The just-completed 2010 Tribeca Film Festival included stand-up comedian Ahmed Ahmed's documentary, Just Like Us, which took American comedy to the Middle East to show how Arabs have a sense of humor, too. I talked to Ahmed and you can see our chat here about breaking down the walls and stereotypes regarding Arabs.
What comedians Dean Obeidallah and Maysoon Zaid are doing is the reverse, shining a light on Arab-American comedy with an annual festival right here in New York City. For their seventh Arab-American Comedy Festival, which kicks off tonight in lower Manhattan's 3LD Art + Technology Center just a few blocks from Ground Zero, they're planning a first for American comedy -- a stand-up show performed entirely in Arabic. That's on Saturday night.
Is New York City ready for an all-Arabic comedy show? Obeidallah said the fest's attitude on it is much different now than than it was when they started the fest in 2003: “You didn’t speak Arabic in public then. If you did it turned heads and people stared at you suspiciously. The 9/11 attackers spoke Arabic. Our message back then was ‘Hey, we may be Arab, but we’re just like you! (Please don’t arrest us!’)….seven years later we’re doing an all Arabic comedy show in NYC. Culturally, Americans are more comfortable with Arabs. Enough time has passed since 9/11 that no one is outraged about a comedy show in all Arabic. Our message today is ‘Hey, we’re Arab, we love being Arab, and we enjoy celebrating our heritage.’ But it’s still a gamble. There could be a negative reaction. We don’t know.”
Last week, Obeidallah was a guest Geraldo Rivera's FOX News program to talk about Arabs having a sense of humor in the face of the recent South Park episode that mocked Muhammad. Oh, spoiler alert, Geraldo just had to throw in the horribly cliche "tell me a joke" request toward the end of the segment. Good grief. Roll the clip!
Note: Some reporters have since tried linking the South Park episode with last Saturday's bomb scare in Times Square. Of course, the suspect who allegedly confessed to that terrorist scheme is from Pakistan, which is not Arab. Social studies lessons!
Here's a short promo clip for the festival: