By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
Maher prides himself on being an equal-opportunity offender—easy enough for a half-Jewish, raised-Catholic white American. The three Muslim-American stand-up comics showcased in the concert film Allah Made Me Funny have things a bit tougher, both as citizens and comics. Terror, for these guys, is something more than stage fright. Each of their sets has multiple references to the FBI.
Albert Brooks went looking for comedy in the Muslim world. Perhaps he should have started here. Mohammed "Mo" Amer and Azhar Usman can make fun of themselves—their wife and mother jokes are universal; much of their ethnic shtick could be Jewish or Italian—and their situation. Amer (why didn't he add "–ican"?) bounds onstage expressing incredulity: "This is a lot of room for a Palestinian!" The heavily bearded Usman (who does riff on his patriotic-sounding name) starts immediately with bin Laden jokes. Usman is less cautious than Amer—a good vaudevillian, he rags on Jews and Catholics as well as South Asians—but he still stops well short of any irreverence. His look is provocative enough.
Allah-Made-Me-Funny is a relative concept. The filmmakers pay considerable attention to the audience, which, although pointedly heterogeneous, is heavy on the head scarves and enthusiastic ululations. It's obvious that Amer and Usman labor under the burden of making humor at once insider-cool and outsider-friendly. And it's hard to finesse "offensive" from a defensive crouch. The most skilled comic of the three is the Nation of Islam convert Bryant "Preacher" Moss, who not only evokes Saddam Hussein but goes on to imagine him as a black man in court, arguing with the judge. "The U.S. is scared by two things," Moss riffs. "I got the best of both worlds." He's completely self-referential. Perhaps satirizing his faith will be next.
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