Allah Made Them Funny

Muslim comedy tour tickles the Austin faithful

It was Wednesday evening prayer at the Islamic Center of Greater Austin; as the call of the muezzin faded from the air, a close-pressed line of men bowed and knelt in ritual recitation. Behind them, in the back of the mosque, Sabira Janmohamed whispered and giggled with her large and jolly entourage of cousins and in-laws, who eagerly waited for the real show to begin.

"I'm excited," she said. "I've never been to a Muslim comedy show before."

Janmohamed was among the couple hundred attendees to Allah Made Me Funny, a national Muslim comedy tour that hit Austin last week. The tour is intended, at least in part, to reach out to Americans more familiar with Islam via Osama bin Laden than via jokes about prayer wedgies or the dreaded "Ramadan breath," an unpleasant condition that hits a couple of weeks into the monthlong fast. However, the religious venue meant that mostly Muslims attended the show, a family-friendly affair complete with toddlers rampaging about in fuzzy pink pajamas and no joke dirtier than a slightly icky shtick about ugly feet in airport security areas.

But even if outreach potential was limited, Janmohamed said there was value simply in getting Muslims together to laugh at themselves. "It's like the [comedy tour] organizers say, comedy might be the only way to get all types of Muslims into the same room," she said.

However, her sister-in-law Aiman Janmohamed said she hoped non-Muslims would also get a chance to see the tour. "I think the view many Americans have of Muslims is that we're very serious, and don't have a sense of humor," she said. "I think it's a new and positive thing to have jokes about Muslims that show us in an everyday way, that we're all just human beings."

The two performers, Azeem and Preacher Moss (a third comedian, Azhar Usman, unexpectedly cancelled), were both African-American converts, but had no problem sending the largely South Asian and Middle Eastern audience into hysterics. Not surprisingly, the performers found their most fruitful comedic terrain in mocking stereotypes, from Azeem's grandmother's reaction to his conversion ("She said, 'You can't be a Muslim. You ain't been to jail yet!'") to the common misperception that Muslims are somehow inherently violent.

As for the latter, Azeem set the record straight once and for all. "Brothers and sisters, we really are the most peaceful people on earth," he said. "I mean, Mike Tyson hasn't won a fight since he converted!"

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Allah Made Me Funny, Azeem, Preacher Moss, Sabira Janmohamed, Aiman Janmohamed

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