Last month I went to the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga to hear three Muslim comics, whom Mark Breslin of Yuk Yuk's had featured a year earlier and recommended to me.
The show was sold out.
Muslim comics are no longer an oxymoron. Also, the ostensibly stoic Muslims are joining others in filling up halls to hear them across North America.
Clearly something is going on when a people can laugh at themselves.
"All oppressed people seize whatever weapons they can to fight oppression," says John Lowe, English professor at Louisiana University, who's writing a book on ethnic humour.
The more devout comics are offering "halal humour," kosher comedy that avoids expletives and sex, the biggest weapons in the business. That means they need good lines to be effective.
Terrorism and fears thereof provide the best fodder.
"Everyone is very nice to me once the plane lands," deadpans Azhar Usman of Chicago, who with his beard and kufi skullcap looks Taliban-ish and says so.
"Everywhere I go people look at me as if I am responsible for 9/11. I had nothing to do with 9/11 ... 7/11 maybe, but not 9/11."
"The black man is always complaining that he can't get a fair trial in America. The Muslim says, 'We can't even get a trial.'"
Usman, whose day job is to manage his law practice, usually bounds up on stage with the traditional Islamic greeting of Assalam-u-alaikum, (peace be with you). "For those of you who don't know what that means, it means, 'we're gonna kill you!'"
He has teamed up with Preacher Moss, an African American convert, under the banner Allah Made Me Funny.
Moss: "I'm worried they're going to put race and religion on driver's licenses. So when I get pulled over, I get two tickets!"
"Things are so bad a comedian can't even tell a 'knock, knock' joke. As soon as you say 'knock, knock,' scared Muslims yell out, 'Don't open it!'"
We have clearly come a long way from 2002 when a Chicago comedy club cancelled Palestinian American comic Ray Hanania, considering him too controversial. Now Muslim comics are in demand, especially the most famous female comic.
"My name is Shazia Mirza. At least that's what it says on my pilot's license."
The Briton, who is single and eschews drinking and other non-permissible acts, declares:
"I never joke about sex - because I've never had it."
She's deferential about her faith and the believers' sensibilities, yet does test their limits:
"I went to Mecca. In front of the holy black stone, where you repent your sins, someone pinched my bum ... Clearly, my prayers had been answered."
American Iranian female comic Tissa Hami of Boston:
"Why are there so few female Muslim comics? I didn't want competition, so I stoned them."
Maysoon Zayid, a Palestinian American, helped establish the Arab American Comedy Festival in New York. She targets George W. Bush:
"It should be the goal of every Arab man to marry one of the Bush twins. And if you're Muslim and Arab, try to marry both."
Mitzi Shore, owner of the Comedy Store in West Hollywood, started Arabian Knights, featuring, among others, the team of Egyptian American Ahmed Ahmed and part-time rabbi Bob Alper. Here's Ahmed:
"Any Arabs in the audience? Raise your hand, throw a rock, burn a flag."
"At the airport, the man behind the check-in counter asked if I packed my bags myself. 'Yes sir,' I said. They arrested me."
"On the flight, all my meals come pre-cut. They won't give me any utensils. When I get up to go to the bathroom, they give me an escort."
Among the emerging Canadian comics, as reported in the Star, are Sabrina Jalees, of Pakistani-Swiss parentage; Rassoul Samji, born in Dar es Salaam; and Enis Esmer, of Turkish origin, who is part of Mideast Optimists, a Muslim-Jewish collective.
The final word goes to Usman:
"The convert says: 'Man, you sure it's called Is-lam? I can't drink, I can't be with girls, I can't have a ham sandwich. It should be called Is-hard.'"