You had to wait almost two hours at the Second Annual Entertainment Night for Civil Rights before the funny men of the Muslim comedy group Allah Made Me Funny stopped skewering their own and started sticking it to the United States. Then it got good.
"Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World—like we don't have a sense of humor, like we don't smile," said Muslim comedian Preacher Moss, pacing the stage and taking a swing at comedian Albert Brooks' recent film. "That's like looking for crime in Harlem, or wine in a liquor store, or stupidity in the White House. It's right there." Then, not missing a beat, he veered back to safe jokes about converting to Islam when your parents are Southern Baptists, and marrying into an Indian family when you're African-American.
It was sad—when would he bash Bush some more?—but you gotta know your audience, and this was a Muslim family crowd overwhelmingly. The organizers, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, expected no more than 600 people and roped off vast sections of the floor at the Heritage Forum in Anaheim. They got a crowd of 1,600, who bought tickets at the door for the chance to see their teenagers receive college scholarships and to hear some light comedy. They wanted to laugh; it was Saturday night. But then there's Iraq. And Iran. And everyone who stepped up to the mic had something to say about the haters in our midst.
"When all the time, all you're bombarded with is Bill O'Reilly and KFI, all you hear and see is bad images and bad faces. We need to do our work," said the MC, Yassir Fazaga, imam of the Orange County Islamic Foundation, issuing a caution. "Never let [them] lead you into the sin of deviating from justice." He introduced Preacher Moss, and it got heavier still.
"I smile just for the fact that it hurts someone else," Moss said. "I'm so happy to be Muslim, because it's the only way to appreciate this foolishness. Civil liberties in general are being pushed, and it doesn't matter if you're Muslim." The crowd roared—but not as loudly as they would after prayer, when Moss would imitate his wife's father, meeting his future son-in-law, an African-American, for the first time: "Get lighter. Lighter. Lighter." They loved that. And Moss loved them.
"I'm so happy to see Muslims laugh," he said, making a rare foray into the news. "The only funny Muslim they can put on TV today is Saddam Hussein. I don't know if Saddam is crazy or what—the judge is trying to charge him with 147 murders, and he gets up and walks out of the room." Then it was back to safe—relatively safe—territory: "Nation of Islam Muslims are funny 'cause they can find a conspiracy in everything." And Moss, who preceded comedian Azhar Usman—the man they call Bin Laughin(get it?)—found a joke in everything—perhaps because, as he said at one point, "Muslims are optimistic."
That got smiles too; it was a theme listeners had heard before. "We're all human beings," said Eddie Obeid, who'd driven in from Upland. "We forget that sometimes." And so, for a time, they remembered.