The three stand-ups of Allah Made Me Funny set out to prove that Muslim comedy is not an oxymoron, and their sharp, observational humor more than proves their point. The bulk of AMMF documents an August 2007 performance by Mohammed "Mo" Amer, Bryant "Preacher" Moss and Azhar Usman before a large, enthusiastic, multicultural audience at the Heritage Forum in Anaheim, Calif. proving that it's a small world after all.
Creating their comedy collective was a form of political action, a way for Amer, Moss and Usman to recast the image of Muslims in America, and their show is anything but hostile or confrontational. Drawn together by their beliefs, not only in Islam but the power of humor, this trio offers comedy that's culturally specific, yet has great crossover appeal. Revealing their lives in the familiar framework of stand-up comedy, they provide a glimpse into an unfamiliar world for outsiders as well as a forum where Muslims can recognize themselves.
Palestinian Mo Amer, who was born in Kuwait and moved with his family to Houston, Texas, at age 9, draws his humor from that clash of cultures, and being the youngest of six children. Azhar Usman's family is from India, but he grew up in the largely Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie, Ill., and finds his funny via wry social commentary. Preacher Moss comes from Washington, D.C., and converted to Islam, and his reflections about being black, American and Muslim have a Richard Pryor bite without the profanity.
Performing clean isn't the only old school aspect of AMMF. All three mine their families for droll nuggets, with much talk about their mothers, and there are several variations on the henpecked husband routine. As different as their perspectives, their common theme is the clash between expectation and reality in post-9/11 America, and each finds a way to turn that friction into insightful comedy.
Director Andrea Kalin keeps the extended concert sequences moving along, cutting frequently to audience reactions, where laughter often feels like a release of long-held inhibitions. What AMMF needs is more background information and behind-the-scenes footage (like Egyptian-born stand-up Ahmed Ahmed received in the documentary Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show), instead of just cursory glimpses of the comedians' private lives between sets.
In 2005, Albert Brooks went Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, but it's the performers of Allah Made Me Funny who really found it.
Opens Friday, Oct. 3, at the Landmark Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].