They are part of the national fabric that holds our country together. They contribute to America in many ways, and deserve the same respect as any of us. I pledge to spread this message, and affirm our country’s principles of liberty and justice for all.
Posted by Anni on Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
Dean Obeidallah is a comedian with a mission. He wants to show Americans that Arabs can laugh. In an interview for CNN, he talks about the strangeness of the stoic Arab in popular culture—serious, dangerous, and up to no good—who laughs maniacally and only at misfortune. He wants to change that cultural meme by cracking everyone up. Obeidallah accomplishes this by doing what all comics do: making merciless fun of his own people.
A while back I wrote about a hilarious Onion video clip in which an Onion reporter pokes fun at a very serious matter: our intense suspicion and persecution of regular Muslim people. Obeidallah does the same thing, only his comedy is even more piercing, perhaps because he is talking about his own culture. While Obeidallah does tend to shy away from the obvious tropes—9-11, terrorism, plane travel, Mosques at ground zero—sometimes he can’t help himself. Those tropes are rich veins for comedy. In an interview on The View, he exclaimed: “dress white, make your flight.”
In a strange way, he is normalizing Muslim and Arab Americans by providing stereotypes for popular culture that inspire comedy rather than fear. For example, Obeidallah makes fun of his culture for its love of smoking tobacco with a bit about smoking on the treadmill. He makes fun of how Arab people love to talk in the movie theater. While these are obviously generalizations, they are very similar to other stereotypical topics favored by comedians. For decades comics have been riffing on the black-people-don’t-tip stereotype, or the stereotype that white people can’t dance. Introducing some Arab truisms into the comic’s toolbox means more comics will feel comfortable including Arabs in their acts.
Comedy has always served as a venue for exploring prejudice and for making sense out of hatred. The political cartoons of the 17th century, the slapstick of vaudeville, and the fake news of John Stewart all serve to illustrate ourselves to ourselves. The more people like Obeidallah get us laughing at the ridiculousness of our policies and our prejudice the more they get us thinking about our failings.
Forward-thinking comedians setting trends for the future:
Sometimes, ironically, the people who are the funniest are the people in the worst situations. Arabs and Muslims in America have been the subject of so much controversy, so much slander, there hasn’t been a whole lot of laughing. But all that suffering has an upside: it’s great material for stand-up. Obeidallah’s latest tour, The Muslims are Coming, features a host of Muslim comedians in a troupe-like comedy show. They may appearing in a city near you!