Funny Ha-Ha

Allah Made Me Funny: Live in Concert
Running time 83 minutes
Directed by Andrea Kalin
Starring  Mohammed “Mo” Amer, Bryant “Preacher” Moss, Azhar Usman

Andrea Kalin’s Allah Made Me Funny: Live in Concert, from comedy material written and performed by Mohammed “Mo” Amer, Bryant “Preacher” Moss and Azhar Usman, strives to be both timely and funny as it confronts the problems of American Muslims in America after 9/11. It is certainly timely in this election year, in which one of the presidential candidates is being smeared by the use of his middle name, Hussein, though he is a Christian. One shudders to think what would happen if he, like the three comedians on display here, were a practicing Muslim.

Certainly, the audiences shown here seem to be enormously amused by the antics of the three stand-up performers, each in his turn. In these paranoid times, I couldn’t help wondering if these spectators had been coached, like standard studio audiences on radio and television comedy programs, to be overly enthusiastic, with the added incentive of being vociferously politically correct.

The executive producers of the movie, Alex Kronemer and Michael Wolfe, also co-founders of Unity Production Foundation, issued a statement in the film’s production notes: “The Allah Made Me Funny comics are right on time and right on the money. At a time when Americans are vitally in need of new ways to approach a polarizing topics, these stand-up truth tellers have come along to open our minds and help us to engage in one of the crucial conversations of our time: where and how do Muslims fit into America. …

“Our film follows the three comics to a hole-in-the-wall comedy club in Washington, D.C., and to a sparkling post-mod venue. In each place, they address important issues and have the audience rolling in the aisles. To open a second window on the personal lives of the comics, the film also delves into equally hilarious family scenes that capture the performers in their daily lives.”

The “mainstream” audiences of which the executive producers speak seem multiracial and multiethnic to a fault. I spotted a whole row of Muslim women bedecked with identical head coverings laughing uproariously at descriptions of disputes among Muslim family members.

Of the three comedians, the Palestinian-American Mohammed “Mo” Amer is clearly the best-looking, with a comparatively “normalizing” routine, even when he touches very lightly on Israeli checkpoints in Palestine—or did I imagine afterward that he had touched on the subject at all? Truth be told, I don’t remember his act as well as the other two. Indeed, in the production notes, Azhar Usman is quoted on a trip to Spain after a tour guide told him that Christians, Jews and Muslims lived there together in peace for centuries, as if that were impossible today. “You been to Brooklyn?” snapped Mr. Usman, “They’re getting along there just fine. You can find a halal hot dog on a kosher bun if you look hard enough.”

Yet, I don’t remember much about Brooklyn or kosher buns in Mr. Usman’s stand-up stint. And anyway, it is simply the old “people are just people” line, and it is true up to a point, but it is hard to laugh at this truth when bombs are going off all around the world, often in the name of Allah, which is not to say that we Christians have not done more than our share of global killing in the name of Christ.

Preacher Moss, the African-American Muslim on the team, actually makes a joke about his mother’s tearful reaction to her son’s conversion to Islam after having been brought up to love Jesus. This is heady stuff, and Mr. Moss makes it funny. To return to Mr. Usman, the South Asian-American member of the Muslim troupe, he seems to be the only one of the three who is trying to look funny in a monstrous beard, so he can get bigger laughs. He seems to revel in the anxious looks the other passengers give him when he boards a plane, and the suddenly polite expressions on their faces when they land safely.

I must say that to compare these Muslim comedians to the stand-up comedy films of Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, as has been done, is perhaps unfair in that Mr. Pryor and Mr. Murphy did not have to compete with malignant headlines trumpeting hate and extinction all around the world.

asarris@observer.com

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