallah, Zayid and other Muslim-American comics are channeling laughter to address stereotypes and misconceptions head on. Their antics are on display this Sunday in an episode of PBS’s “America at a Crossroads” series, “Stand Up: Muslim American Comics Come of Age.”
The show follows five rising comedians—Ahmed Ahmed, Azhar Usman, Tissa Hami, Zayid and Obeidallah—on their quest to be heard and be laughed at. And they’re a diverse group, culturally (Palestinian, Indian and Iranian descent) and religiously (Usman is devout, his wife wears a headscarf while Zayid is irreverent, brash, and sexy in her brand of clothing and humor). In this way the comedians also shatter stereotypes that all Muslims are alike.

I’ve seen many of these guys perform—Usman live in his “Allah Made Me Funny: The Official Muslim Comedy Tour,” and Obeidallah and Ahmed in their “Axis of Evil” comedy DVD. And it is sidesplitting stuff if you are a Muslim or Arab and hilarious even if you’re not. You have to admire these comedians for taking what are such sensitive, touchy subjects (like being Muslim in America) and turning it into comedic goldmine. Headscarves, female stereotypes, women-led prayers, the post-9/11 American landscape–it’s all fodder for them.
The program does an especially deft job at showing what makes these comedians tick on the inside. They know that if they can’t expose the humor about their lives, then they’ve got no way to fight for their rightful place in this country. As powerful as Chris Rock is in showing how ridiculous black stereotypes are by making them funny, these comedians are doing the same for Arabs, Palestinians, and all other Muslims in this country.
Because as Ahmed says, “We can’t define who we are on a serious note because nobody will listen. So the only way to do it is to be funny about it.” You just have to check this show out. Check your local listings to see when PBS is airing it in your area.

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