Muslim Funny Fest to bridge cultural divides

Two Muslim standup comedians say they’re on a mission to shatter stereotypes.

To make their point, Maysoon Zayid and Dean Obeidallah are throwing a Muslim Funny Fest downtown this week.

“Our goal is to tell [Muslims’] story, to tell people that we are funny,” Obeidallah said. “That’s really the best way to show who we are.”

Zayid and Obeidallah have organized three days of standup comedy, which will feature more than 15 Muslim comics from around the world.

The idea for the festival stemmed from the long-running New York Arab-American Comedy Festival, which the pair has co-produced since 2003. Zayid and Obeidallah said they wish to dispel some common misconceptions about Muslims and Arabs.

“When we started the Arab comedy festival, some people didn’t know there was a difference between Arabs and Muslims,” Zayid said.

The festival’s Muslim lineup is diverse: The comedians come from various ethnicities, nationalities and have different comedic styles. Zayid stressed that audiences don’t need to be Muslim to get their jokes.

“It was very important for both of us that the comics be mainstream,” Zayid said. “You don’t have to be Muslim to enjoy this festival; it’s not three nights of Ramadan jokes.”

Instead, Obeidallah said, the point is to bridge cultural gaps through comedy.

Obeidallah added that exposure is important because the cultural gap between Muslims and other Americans doesn’t come from a place of hate or intolerance, but from a lack of knowledge about the religion and its people.

“It’s just about exposure,” Obeidallah said, adding that Muslims constituting just 1% of the population in the United States makes it hard for Americans to learn about the religion.

He added that the media doesn’t help: “Even shows that have us on it have us as terrorists.”

Zayid agreed, quipping, “One of the most common insults I get is ‘go back to your country.’ But I’m from New Jersey.”