You may or may not be aware of the rising Arabic American Comedy trend. This trend starting around year 2000 may be perceived by a bystander as an orchestrated event of brining to the stage new age western comedians of Middle Eastern decent. Contrary, the trend is more organic in its origin than it may seem today. The start of Arabic American comedy (and to a greater extent Middle Eastern – Western comedy) is rooted in the personality conflict and conflict of values that second generation westerners face growing up in a new society.
Weather you are Pakistani Englishman or Palestinian Americans, it is difficult to grow up in a conservative Muslim household with a traditional outlook on everything in life (education, dating, & politics for example) while at the same time trying to meld into a western day to day lifestyle that may be more progressive, more liberal, and differently valued. A good example of this conservatism is how immigrant families in general (weather Middle Eastern or otherwise) place more emphasis and higher admiration for professional degrees such as engineering, medicine, IT, and Law in order to secure for their children a safe haven in the new western world that they may not have been able to secure in their country of origin. In some cases you find that a child from a multi cultural house hold is almost obligated to pursue one of these careers and constantly bombarded by stories of the hardships that his parents or grandparents overtook in order to immigrate to the western world.
It is this crisis of identity and this conflict of value that gives Arab American comics such a wealth of material to work with by reaching into their personal struggles with their identity and their struggles with being misunderstood or misrepresented by society to create new comedic material and deliver their personal message through their comedic content. Within the Arab American Comedy movement we find that many of the comedians were trained and educated in professional degrees: Â Dean Obeidallah, Omid Djalili for example were at one point practicing in Law, Consulting; while Maz Jobrani was working on a Doctorates in Political Sciences before he dropped out to pursue his passion in theater.
Being a minority within their countries, and sometimes the fastest growing minorities in some countries, they were able to take the stage and delivery minority comedy as other minorities have done before them in an attempt to better express themselves and bridge the cultural and perceptual gap that exists between them and the audience which is typically a representative sample of greater society.
So this entire process of training, creating, and growing the presence of Middle Eastern comedians was truly organic and in most cases unsupported by their families. After 9/11, the spotlight in many countries was shone on these fast growing minorities accusing them of being the root of all evil and the ‘axis of evil’. Once again, the comedians continued to take on stage their struggles albeit with a more clearly defined agenda of cultural gap bridging and a new wealth of material in the attack on religious fanaticism and terrorism.
Following the #1 rule in comedy “You are the only one who can make jokes at your own race”; it seemed as though these comedians were the best ambassadors that were both qualified and frankly ‘allowed to’ touch on the topics of growing up as a Muslim in a western country and dealing with the existing theme in the middle east of religious zealotry, fanaticism and terrorism.
As the heat, the spotlight, and the media attention continued to focus on the rise and the message of these individuals we find that they began to coordinate with each-other. Having much in common and having a united message to deliver, two events were created to better target their efforts and to grow their exposure:
1- The Axis of Evil comedy show: Starring the original three comedians, Ahmed Ahmed, Aron Kader and Maz Jobrani. The show started off with three comedians, an Egyptian, a Palestinian and an Iranian, who were all American citizens and caught up in the post 9/11 cultural revolution within the United States. The show then grew in acclaim and turned into a four year international tour and went on to involve even more ‘evil’ comedians including a Korean-Jordanian, and Saudi amateur comedians.
2- The Arab American Comedy Festival: Starring two New Yorker Comedians: Dean Obeidallah and Maysoon Zayed. Dean and Maysoon were most affected by the events and the media’s scrutiny of Arab Americans post 9/11 due to their proximity to ground zero. The Arab American Comedy Festival was originally started as a single event of cultural understanding but has become so successful that it’s on its eighth year running.
With time, this wave of comedy reached the Middle East through online media channels such as Youtube, through paid subscription satellite TV on shows like the Axis of Evil Show and the Omid Djalili show, and much later through the Axis of Evil comedy tour and other similar shows that went on after people realized that there was a venue and a possibility of comedy shows in the Middle East. We now find a second wave of Middle Eastern comedy starting to rise up again organically through the cracks. This wave is based on Middle Eastern comedians that were born, educated or raised abroad and are now dealing with similar cultural and personality discussions after coming back to live in the Middle East. Their content isn’t as political as the content of the Western based comedians because their struggles are different. Their content is more focused on the liberalization of Middle Eastern society, the opportunities for alternative education (for which there are living proof), and sometimes the honest criticism of the idiosyncrasies that exist within their society such as the unquestionable hatred for the west and its policies all the while being obsessed with western fashion, movies, food, and trendy consumerism.
In closing, weather it is an Arab American who is on stage, or an ‘Americanized’ Arab, the message is the same: Life would be much better everywhere around the world if people of all origins and races were able to get together, laugh together, and better understand each-other.
Saudi born American educated Electrical Engineer who is interested in automotive performance, music production, Arabic comedy and other forms of expression.