Source: The HAND Foundation
An Indian, an Iranian, and a Mexican walk into a club.
No, this is not the start of a joke: it is the new vanguard of minority comedians who have carved out a significant niche in the entertainment world. In fact, this is not the first time ethnic minorities have been at the forefront of comedy. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, American Jews represented 3 percent of the U.S. population, yet comprised 80 percent of all American comics. Jerry Seinfeld, Woody Allen, Billy Crystal, Larry David, Bette Midler, and George Burns dominated the comedic circuit at the end of the 20th century. Today, names like Russel Peters, Aziz Ansari, Ahmed Ahmed, Jamil Abu-Wardeh, Tissa Hami, Omid Djalili, and Maz Jobrani, among others, are becoming regular household names.
Comedy has long been a rite of passage for ethnic Americans: a way of commenting on mainstream American society in a manner that isn’t too threatening, while taking their community to task as well. After September 11, 2001 Middle Eastern comedians were put under the spotlight, which gave them a platform to confront stereotypes and appeal to America’s sense of universality. Many Muslim comedians became social critics, joking about Islamophobia, airport security, and terrorism. Jokes allow Muslim comics to demonstrate that Muslims are just like other Americans, except of course, when they’re different.
Muslim American comedians have become de facto ambassadors for their religion and their ancestral countries. “People don’t know we laugh,” Iranian American comedian Maz Jobrani explained at a TED Conference. “[When] I did the ‘Axis of Evil’ comedy tour, it came out on Comedy Central. I went online to see what people were saying about it. I ended up on a conservative website. One guy wrote...’I never knew these people laughed.’”
HAND believes that comedy can play an important role in spreading peace, and last year we sponsored the Give Peace a Dance video campaign featuring comedians Maz Jobrani and Elon Gold. The video has had over 200,000 views and collected over 4,000 signatures encouraging world leaders take a stand for peace.
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