Heard the one about the Muslim stand-up comedian? "Allah Made Me Funny" is a performance documentary with a tiny budget and a big spirit that follows three comics as they travel the country looking for laughs and understanding. The point of "the official Muslim comedy tour" is that these guys are ordinary Americans just like you and me. Unfortunately, that extends to a lot of the jokes.
Mohammed "Mo" Amer, Bryant "Preacher" Moss, and Azhar Usman are ultra-likable personalities, though, and their rimshot observations deserve to find a broad heartland audience if for no other reason than that the one-liners are clean. "Allah Made Me Funny" is the anti-"Aristocrats" - provocative humor to tickle the whole family.
A Palestinian born in Kuwait who fled to the United States when he was 9, Amer is probably the most gifted of the three. Vaguely reminiscent of the comedian Sinbad (but funnier), he's not averse to cartoonish body language to put his gags across. Much of his humor is mined from that old standby, the comedian's wacky ethnic family - for Amer's parents, olive oil is a cure-all the way Windex fixed everything in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
Yet the comedian's smiling patter carries a secret sting. He notes that his family became closer after 9/11 "because we had to," and uproariously describes being unable to yell at his nephew when the kid gets away from him at
The best moments in "Allah Made Me Funny" walk that tightrope, performing the double-edged function of exposing our racism by acknowledging its silliness. The Chicago-born Usman, a sharp-witted bearded giant, knows he looks like your worst nightmare of a terrorist, and he gets surprisingly deep laughs out of describing his experiences with airport security. ("You can make up your own joke here," he deadpans. "Me in an airport.")
Usman's non-Muslim material, though, runs to tired gags about rapper names and Bollywood clichés; he's much more engaged when slyly stepping on our cultural toes. Likewise, black Muslim "Preacher" Moss is funniest when telling of his Christian family's resistance to his conversion to the Nation of Islam - they thought he was gay at first, then staged an intervention - and most tedious when riffing on non-personal subjects like infomercials and weather forecasts.
The audiences are primarily American Muslim and visibly grateful for the chance to let loose and laugh: Any comedy must seem like shock comedy to people used to walking on eggshells. "Allah Made Me Funny" includes offstage footage of the comics with their families and friends, all of whom marvel that three of their own have made a career telling it like it is. In that wonder is the barbed love of a country that allows them to do so while providing them with so much fresh material.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.