Allah Made Me Funny: The Official Muslim Comedy Tour
Show type: Misc live shows
The Official Muslim Comedy Tour has international audiences and high-profile media outlets buzzing about its progressive use of comedy to bring the Muslim culture into mainstream
The first of its kind in the UK, the All-Muslim Comedy Tour will showcase some of America's top Muslim comics including Azhar Usman and Preacher Moss.
Often the best comedy, like the best music, comes from those marginalised by the rest of society. Just compare Nina Simone to James Blunt. Well, in today’s fearful, aggressive America, you can’t get much more marginalised than being a Muslim.
However anyone expecting to find an Islamic Richard Pryor among the Allah Made Me Funny line-up is likely to be a little disappointed. The tour has a clear agenda to show Muslims are no different from anyone else – which means lots of mainstream observational comedy that’s easy to relate to, and, therefore, rather bland.
It’s not a sentence you’ll see often in the media, but these Muslims could do with being a bit more radical – when it comes to their stand-up, at least.
But this isn’t really a show for die-hard comedy fans, who tend to be liberal enough not to need convincing that laughing is not incompatible with Islam. On the tour website, founder Preacher Moss talks about wanting to create ‘effective, significant, and appropriate’ comedy where people can feel ‘safe, relevant, and inclusive of an experience where humor is used to bridge gaps’ – which does sound a lot more like a dreary buzzword-filled mission statement drafted by a committee of worthy bureaucrats than a comedy sales pitch.
Despite the good intentions to promote integration, the audience is about 90 per cent Muslim. It spans a huge age range from pensioners to giggling teenagers who are clearly strangers to gigs, judging by their giddy excitement as they snap each other sitting in the stalls on their cameraphones.
In some sense, the show acts as a community bonding exercise, as the comics share family observations everyone recognises. Non-Muslims are made welcome, though, even if the odd phrase of Arabic might pass you by. Accessibility is the name of the game – even if customs are unfamiliar, human behaviour is universal.
As a faith-based tour, there are a couple of key differences from an average comedy gig – firstly, there’s not a drop of alcohol being consumed by the audience, and secondly the material is 100 per cent clean and family-friendly.
But the point is that this isn’t your average comedy gig, which is its strength and weakness. It’s bringing people to comedy who wouldn’t normally go, and doesn’t want to scare them off by challenging them. Against its own criteria, it’s a success – it’s upbeat, happy, celebratory, inclusive – even if a long-in-the tooth comedy critic might want more from some of the comedians themselves.
Opening act Mohammed Amer, from Palestine via Houston, indulged in a lot of low-level banter with the audience and the sort of easy topics that have been well-covered by countless comics before him: how marriage kills romance, mums inflincting discipline, a trip to Amsterdam (even though, as a good Muslim boy, he wanted to avoid the temptations rather than indulge in them).
His delivery’s slick and engaging, given support by a range of vocal tricks including a demonically deep voice employed repeatedly, but the topics uninspired, and often over-long. Without the backing of the undeniably effective Allah Made Me Funny marketing machine, he would surely be just another blandly anonymous American club comic.
Preacher Moss, who set up this tour and soon-to-be-released concert movie, offered a much more thoughtful approach. A black man who converted to Islam, he brought a measured intelligence to his set, and touched upon a lot of interesting themes. However, converting this to laugh-out-loud comedy proved more of a challenge, and while there were a smattering of lines of the quality you might expect from a Saturday Night Live writer, the message often overwhelmed the comedy.
One such example was when he started speaking solemnly about the death of a ‘brother’s’ mother, bringing the mood down. When he subsequently mentioned it was Kanye West’s mother, who died during cosmetic surgery, the tension is broken with a laugh – anticipating some mean joke at the expense of a news event. But it doesn’t come, the man is serious. And while it’s admirable of him to have such empathy, it sets a strange atmosphere for comedy.
But when he leaves the ‘preacher’ tag behind, the set chunters along nicely, especially his experiences marrying an Indian woman and the reaction of her family, which proves warm and entertaining.
Headliner Azhar Usman, however, is undoubtedly the star of the show, with a powerful, larger-than-life delivery, full of good-humoured energy, with a smattering of self-deprecation and a compelling stage presence.
Again, a large chunk of the material is familiar: George Bush jokes, 9/11 meaning November 9 in the UK, the ridiculousness of Bollywood movies and, in the dying moments, just when you thought it wouldn’t come up, the trials of going through airport security.
But even these hoary old staples are very nicely done, so when he moves into his own territory, the set really sparkles. As he talks about wanting a day off for the holy day of Eid, even though he cannot say for sure which day it is; about middle-aged Indian and Pakistani women jabbering away on the phone, or about the sort of text-message abbreviations that peppers Muslim writing, such as pbuh (peace be upon him) after Mohammed’s name, he is in a league of his own.
On this evidence, Usman could be just the standard-bearer the movement needs: a gifted comic who’s clearly funny, proudly Muslim and finds no problem combining the two. Crucially, his strong routine would work in any club – even if he left behind the more hackneyed content – helping spread the image beyond the Allah Made Me Funny banner, which is always going to involve preaching to the converted.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Hammermsith, November 2007
Date of review: Nov 2007