What Makes Muslims Laugh

Muslims at a laughing session!



As an Iranian-American comedian, I can tell you that plenty does. Just stay away from sex, religion and politics.

When I first traveled to the Middle East to do shows in 2007 with two other comedians as part of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, the promoters would warn us everywhere we went, “No sex, no religion and no politics.” Well, as you can imagine, that pretty much took away all our jokes except maybe any we’d written about our pet turtles—and even those could have been construed as sexual.

It left me wondering why comedy was seen as such a threat in these countries.

Then I had to reflect on the United States, where I grew up and have spent most of my life. Let’s not forget that only 50 to 60 years ago, Lenny Bruce was getting arrested for things he was saying at comedy clubs around the country. After him, it was comedians like George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Dick Gregory who were pushing the envelope of free speech in the United States and often being shut down for it.

The attacks in France have put satire in the Muslim world front and center. I am a standup comedian who has performed comedy in the Middle East in front of thousands of Muslims. And believe it or not, they laughed at plenty, especially when we poked fun at local culture. The Lebanese loved it when you would make fun of their driving and how in Lebanon a red light is just a suggestion to stop. In Dubai, they laughed when you would point out their obsession with doing everything big: the biggest building in the world, the biggest mall, the biggest fireworks show ever—so big that neighboring Bahrain thought it was  under attack. The Jordanians laughed when I told them I found out our comedy DVD had a Jordanian distribution deal—which is when one Jordanian buys it and everyone else sees it. Also known as a bootleg.

Don’t believe me? I have proof. If you want to actually see Muslims laughing you can watch the TED talk I did in Doha a few years back. There are shots of Muslims in traditional Muslim garb laughing. Here is the clip.

Religion, however, is a delicate subject. I would say that while most Muslims take offense at the portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad in cartoons, they would never resort to violence. It is a minority of extremist Muslims who take such actions, and they do it for political and tactical reasons far beyond just being offended.



One Comment

  1. Luntango Suun Gann Gi

    Good piece. Only did not dare to even say that comedy about gays in the West today is a deadly and violent subject. Homosexuality is the New Western religion to be defended and promoted at all costs. The US Supreme Court will be ruling so next week.