‘Allah Made Me Funny: Live in Concert’
Probably no one in the history of Islam – a history that stretches back almost 1,400 years – has been as funny as Azhar Usman in talking about the religion, its followers and the stereotypes that plague them. Usman, one of three American Muslim comedians featured in “Allah Made Me Funny: Live in Concert,” says lots of people “think Muslim men are terrorists and Muslim women are oppressed. Have these people been inside a Muslim household? If they’d go inside, they’d realize that they have it exactly the opposite! Muslim women are terrorists! Muslim men are oppressed!”
Usman made his quip before an audience full of Muslim men and women, and the fact that they were laughing uproariously is one of the documentary’s major revelations. Funny Muslims? Laughing Muslims? Are you kidding? No. “Allah Made Me Funny: Live in Concert” will be shocking to anyone who missed the comedians during their cross-country tours (when this documentary was filmed) or has never encountered Muslims with a wicked sense of humor.
The jokes that Usman, Mohammed “Mo” Amer and Preacher Moss make are laced with darkness, frivolity and innocence – sometimes all at the same time, as when Usman talks about such Islamic holidays as Eid, which is part of a holy month of fasting. “No offense to my Muslim brothers and sisters, but Eid sucks,” Usman says onstage. “That’s right. We can’t compete, man. Christmas – everyone is going crazy. Halloween – they’re giving away free candy. We tell our kids, ‘You’re going to fast for a month. And then I’m going to take you to an empty parking lot to pray. … And if anyone asks – yes, ‘Eid’ is the word ‘die’ spelled backward.’ Come on, get in the car.’ “
Comedy is as much about timing, intonation and stage presence as it is about the actual jokes, and Usman has it all. He has a booming voice that bears some resemblance to Jackie Gleason’s. He has a delivery that, in seconds, can go from casual to manic. He’s rapid-fire smart (like Lenny Bruce and Robin Williams). And he has likability: He’s a dark-haired, black-bearded man who makes fun of the fact that he resembles many people’s stereotype of a Muslim man.
When Usman gets on a plane, he says he hears people saying, “Oh, my God, I’m going to die.” “I don’t understand why these people are so scared,” Usman shouts onstage. “If I was a crazy Muslim fundamentalist, this is probably not the disguise I would go with. Doesn’t exactly slip me under the radar.”
Usman’s family is from India, and he grew up in Chicago suburb with many Jews, whom he counts as friends. Amer is a Palestinian American who lives in Houston. Moss is an African American convert to Islam. Their three routines showcase the diversity of Muslim American life, which is fleshed out with footage of all three comics at home in their day-to-day routine. They’re shown eating with family, writing new material and praying. Onstage, their acts are suitable for a non-Muslim audience (some of the jokes have nothing to do with Islam or Muslims), and many in the crowd where this documentary was filmed appear to be non-Muslim.
But like the Muslim audience in the theater, we see them laughing and connecting with Usman, Amer and Moss. Of course, some of the comedians’ jokes are funnier than others. It’s hit-and-miss. But “Allah Made Me Funny: Live in Concert” is a film that doesn’t let go from the very first moment.