ALLAH MADE ME FUNNYNR
The famous last words of Sir Donald Wolfit, British actor and director, were “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Why is it so hard to get an audience to laugh? After all, babies laugh before they even learn to walk. People nowadays are not likely to laugh at the comedies of Aristophanes, Plautus or even Moliere, because comedy gets dated in no time. If peace breaks out around the world and within all racial and religious groups within the United States, Allah Made Me Funny may deliver barely a chuckle years from now. But with Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran in America’s sights and Osama bin Laden conspicuous by his absence, director Andrea Kalin’s film offers timely riffs about contemporary America. Some flippancy is hilarious, some smile-producing, just a few falling flat.
If you’ve ever seen “Saturday Night Live” or have visited Caroline’s Comedy Club or any similar place of entertainment, you’ll feel right at home watching these performances, each by a distinct individual but all followers of the Muslim faith here in America. Allah Made Me Funny is an 80-minute look at three professional comics on tour as they chat up a full house of folks who are mostly young, several wearing hijabs, but a distinct cross-section of America with Muslim-Americans perhaps in the majority.
Their diversity is instantly recognizable. Mohammed “Mo” Amer looks like the kind of guy who’d be sitting in Shea Stadium, baseball cap at a modish angle on his head, with a Coke rather than a beer in his hand. Azhar Usman is the most “ethnic”-looking fellow, sporting a beard of considerable dimensions, with hair to match reaching down to past his shoulder bone. Bryant “Preacher” Moss is black. While Moss is a convert to Islam, Usman and Amer were born into the faith. They’re Americans all, the trio matching the multi-color, multi-ethnic audience, which photographer John Rhode captures frequently to show emotions ranging from polite smiles to robust laughter. Some of the gags require an ethnic identification for full appreciation, while others evoke a more universal enthusiasm.
Of the three comics, the hirsute South Asian American Azhar Usman sustains the most applause, in my view with the freshest, most amusing script. He delivers far better in person than can be mimicked in print, of course. “Did you hear?” he whispers conspiratorially. “In Indonesia, Obama went to a madrassa!” He interprets: “‘Madrassa’ means ‘school.’ Americans must prefer their politicians uneducated.” When Usman goes to the airport, he’s scrutinized by terrified passengers. “OMG we’re going to die,” they’re thinking. When the plane lands safely, however, the passengers flash him the OK sign, as if congratulating him for postponing his plans. “If I were a terrorist, do you think I’d be traveling like this?” he queries, understanding that Mohammed Atta and his notorious band were clean-shaven, even chatting up the gals to dismiss their threat. Brought up in the predominantly Jewish town of Skokie, Illinois, Usman proclaims that he’s more Jewish than the Jews. “I got my beard going, I ate strictly Kosher…and I went to law school.”
Preacher Moss, meanwhile, notes that Americans are scared of blacks and scared of Muslims…so he doesn’t have all that much going for him. For his part, Mo Amer riffs on his family, particularly his mom, who’d treat every wound with olive oil. Self-denigration is the order of the evening, with Amer, Usman and Moss poking fun at themselves, their government (“Bush cannot pronounce ‘terrorist’—the danger comes from ‘terrace’), and the challenge of living Muslim in post-9/11 America.
The tagline of the distributing company, Unity Productions Foundation, is “Peace through media.” If only…