Humour With a (Political) Twist

By Sonya Rehman

“We are the new enemy. We’ve replaced the Soviet Union. And we are stuck here until somebody replaces us. That’s why I’m begging you to help me taunt North Korea as much as possible!”
– Dean Obeidallah, from the ‘Axis of evil’ stand-up comedy group.

“States like these [Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Cuba], and their terrorist allies, constitute an ‘axis of evil’, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger”, President of the United States, George W. Bush had stated in January, 2002 in his ‘State of Union Address’.

And ever since, the term ‘axis of evil’ has been repeatedly used as a synonym (of sorts) for its other, three-word, (rather pretentious) cousin called; ‘War on terror’.

But in November, 2005, two Palestinians (Aron Kader and Dean Obeidallah), one Iranian (Maz Jobrani) and one Egyptian (Ahmed Ahmed) – all settled in America and active comedians – formed as a stand-up comedy group, calling themselves (get this) the ‘Axis of evil’. What a riot!

Aron Kader

“[The ‘Axis of evil’] have formed a niche by taking on Mideast stereotypes and making subjects such as war, terrorism and suicide bombers funny”, states CNN’s website which ran a full story on the stand-up group.
In the past year, the ‘Axis of evil’ has gained ample media interest and public attention as the group received over 200,000 hits on their videos (posted up on YouTube) recently, apart from their one hour stint on ‘Comedy Central’ (a popular American channel which solely showcases stand-up talent apart from sitcoms) and as of late, their 15-city group tour in the United States (which is ongoing). Popularity ratings for the group this year…are soaring, considering the fact that they were covered by CNN this year on the 8th of May.

Ahmed Ahmed

Quoted from CNN, Dean Obeidallah states that he hardly ever felt any ‘different’ till 9/11 took place and that his group’s jokes are not only for him, but for: “my cousins, it’s for my friends, it’s for other Arabs and other people who get dirty looks or looked at funny because they have an accent or are viewed as suspicious simply because of their heritage”.

Dean Obeidallah

In many ways, ‘The Real News’ which features on one of our local, Pakistani channels, resorts to a very similar politically-driven tone. It is socio-political satire at its best and Saad Haroon (the man behind the show’s concept) and the sardonically funny, Danish Ali, do a remarkable job by way of fusing local news and slap-your-knee-throw-your-head-back humour.

And then there’s the recent ‘News, Views & Confused’ local show (launched this year and hosted by Fasi Zaka, Mohsin Sayeed and Nadeem F. Paracha) which follows along the same lines.

“You see Arabs and Jews and Mexicans and whites, and they’re all sitting together and they’re sharing the same laugh. Comedy’s like food or music. It’s universal. Laughter’s universal”, Ahmed tells CNN. We couldn’t agree more.

If truth be told, the fact that the ‘Axis of evil’ comedic group has had the guts to ‘stand-up’ (pun intended) to the ongoing ethnic ‘war on terror’ backlash (which, truly hit the fan in 2001) via jokes and comic routines, then it is without doubt, really admirable.
What better way than to cleanse racial abhorrence and ethnic intolerance via laughter? What better way to fight off bigotry and conflict via jokes that target mass audiences? Just think.

Maz Jobrani

Aspiring stand-up comics of the country can really make their presence felt right now, given that they resort to routines (scripted or improvised) which have thought-provoking, intelligent socio-politico and humorous agendas. Because contemporary comedy is all about keeping up with the wit of the times!

Instep Today, The News

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