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Monday, November 13, 2006

The lighter side of Islam

Daddy used to tell me,
"Everything comes down
To what they say about you
When you're not around."

-Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers in "Dead, Drunk, and Naked"

Yeah, I know. It may seem strange to start a post with a quote from a guy from Alabama and somehow attempt to tie it in with the Official Muslim Comedy Tour, "Allah Made Me Funny". Bear with me, if you will.

Hah! Bet you didn't see that pun there: bear... Alabama... Bear Bryant, legendary football coach of the Crimson Tide, the University of Alabama's football team.

OK yeah that was pretty lame, but I just can't resist puns. Back on topic now.

I went and checked out a stand-up comedy act tonight, Allah Made Me Funny, featuring the comedic stylings of Preacher Moss and Azhar Usman. Preacher is from Washington, DC, and Azhar grew up in Chicago, Illinois. They were both making their first appearance on the Tour's run through New Zealand and Australia, and the show was at the impressive and nicely restored Wellington Opera House.

I was eager to see their act for numerous reasons, among them to see how well American comics would be received in NZ, how they'd handle the volatile topics of the post-9/11 world, and to gain a better understanding of an Islamic view of the world today. Specifically, a view that isn't filtered to me by the media or spoken by some zombie fundamentalist twisted with hatred. I don't regard morons like that as representative of most muslims by any means, but what I don't know much about is how most muslims do think. I also thought it would be good to view Islam and the post-9/11 situation from the lighter side, as opposed to the usual hand-wringing stories you encounter daily in the media.

Stand-up comedy affords the opportunity to take a taboo subject, like race or religion, and turn it on its head and make light of it without sounding like a complete asshole. This assumes that the comic respects the material, for obviously the comedian just can't get up on stage, grab the mic, and begin a littany of hate masquerading as jokes. (Well, he can, but only at white supremacist meetings and the like, and then it's no longer comedy). Preacher and Azhar were both hilarious while at the same time poking holes in stereotypes and making sure nothing or nobody was sacred, including and especially by poking fun at themselves. Never did they intimate that Islam was superior to other religions, nor did they try to convert the audience.

Azhar said something that I found particularly funny. He mentioned how in America, he is sometimes hated for being muslim. But now that he was outside of America, he was sometimes hated for being American! What really rang true with me was how he said this actually made him feel more patriotic, as he realized how much he really does love the USA. I've never been more patriotic in my life, now that I've moved to another country, an irony I find most welcoming.

Like Azhar said, I've found that we Americans are not exceedingly popular with the rest of the world at present, and that includes New Zealanders. I was a bit stung by how much they cheered at the mention of Hugo Chavez's name (that dodgy bastard currently in charge of Venezuela), but really almost all of the animosity towards the States seems to originate with Bush and his administration. There is much elation over here about the results of the mid-term elections, so this end of the international community at least has much hope about the next few years.

But this does tie back in with my quoting of Patterson Hood at the beginning of this post. I was compelled to check this event out tonight because I knew invariably the USA would be part of the act not only because the comics are American but because Islam is so obviously relevant to American culture right now. I wanted to hear what people say and think about us when we're not around. By applause, I was the only American in the entire floor section, although there were about three or four more of us up in the balcony.

Also, I do not mean to present Hood or the Drive-By Truckers as some sort of racist rednecks from the deep south, for they are absolutely not. It's beyond the scope of this post to go into the greatness of this band, but I refer you to the lyrics of one of their songs to give you a capsule understanding of what they're all about. I encourage you to read them and give the DBT's a listen, they're one of my favorite bands - thanks to Todd for getting me into them!

Unpopular though we Americans may be at present, this doesn't mean that we don't have respect from the Kiwis - for I really think they do admire us on the whole. Another big knock against us is the excessive consumption of our society, and it really is pretty bad. I always explain how, now that the war back home against 'big tobacco' is over, there is a new war being waged on 'big fat'. Hopefully our restaurant chains will stop serving such mammoth proportions of food and we won't be so wasteful with all the junk we generate, but I'm starting to digress.

At the risk of going all cliche, I will say that when comedy serves not only to make me laugh but also to enlighten me, so much the better. What shouldn't get lost in these days of fundamentalist religious psychopaths is that they are (and hopefully will remain) a small but rabid and vocal minority. It's important to have a message of peace and understanding out there, and the Muslim Comedy Tour certainly has that going for it. Worship whoever and however you want, but respect other people's rights to their own choices and free will.

Sounds a bit like that most excellent document, the U. S. Bill of Rights, doesn't it?

Comedian Tom Rhodes, in one of his acts, had a great line about race. He said that racism was bogus and that we should just keep mixing all the races, keep mixing and mixing until everyone is the same sort of brown color. Then, we could start hating each other for who we really are, instead of what we look like. Brilliant.


Blogger Beechball * said...

That last line sounds extremely familiar to another comedian I am a HUGE fan of, Russell Peters. He is an Indian Comic who talks a lot of about religion and race and stuff, but makes light of it and does an excellent job in doing so - I highly recommend checking him out. As for politics, I don't go near it. I don't pay attention to it, I know nothing about it or anything so to that... I just will smile and nod! :)

10:45 AM  
Blogger Brooksie said...

I will definitely check out Russell Peters at some point then! Thanks for the recommendation. And I hear ya on the politics thing, I usually don't touch it with a ten foot pole if I can avoid it, and I certainly avoid it when with friends and family. Unlikely I'll have any more politics related posts any time soon, so no worries there!

5:46 PM  
Blogger Azhar said...

Brooksie -- thanks so much for the kind words and flattering review. Glad you enjoyed the show. Just one correction: my parents are both from India, but I was actually born and raised in Chicago. American by birth; thoughtful patriot by choice.


Azhar Usman

7:32 PM  
Blogger Brooksie said...

Hello Azhar! Thanks for reading my post and also thanks for pointing out the correction - sorry about that! I have now fixed that about the post. I love what you guys are doing and I hope you have a great time on the rest of your tour of New Zealand and Australia. Cheers, Brandon

11:43 PM  

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