Back in 2005, Albert Brooks went Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. In Ahmed Ahmed’s Just Like Us, the Egyptian-American director/funnyman instead brings the laughs to the Middle East himself. Leading a contingent of Western comics of both Arabic and non-Arabic origin to perform in Dubai, Beirut, Riyadh, and Cairo, Ahmed aims to show that American-style stand-up can translate to the Muslim world. A true believer in the transformative power of comedy, he posits joke-telling as a means of bridging cultural differences, a way to deflect stereotypes about humorless Arabs and to empower young Muslims living in repressive regimes. All of which may be quite accurate, but the director doesn’t illuminate much about the Middle East experience except that the young audience members are apparently so starved for Western-style comedy that they go into hysterics over a “Kids Say the Darndest Things” routine. To be sure, not all of the jokes are such duds and the film is largely effective as a breezy travelogue. Still, Ahmed plays the “Muslims, they’re just like us” bit a little too hard, pointedly ignoring the obvious parallels between the “freedom” provided by imported stand-up and the endless McDonald’s signs that flicker throughout the region.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 8, 2011