In Middle Eastern revolutions and uprisings in recent years, we've heard the voice of the region expressed via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube in addition to more traditional news media. It's all been pretty serious stuff. But the comics comprising Arabs Gone Wild at Cobb's Comedy Club over the weekend happily reminded us that a vibrant comedy scene exists in the Middle East, and that the best way to understand the personality of the region is with all pretentiousness and assumptions checked at the door.
Headliner Dean Obeidallah is a gruff-voiced, shoot-from-the-hip New Yorker who has risen to international fame by virtue of his performance on the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. Obeidallah reported that although the region could have easily lost its sense of humor long ago, clubs are filled with enthusiastic youth laughing at the same jokes as Americans, and elders still come to shows too, sitting with their arms crossed like "they're trying to figure out a magician's secret."
Like any comic worth his salt, the Palestinian-American/Italian-American pokes fun of his own as if they weren't his own. The New Jersey native had an assured presence onstage, and his observations of Muslim life in America were fresh and clever. He hinted at what it's like to date an immigrant, which he says comes with the privilege of inventing laws and holidays such as Timeout Tuesdays, when the girlfriend doesn't get to talk, and Fellatio Fridays, which, well, is descriptive enough.
Addressing what he referred to as a "politically astute S.F.," Obeidallah riffed on Sarah Palin as well as President Obama, who he referred to as a mix of Denzel Washington and Harry Potter, "a dorky white kid trying to get out of Denzel's body." He suggested Obama should have considered going monochromatic with his cabinet to get even with the country's decidedly white male-dominated history -- Snoop Dogg as head of the Department of Agriculture, Beyonce as secretary of state ("Who could say no to her?"), Morgan Freeman as attorney general (he played God twice, after all) and O.J. Simpson as secretary of defense.Obeidallah shared the stage with some equally irreverent Arab-American comedians. MC Aron Kader did double duty, hosting and roasting his admittedly overzealous, dogmatic peoples. "You'll never hear an Arab say 'I don't want to talk, I want to hear what you have to say!'" And peace, he said, would just be awkward -- "What would you do if peace presented itself?" he asks rhetorically to a family member. "We will resist! We will fight!"
Kader's impressions were similar to Obeidallah's. He transitioned into his loveable Arab characters with attention to absurdity, taking on strong accents when personifying traditions of thrift and deal-brokering -- "The Price Is Right" was made for Arabs, he said, although the show would be titled a bit differently: "This Price Is Not Right!"Maysoon Zayid came billed as the country's top female Arab-American comic, an identity she confronts head-on in her act. "If you're an Arab girl, there's only two ways to leave home -- in a wedding dress or a casket." So, she went to Gaza to find herself a husband, at age 33, her "Jesus year, when you either get married or crucified."
She also was not shy about having cerebral palsy - she said it helps her "burn calories." It's a tricky subject to discuss onstage, but no elephants were left hiding in the room. Zayid embraces the disability, at one point making a handjob joke that brought the house down.
Lebanese-American Sammy Obeid employed a sly, dry delivery, to wonder about Americans' confusion over his Lebanese background, asking rhetorically "How many wars do we have to get into before people don't think I'm Mexican?"
He also had a joke that he believes may not be a joke 50 years from now. Picking up an imaginary phone, he threw his voice to sound automated: "Press 2 for English." He's a wit, to be sure.
But from the painfully awkward file came Bashar Zikoor, who forced Adam Sandler impressions and tried some hollow one-liners about the War in Iraq, such as "We're trying to spread democracy? More like hypocrisy!" Swing and a miss.