Comedy is a protest art form. It’s an honest art form. You reveal your inner secrets. It’s positive. You get things off your chest, make them hilarious, positive.
– Mohammad ‘Mo’ Amer, American stand-up comedian
We’ve seen an explosion of Arab and south Asian stand-up comics in North America in the past two decades, coinciding with 9/11. It’s as if Muslims and those of south Asian origin, regardless of religion, were pushed so far on a terrorist limb in public perception, that the only way to deal with it is to laugh, and Muslims in North America rose to the challenge of defending themselves and Muslim heritage with the only weapon they had – the word. My focus here is on comedians who are challenging Islamophobia armed only with this – ‘the word’, touring the world and therefore playing an important role in breaking down anti-Muslim prejudice in their own unique ways.
But before we can look at specifically Muslim humour today, we must begin with the lower common denominator of the ‘brown immigrant’ stereotype, whether Muslim or not, which has entered American culture via The Simpsons. Most Americans were brought up on the stereotypical south Asian immigrant (whether Hindu or Muslim, not important) as portrayed in The Simpsons’ Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, a naturalised PhD in computer science, who runs a Kwikie-Mart, notorious for its high prices and the poor quality of its merchandise. The character was created in 1989 at the very start of the series as a servile, devious, goofy, but endearing merchant with the thick, musical Indian accent, spoken by Hank Azaria.