Muslim Comedians Mo Amer and Azhar Usman Come to Carolines on Broadway, 5/22-23
Two of the Western world's most popular Muslim comedians will share their original comic voices on politics, religion and life in general when they take the stage at Carolines on Broadway for the first time, May 22 and 23.
Chicago-based Azhar Usman, who achieved worldwide notoriety as co-founder of the critically-acclaimed stand-up comedy show "Allah Made Me Funny," has teamed up with Los Angeles-based Mo Amer, who was recently featured in Rolling Stone as poised to takeover the Middle East through comedy.
"Could our timing be any worse, coming so soon after the Boston Marathon bombings?" Amer asked. "I was just hoping the guy they arrested would be a white dude and not another Arab guy! I got a mixed reaction when I said that on stage, the night it happened. I wasn't making fun of the attack, but as a Muslim comedian, how could I not talk about what had just happened?"
Born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, Amer is now a U.S. citizen and the only American comedian to have appeared on Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef's popular television show "El Bernameg" ("The Program"). Youssef, who was recently named among TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People In The World for being the "Jon Stewart of the Middle East," was recently arrested in his home country on charges of blasphemy. Although a judge later dismissed the charges, the incident troubles Amer, who is a friend of Youssef.
"I am a firm believer in freedom of speech," Amer said. "What happened to Bassem Youssef bothers me as an American, as a comedian and as a Muslim. The idea that he 'insulted Islam' is absurd. You can't insult Islam. Islam is not a person. Who's really behind these ridiculous allegations, anyway?"
Just two months after the Gulf War broke out in 1990, Amer and his family were forced to flee Kuwait as refugees. They ended up in Houston, Texas. He was inspired to become a comedian when, as a child, his brother took him to see a performance by Bill Cosby at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. He has entertained civilian audiences and U.S. troops around the world, at one point spending several nights in Saddam Hussein's former palace, after Coalition Forces had converted it into a makeshift hotel. Performing for troops has changed his perspective on the U.S. soldiers, giving him more insight into their lives and diverse attitudes while broadening his understanding of power politics and global conflict.
"When I was just starting out, my mom would say, 'Don't talk about politics! Be careful... they're gonna send us back.' Being from a culture where there was no freedom of speech, I had to overcome a lot of brainwashing. There is still some psychological damage that I am working through," Amer jokes.
Usman, meanwhile, is best known for the "Allah Made Me Funny" tour and concert film he developed and performed with tour founder, Preacher Moss. The pair began performing the show together in 2004, and Amer also performed with the show for years. Usman's standup became sharper and more provocative over time, causing CNN to call him "America's Funniest Muslim." In 2011, standup pioneer and civil rights legend Dick Gregory attended their show in Washington DC, and then commented, "Allah Made Me Funny takes you to another planet!"
Usman is also the co-creator of the interfaith comedy touring show "Make Chai Not War," which gained international attention last year when the U.S. State Department sent Usman and co-creator Rajiv Satyal (along with guest comic Hari Kondabolu), to perform in seven cities in India.
Born to Indian-American parents in Chicago, Usman was a lawyer before going into comedy. He considers himself a citizen of the world and describes himself as "intellectually White, emotionally Japanese, spiritually Indian, psychically Persian, physically Arab, artistically Southeast Asian, romantically Latino, and psychologically Black." Standup heavyweight Dave Chappelle once remarked, "Azhar Usman is untouchable." Recently, he invited both Usman and Amer to open for him in San Francisco.
"Great standup is neither didactic nor message-laden; it is honest, raw, sincere, and fearlessly truthful," Usman said. "It is these attributes that make it authentic and therefore relatable. This is the basis of being not merely funny, but hilarious, and that's the real goal for a comics' comic."