Getting Jocular with Muslims

allah-funny-movieIt appears no one exactly knows how many Americans designate themselves as Muslims. Estimates found on the Internet run from 1.1 million to over 10 million. But one statistic is certain. If asked, nearly 99.99% of the U.S. population would not be able to name one American Muslim comic. Allah Made Me Funny, an affable new concert film compiling the standup routines of three engaging Muslim comedians, hopes to rectify this dire situation. Not unlike Ray Ellin's The Latin Legends of Comedy (2006) that spotlighted three Hispanic funnymen performing before their cultural peers, Allah is a barebones evening presented in front of an audience of appreciative Muslim men, women, and children. Consequently, unlike the former offering, there are no dirty jokes, cusswords, or stuffed jockstraps. In fact, much of the material is standard comic fare with a sprinkling of Arabic terminology thrown in, not unlike how the Catskills jokesmiths utilized Yiddish to evoke a sense of recognition among their fans. Mothers, wives, home remedies (olive oil), and The Exorcist all get the familiar treatment here. However, when the bigotry against and the stereotyping of Muslims gets focused upon, the routines come vividly alive. Palestinian Mohammed Amer notes that when he told his Mom he was going to become a comic, she warned: "Don't talk about politics. They'll send us back." "Mom, we're stateless. Where are they going to send us back to?" Amer also shares that his family makeup caused him great concern after 9/11. One of his brothers is a pilot, another has a PhD in biochemistry, and his nine-year-old nephew is named Osama. When he took the boy to a Wal-mart for his birthday to pick out a toy, the lad started running about, and Amer was too scared to start yelling, "Osama! Osama!" The F.B.I. (or "the pheebies" as his uncle mistakenly calls them) might be on the way. Next on the bill is Azhar Usman, ( a long-haired, heavily bearded Indian, who avows, "Nobody ever saw someone looking like me smile before." More avidly political, Usman takes on airport security, Obama rumors, Bollywood cinema, how Muslim holidays should start competing with the Christian ones, and about how he is more Jewish than many of the Jewish friends he grew up with in Skokie, Illinois. After all, "I got the beard going. I keep strictly kosher. And I went to law school." As for the tired cliché that all Muslim men are terrorists and the women are oppressed, whoever thinks this should enter a Muslim household because the truth is "the women are the terrorists and the men are oppressed." Rounding out the threesome is the hard-hitting Preacher Moss, a former Catholic who boasts, "Americans are afraid of two things: black people and Muslims. I've got the best of both worlds." His dream: to see a Muslim informercial: "You tired of eating pork . . . you sick of drinking alcohol . . .you only got one wife . . Whoa!!!" In the end, while the humor is at times bit uneven, Allah Made Me Funny achieves its goal of breaking down stereotypes with a tongue-in-cheek grace. And although this documentary will play in selected Landmark theaters beginning October 3, this is definitely DVD fare, a medium where it should have a long, successful run. - Brandon Judell brandon.jpgMr. Judell, who's currently teaching "Contemporary Israeli/Palestinian Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.