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For Arab Comics, More Room for Laughter

Thursday, May 07, 2009

New York's Arab American Comedy Festival is six years old, but this year's edition is the first in a new political climate for Arab Americans. Comedian Dean Obeidallah co-founded the festival as a response to anti-Arab sentiment after 9/11. Now he says with the Bush administration gone, so is the rationale for a lot of jokes about prejudice:

OBEIDALLAH: Things just about going to the airport, being confused for a terrorist being randomly profiled and stuff, they're going to seem out of date. They're going to seem like they're not relevant anymore, and that's really a great thing for our community.

Obeidallah says the new atmosphere lets Arab American comedians make fun of their own lives without feeling defensive. Food, family, relationships are all fair game. Co-founder and comedian Maysoon Zayid says dating jokes get big laughs from the most conservative looking people in the audience, like women with their heads covered:

ZAYID: And I find that these women laugh more than all the other audience, because they've all been in my place lying about dating.

Zayid says she and other U.S. Arab comedians have started taking the American art of stand-up comedy on the road in places like Jordan, Lebanon and the West Bank. The New York festival opens on Sunday and runs to May 14th.

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