Laughing Tendencies, Inter-faith Connections, and Other Trends
Jerry Seinfeld popularized the comedy style of asking a question about trivial occurrences and noting random trends. But what happens when trends are not isolated incidences? Does that mean mainstream society is undergoing a shift? Specifically, what happens when different ethnic communities revitalize an art form to share their unique stories under a common identity: Muslim-American? Does this mean that there is a social-consciousness movement? Or does noting a series of trends simply amount to a series of fortunate events? Let's highlight some trends.
Trend #1: The popularity of laughter clubs, initiated in India and China, has spread to the American West coast.
Trend #2: Interestingly enough, one can exercise both mind and body in a class called "laughter yoga." By 1995, laughter yoga emerged from the systematic organization of laughter clubs. With increasing recognition, one might expect that there would be a growing application by yoga instructors and therapists to use laughter and humor for their complementary and alternative medical benefits. (It should be noted that laughter is an adjunct to, and not, a replacement for accepted therapies.) The students are re-learning something children already knew instinctively—that laughter makes you feel better. (Barb Fisher, a certified laughter yoga teacher, states that "kids laugh about 400 times a day, and adults only about 15. . . . Laughter is a gift that has been given to us to make us feel better. Read more here.)
Trend #3: The entertainment trend among Muslim-American comics is to participate or lead tours that relate cultural and/or religious observations as an American experience through creative lineups. A selection of these groups include Muslim-American comics: "Allah Made Me Funny"; "Axis of Evil"; "1,001 Laughs"; "Arab-issh Festival"; "Arabs Gone Wild"; and "Brown Man Group" among others.
Trend #4: Successful American-Muslim female comics, who are second-generation and tend to come from a Palestinian background, are no longer uncommon.
Trend #5: Successful young professionals in conventional fields, like teaching, law, and business, are making the equally successful, but unconventional, leap into the comedy profession. Take for example Preacher Moss, Dean Obeidallah, Azhar Usman, and Amer Zahr, who undertook mid-career switches to pursue standup full time. The audience demographic has expanded, which results from the increased interest by non-American audiences who continue to follow Muslim-American comics as American comics. As result, they've launched multi-city tours and inspired college students to laugh or smirk at problems without easy solutions.
Balancing Comedy with Commentary=Social Activism
The above five trends converge to produce the next phase in the Muslim-American experience, mirroring the larger American experience of previous immigrant communities that reflect on identity through comedy. (Note the Jewish-American comedians in the early 20th century that launched vaudeville; or the African-American comedians during the 1970s and 1980s.) In the same vein, Muslim-American comedians (Mo'Na, Khaled the Comic, Preacher Moss, Azhar Usman, Mohammed Amer, Dean Obeidallah, Ahmed Ahmed, Maysoon Zaid, Jameeleh Shelo, Said Durrah, Amer Zahr, Mohamed Mohamed, among others) shape comedy through clever commentary. Muslim-American comics serve as the counterbalance to the American punditry culture; Azhar, Preacher, Mo'Na, Amer, and Dean, for example, influence social activism as they reflect on American life as hybrids of cultures and hybrids of religion. For example, both Amer and Dean come from Christian-Muslim households.
Mehrunisa Qayyum is an International Policy and Strategy Consultant in Washington, D.C. She graduated with an MPP from Georgetown University with a Certificate in Contemporary Arab Studies and a B.A. from University of Chicago in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations.