The three young men have coffee-toned skin. They say they’re on “a mission.” They have a growing following in the Middle East, and they proudly proclaim themselves to be the “Axis of Evil.”
Not the kind of boast you want to make around a TSA inspector at, say, LaGuardia Airport.
But the three comedians – Egyptian-American Ahmed Ahmed, Palestinian-American Aron Kader, and Iranian-American Maz Jobrani – have been playing packed houses in the US and are now on their first Middle Eastern tour.
In the West, the words “funny” and “Islam” rarely find a home in the same sentence. But these three comedians are working to change that. Their “mission” is to poke fun at Middle Eastern stereotypes. And even here, they are finding fertile ground in the anxieties of the post-9/11 world.
While the comedians had some fears that their acts would fall flat in Arab countries without a stand-up comedy tradition; in fact, they’ve found a ready audience this past week in Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates.
“I was kind of surprised – people are laughing at the same jokes and in the exact same places,” says Mr. Kader. “I think there’s a thirst for this stuff.”
All humor may not be universal, but the comedians see little sense of a cultural gap either here in Egypt or in Jordan. “It’s surprisingly Western here. People get the references,” says Ahmed.
Audience members also say they appreciate the effort to pierce stereotypes with humor, and point out that jokes about treatment at airports are as relevant to Egyptians since Sept. 11 as they are for Egyptian Americans.
And the comedians have discovered they have powerful fans in the region. King Abdullah of Jordan nearly fell out of his chair laughing as he sat in the front row of the show in Amman last week, and later invited the comedians over to his office. (MORE)