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Can an Arab be funny? Can a Muslim tell a joke? Can an Iranian make you laugh?

By Naila Missous

The tittle poses three very striking questions.

The post 9/11 world in which North Africans, Middle Easterners and Muslims were enthralled into seemed to have scrubbed out any comedy and laughter that has always existed.

Any positivity that existed within the region and conducted by its people was no more than an afterthought and instead media negativity took centre stage.

Positive Middle Eastern stories needed to be created for inspiration to the outside world. This is where the idea behind Axis of Comedy came into place.

The gap was being bridged over very murky and political waters.

Maz Jobrani

The Axis of Evil Tour emerged in 2007 where the Middle East saw a comedy explosion. (And yes, the use of the word “explosion” has just been used in conjunction with the Middle East – and no causalities in sight).

While there was no strong history of stand up comedy in the Arab world being showcased to the West (give or take a few French Algerian comedians such as Fellag), the internet, along with American TV saw an upsurge in shows airing with comedians from the region and it’s since been catching on fast.

Egyptian-born Ahmed Ahmed was the man with a mission. And now his mission is continuing year in, year out with Middle Eastern comedians joining the comedy circle: performing around the US as well as extended destinations such as Beirut and Dubai with fellow comedians such as Iran’s Maz Jobrani and Palestinian Aron Kader. His prime idea was to stage shows in which the audience would realise that Arabs, too, had a sense of humour. Not just religious fanatics that roamed the streets along with the camels and magic carpets of course.

From this, festivals were born out of these comics. The Amman Stand Up Comedy Festival in 2008, Montreal and Melbourne Comedy Festivals and the Annual Comedy Festival held in California in 2010: all huge successes.

It has to be remembered that the comedian’s goals are a little more challenging than simply putting on a funny show. The perspective about Arabs needs to be changed along with the never changing stereotype. Whilst at the same time showing Arabs that themselves can be funny. And along the way, perhaps even attract a more Western audience to come to the region so they can find out first hand that the answer to their question is: Yes, Arabs do know how to laugh.

And inshallah, as the Arabs would say, only more is to come.

Watch the brilliant Maz Jobrani here

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