Saturday, September 16, 2006

Has Hell Frozen?

And are pigs flying?
Breaking barriers by using laughter
With his long black beard, skullcap and olive skin, comedian Azhar Usman tells audiences he needs to arrive at airports a month in advance to get through security. He also says he's more likely to be responsible for a disturbance at a 7-Eleven than for the terrorists attacks that occurred on Sept. 11. Usman calls himself the ayatollah of comedy. But five years ago, he almost gave up making people laugh. After Sept. 11, Usman, a Muslim lawyer turned standup comic, traded comedy clubs for the lecture circuit. He talked at colleges, synagogues, churches and community centers to those increasingly curious about Islam. Ultimately, though, his passion lay in tickling funny bones. "More than anything else, 9/11 was a wakeup call for me personally and for the American Muslim community to stop being lazy in terms of avoiding talking about the hard issues in our community," said Usman, 30. "The weapon I chose was humor, and I feel that my comedy is as much about calling out the hypocrisy in my own community as it is about calling out the hypocrisy in the U.S. government." Usman, who lives in Chicago, will perform what he calls "Muslim schtick" tonight at the Council on American Islamic Relations' annual banquet in Tampa. He is one of a growing number of Muslim and Arab-American comedians who are using their craft to address sociopolitical issues facing their communities. Usman's performances focus on topics such as the Iraq war, politics, the erosion of civil liberties, stereotyping and racial profiling.
Read the rest here.