At a press conference before the Allah Made Me Funny tour began, the US embassy's cultural affairs attaché, Michael Macy, reminded those assembled that there were only really two American indigenous art forms: jazz and stand-up, and that the latter is often a better tool than politics when ideals fall short.
The presence of the attaché, his sentiment, and the fact that Muslims comedians Preacher Moss, Azhar Usman and Mohammed Amer are to play a gig at the embassy at the end of the month, give the tour a resonance that few other comedy gigs can claim.
For the Washington-based trio they hope their role as de facto ambassadors can render doubts whether Muslims can be funny obsolete and to answer Azhar Usman's own complaint that: "we [Muslims] don't do a good job of explaining ourselves". Whether the diverse tour audiences from Bradford to Canary Wharf accept that, there was at least some acknowledgement from the latter of Usman's opening assertion: "most of you have never seen someone who looks like me smile before."
Topping the bill, the long-haired and imposing figure of Usman explained how hard it is to ask for a day off for Eid, quite literally a moveable feast: "it could be Tuesday, it could be Wednesday, better give me the whole week off". Undoubtedly a winning presence, Usman told of how he was once stopped by the police who abused him by stereotyping him as both "Osama" and "Gandhi".
"Simultaneously?! That confused me: like... terror through non-violence?" There's no doubt Usman could have achieved more than his 30-minute slot allowed, a set too much dominated by lampooning the slightness of Bollywood plot premises.
Despite this, Usman's set was a little more fluent than Allah Made Me Funny's founder Preacher Moss, whose set had some nice observations (e.g. he was too short for the Nation of Islam: "that bow tie gonna look like a belt," adds his grandmother) but the segueing is not always smooth. Moss fails to fully explore his assertions that experts on world affairs, post September 11, have little knowledge of their subject and "don't care either way". Nonetheless the talk radio pundits who treat al-Qa'ida "as if it were just one person" are nicely put down.
The trio of differing rhythms that comprise Allah Made Me Funny is completed by Palestinian-born Mohammed Amer, who opened the gig and gave the lecture theatre venue the oomph it needed to prosper for comedy. Excitable in an almost Eddie Murphy-like manner, the 24-year-old Amer is a solid circuit comic with a tried and tested, extended, routines that include his mother's horror that he was going to be a stand-up comic ("don't talk about politics, they will send us back!" says his mother who joined him after Amer fled Kuwait. "Mother, we're Palestinian, we're stateless!") and the difficulty brought by having Arab Muslim relatives who are pilots and biochemists, particularly for his uncle who is constantly worried that every knock at the door is "the phoebe" (The FBI).
The good news is that the Allah Made Me Funny is funny. Whatever the critical acclaim the tour's best plaudits will come from its ability to draw in audiences new to comedy and new to a refreshing, respectful and irreverent look at religion.
Touring to 27 November (www.allahmademefunny.com)Reuse content