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Published: Saturday, 1/22/2005

Comedy seen as a bridge-building tool

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
The Muslim comedians are, from left, Azeem, Preacher Moss, and Azhar Usman. The Muslim comedians are, from left, Azeem, Preacher Moss, and Azhar Usman.
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Muslim traveler to airport security guard: "Pardon me, sir, when you say passengers are subject to random searches, by 'random' do you mean 'every time'?"

- Muslim Comedian Preacher Moss

Comedy is the tool and communication is the key to bringing Muslims and others together, according to Preacher Moss, one of three Muslim comedians on the Allah Made Me Funny tour, which comes to the University of Toledo next weekend.

"We are trying to bridge the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims and improve the community around us," Mr. Moss said in an interview this week from Pueblo, Colo. "We also are reaching out as a matter of self-defining ourselves, rather than letting others define us. That is the reason for the tour, and humor is our way of expressing ourselves."

Mr. Moss, who has been performing stand-up comedy for 20 years and has written for Damon Wayans, Saturday Night Live, and The George Lopez Show, said the Islamic community "can't live in a shell and neither can those who are interested in understanding Muslims. At some point in time the rubber has to meet the road and people have to get together and dialogue."

Also performing at UT will be Azhar Usman, a Chicago comic who performed at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in June, 2003, and Azeem, a comedian from St. Louis.

Mr. Moss, 38, a native of Washington, D.C., was reared in a Christian home and converted to Islam at age 20.

"I heard a brother, years ago, talk about how the Christians and the infidels are no good and you should stay away from them," Mr. Moss said. "And I said, 'Forget about it, I wasn't born a Muslim. My mother is a Christian. She helped me to be a good person before I converted. There are pious people everywhere. Part of this religion [Islam] is for us not to judge people. So sit down and shut up.'‚óŹ"

He said the comedians are bringing the tour to some mainstream institutions, including the University of Toledo, instead of only playing mosques and Islamic centers because they want to break down barriers that tend to keep diverse groups of people separated.

"We want to take it to spots where non-Muslims congregate and where Muslims normally don't go in order to bring people together," Mr. Moss said. "Like it or not, we are mainstream."

When they play to secular audiences, the comedians have a broader palette to work with, he added.

He said many Americans have had misconceptions about Islam for many years and that he has been striving to improve relations between American Muslims and the rest of the nation long before the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists made the situation even more complicated.

"The comedy tour was an idea before 9/11," he said. "What 9/11 did was bring some things to the forefront."

Mr. Moss, who has performed several times in Toledo at Connxtions Comedy Club, said comedy is relatively new to Muslim culture, especially outside of the United States.

"It's a new concept, but people have been accepting it. The thing is, we are three young comedians and we've all walked away from things we could have been doing, maybe more lucrative things, for the sake of Allah. "

He said he considers humor to be "a spiritual tool that helps people see you a lot clearer and maybe not be so quick to judge."

Mr. Moss said his role models in comedy are issues-oriented, thought-provoking comics such as Richard Pryor, Mort Sahl, and Dick Gregory.

"I'm old school, conversational. I use a lot of social humor," he said. "And I'm a concept guy. Whenever I have a concept, it's good for 10 or 11 years. If I'm joking about crime, you can basically open up a newspaper and fit the stories into your concept."

One attribute that the three Muslim comedians on the tour have in common is that their shows are clean - no profanity or sexual innuendoes - which makes the program suitable for families and listeners of all ages.

"We want to effect change," Mr. Moss said. "But in addition to all that, it's a darn funny show."

The Allah Made Me Funny comedy show, sponsored locally by the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo and the Masjid Saad Foundation, will be presented at 6 p.m. Jan. 29 in Nitschke Auditorium, 1700 North Westwood Ave., at the University of Toledo. Tickets are $15. Information: 419-874-3509 or online at www.icgt.org.



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