CHICAGO: Arab-American stand-up comedian Ahmed Ahmed was performing in Florida several years ago when he noted how few Arabs there were in the audience, joking: “It only takes one.”
He was surprised when the next day, two police officers knocked on his door. They said someone in the audience had complained that Ahmed had made a joke threatening terrorism, he told a virtual audience hosted by the Arab America Foundation and attended by Arab News.
The pioneer comedian — who has also had acting roles in Hollywood movies such as “Executive Decision,” and in TV series such as “Roseanne” — said many Americans still do not understand the Arab community, and comedy is a powerful way to break through stereotypes.
“I feel like our culture, our stereotype keeps getting recycled,” he added. “Laughter is really important … Nobody can hate you when they’re laughing with you … It’s important to poke fun at our culture. There’s miles and miles of material.”
Other performers at the virtual event included journalist and food blogger Blanche Shaheen, acclaimed poet May Rihani, pop singer Abir and music sensation Emad Batayeh.
After Abir and Batayeh performed some of their latest musical releases, Rihani read poetry for the audience.
“I use my identity in my music and in my art … It’s fun for me to show my culture to people who may not know anything about it,” Abir said.
“There are all kinds of expectations on how I should dress, how I should dream, how I should work. The modern Arab woman … does what she wants to do,” she added, citing her mantra: “Don’t live for other people, live for yourself.”
Ahmed said he got into comedy despite resistance from his parents, although his father, who recently passed away, was considered one of the funniest entertainers at weddings and social gatherings.
“The thing that inspired me to get into entertainment was when I was 5 years old, when my parents took me to see a screening of the film ‘Muhammad: The Messenger of God,’ which later was called ‘The Message’,” Ahmed recalled.
“We got their late, typically because we’re Middle Eastern … I watched this epic movie about Islam and the Arab world … It was a cinematic masterpiece that made me interested in film.”