It is said that laughter is the best medicine, but can it help counter Islamophobia?
Dean Obeidallah and Maysoon Zayid were looking to accomplish just that with the Muslim Funny Fest, which they co-produced last week. The event marked the first-ever Muslim stand-up comedy festival in New York City, and possibly even in North America.
The festival, which brought together over a dozen Muslim comedians to perform at the Comic Strip Live comedy club, was a smash. According to the event’s Facebook page, each show of the three-day event sold out.
The goal, Zayid explained to HuffPost Live this month, was to showcase the variety of experiences Muslims have, while also exploring what they share: having to deal with generally unfavorable views many Americans have of the Muslim community. In recent years, Americans' opinions of Muslims have actually worsened.
"The common link that, sadly, brings us together is the bigotry and hatred we are currently experiencing as American Muslims,” Zayid told HuffPost, “and I am hoping that the Muslim Funny Fest will do something to dilute that hate."
It appears to be succeeding. Azhar Usman, a participant in the festival, told AJ+ that he’s personally witnessed the power such shows can have to break down negative stereotypes.
“There’s been a couple of instances where people have come up to me after a show -- this has been really heartwarming -- and they’ve literally been in tears,” Usman told AJ+. "And they said to me, like, ‘I came into this show with so much anger and negativity in my heart towards Muslims, and you have completely destroyed that.’”
The fest is able to bridge that gap because of the accessibility of a comedy event when compared to something more serious. It’s a “subtle, stealth type of mission," Obeidallah joked to Yahoo’s Katie Couric.
“With comedy, you can reach people who will never go to a lecture on Muslims,” Obeidallah, who is also a SiriusXM host and a Daily Beast columnist, told Couric. “They would never read a book on Muslims. But they’ll come to a comedy show. And while they’re there, they’re gonna laugh. And you hope maybe they learn something while they’re laughing.”