The Egyptian people have been celebrating day and night today upon hearing that their ruler of the past 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, had fled Cairo and given up his authority.
My thoughts turned to the Egyptian-Americans I know, both civilian and comedian.
Screenwriter and UCBer Mohamed Fathelbab has been actively outspoken since the mass rallies and protests began a few weeks ago. One of his many comments today: "There are going to be a lot of Egyptian babies born 9 months from now. #Egypt #Jan25 #Feb11"
Ahmed Ahmed kept it even simpler today: "Egypt is free!"
Last summer, Al Jazeera TV put a spotlight on Egyptian-born comedian Ahmed Ahmed and his documentary, Just Like Us, which included several segments on his homeland, where he wasn't the only one to decide that Egyptians were and are the funniest people in the Middle East.
A few years ago, Ahmed Ahmed toured the United States and the world as part of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour in a self-deprecating knock on the stereotypes against Arabs and Arab comedians. Now the Egyptian-born stand-up comedian wants to flip the axis and show Americans that Arab people have a sense of humor, too, documenting a comedy tour through the Middle East in his new film, Just Like Us.
Just Like Us has its world premiere April 24 at the Tribeca Film Festival. Here's the trailer:
"A lot of people think the Middle East is all bunched up like one country," Ahmed told me in an interview earlier this week. "The countries are definitely distinct." In Dubai in the U.A.E., the comedians worry about crossing the lines on religion or sex onstage, because as Ahmed says in the film, he had been banned from performing there for a year previously after poking fun at his own background. In Lebanon, meanwhile, the party atmosphere of Beirut seems to suggest anything and everything goes. In Saudi Arabia, where the government forbids public entertainment, the tour is forced to work underground channels. And in Egypt, we see that every citizen seems to have a larger-than-life sense of humor.
At one point in the film, Ahmed says the point of it all is this: "Laugh at ourselves, and the rest of the world will laugh with us." Here he tells me a little bit more about that:
Among the comedians who went on tour with Ahmed: Ted Alexandro, Whitney Cummings, Tommy Davidson, Omid Djalili, Erik Griffin, Maz Jobrani, Sebastian Maniscalco, Tom Papa and Angelo Tsarouchas. We also see local Arab performers such as Sherif Azab, and in a final segment of the film from New York City, performances by Maria Shehata and Eman Morgan. You'll see Whitney Cummings in a burka, and hear Tom Papa describe what he enjoyed about that.
How have American attitudes toward Arabs changed or evolved since 2001? Ahmed explains: