Once, on a trip to Spain, a tour guide told comedian Azhar Usman that Christians, Jews and Muslims lived there together in peace for centuries, as though this was an ancient circumstance now impossible to achieve.
"You been to Brooklyn?" quips Usman, co-founder of the "Allah Made Me Funny" comedy team. "They're getting along there just fine. ...You can find a halal hot dog on a kosher bun, if you look hard enough!"
Usman and his cohorts, Bryant "Preacher" Moss and Mohammed "Mo" Amer, are now exposing this and other truths about American Muslims in a new film, "Allah Made Me Funny," by Unity Productions Foundation (Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet and Prince Among Slaves).
Constructed around the standup routines from the trios' live show of the same name, "Allah ..." spearheads the newest generation of comedy that is quintessentially American. Whether it's inviting the audience to write the joke on airport security themselves, or sheepishly admitting that four wives would be three too many, the trio gets the audience laughing so hard, they're neither afraid nor offended.
"The comics-one African American, one Arab American and one South Asian American-show the great diversity of Islam in America," says Michael Wolfe, Co- Executive Producer at UPF. "They also show that Muslims have a sense of humor and can laugh at themselves, standing on the shoulders of great comedians like Eddie Murphy and Jerry Seinfeld, who opened up worlds of American life to brand new audiences. These comedians take us on a journey in America: from growing up Muslim to marrying Muslim and living as a Muslim in after 9/11."
The film allows humor to speak for itself, pausing between acts to give a behind-the- scenes glimpse into the comics' family lives and the work that goes into their show, including the laughter in their homes and on the road. But it's the comics themselves-and the personal experiences they shamelessly twist into standup fodder-who relate to viewers of all backgrounds, unifying through mirth.
Amer draws on his Palestinian background and his very Arab family to elicit laughs over everything from checkpoints to marital misunderstandings, while Usman recalls his American-Muslim childhood and plays off his own dubious, bushy-bearded appearance. Moss offers yet another perspective as he illuminates the experience of being both black and Muslim in America with warmth and irreverence - whether it's comparing Osama to Tupac or making light of his own conversion to Islam. One of the tour's co-founders, Moss explained "Allah Made Me Funny" as a safe venue to address such topics, using laughter to heal rifts and gain perspective on issues of which many audience members might be ignorant. "This project ...involves the courage to step out of the shadows of silence and fear and reach out and build bridges," he says. "We're building these bridges through humor and understanding to make that journey a little easier for all of us."
So with UPF's new film, viewers can lower their defenses, laugh out loud and learn that no matter what a person's background or faith, everything is fair game in comedy. "The time for breakout Muslim comedians is now," said Alex Kronemer, co-executive producer with UPF. "With their fresh take on humor, the men of "Allah Made Me Funny" can connect with anyone who loves a laugh. Today, they're the ideal trailblazers to defy prejudice and foster goodwill through comedy."
"Allah Made Me Funny" will have a nationwide release at Landmark theaters October 3, 2008. For more information, visit www.allahmademefunny.com