Posted by on August 13, 2013 in Blog

By Lama Al-Arian
Summer 2013 Intern

Pictures clockwise from top left: Maysoon Zayid, Remy Munasifi, Ahmed Ahmed, & Dean Obeidallah.

In the past decade, there has been a strong emergence of Arab American comedians who are working to dispel stereotypes and tackle misrepresentations of Arabs and Muslims through satire and humor. From comedy tours to Hollywood films, they are making important inroads in changing the way many Americans with false perceptions of our community view Arabs and Muslims. There are far more Arab Americans comedians doing excellent work, but here are short profiles on four we have been following lately.

Ahmed Ahmed is one of the leading comedic figures doing big things. Starting in 2005, he was part of the “Axis of Evil Comedy Tour.” Traveling around America, Europe, and the Middle East, the diverse group of Arab American comedians attempted to reconnect with their roots and dispel stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims, while poking fun at being Arab American. Ahmed also directed a documentary of his experiences focusing on his tour through the Middle East and America called “Just Like Us,” which can be found on Showtime On-demand.

In an interview with Ahmed, the comedian described his experience as an Arab American trying to make it in Hollywood: “Sometimes I find myself being more of a producer than a comic. But comedy keeps the lights on, by definition. I tried to be an actor for seven years and I made a living playing terrorists and taxi drivers. I got frustrated when my agent said, ‘Unless you change your name, you’ll only ever play Arab roles.’ When I said, ‘Well, what should I change it to?’, she said, ‘How about Rick?’ And that wasn’t happening.”

Throughout his career Ahmed has been featured on several cable TV shows and hit movies including “Iron Man”, “The Legend of Awesomest Maximus,” and the hit Showtime series “Weeds.” Be sure to catch Ahmed’s most recent role on the ongoing TBS series “Sullivan & Son.”

Dean Obeidallah is another greatly influential Arab American who left practicing law for comedy, in order to help shape and influence Western perceptions of the Middle East. Also part of the “Axis of Evil Comedy Tour,” Obeidallah traveled around the East and West addressing political and social issues through several mediums. He has appeared on various US and international TV shows including BBC, NPR, the Washington Post, and is a regular commentator on CNN. He is also the Founder and Editor of the blog “The Dean’s Report,” which is a nonpartisan blog that focuses on day to day politics, with a comedic twist.

Obeidallah is also co-founder of the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival. Founded in 2003, the NYAACF provides a platform for young Arab-American actors, comics, playwrights, and filmmakers to showcase their talents while shedding positive light on the Arab American community. This year the 10th annual festival of NYAACF will run from October 24-26th.

In an interview with the comedian, Obeidallah says “Comedy is one of the greatest weapons — it’s much more productive” — than violence or reciprocal hate.”

Most recently, Obeidallah traveled across the US, hosting free comedy shows in the Deep South in order to counter Islamophobia through comedy. Obeidallah and Iranian director Negin Farsad captured the experience in a documentary “The Muslims are Coming!” which will be released September 12th.

Remy Munasifi, better known by the alias “GoRemy” is another great example of an Arab American who uses stand-up comedy to address negative stereotypes about Arab Americans. With over 81 million views on his Youtube channel, Munaisfi’s music parodies pay tribute to both his Iraqi and Lebanese roots. A recent profile of the comedian in the Washington Post explains how the Arlington, VA born not only makes videos on topics including Middle Eastern food and his love for the Washington Capitals, but also recounts Munasifi’s early political involvement with the Libertarian Party. The Post also reported that on August 2 , Munaisifi spoke at the Young Americans for Liberty student conference, extending support to the keynote speaker Ron Paul, while lending encouragement to the young crowd of college students; “It seems like a lot of libertarian people are out there making videos, and I’d like to see more.”

Maysoon Zayid is another comedian, actress and activist standing at the forefront of the Arab American community. Along with Obeidallah, Zayid is co-founder and executive producer of the New York Arab American Comedy Festival. She has appeared on numerous cable TV shows including Comedy Central’s “The Watch List” and PBS’s “America at a Crossroads: Muslim Comics Stand Up.” Zayid’s screenplay “Little American Whore” was chosen for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, where Zayid played lead in the production. She is a frequent contributor to Open Zion at The Daily Beast, and has appeared on Countdown with Keith Olbermann several times.

In an interview on Patheos, Zayid said: “ I like to screw with people’s perceptions. I don’t represent all Muslim women. But neither does the crazy woman who keeps calling me a slut on YouTube. I’m not trying to represent all Muslim women. I’m trying to give voice to the silent majority. Unfortunately, I’m a bit loony.”

Don’t miss Zayid’s performance in the documentary “The Muslims are Coming!” in September.

comments powered by Disqus