What do Muslims in America have to laugh about?
Quite a lot, say the organizers of New York City’s -- and possibly America’s -- first-ever Muslim stand-up comedy festival.
Dean Obeidallah and Maysoon Zayid, the two comedians co-producing the event, have been putting together the New York Arab American Comedy Festival for the past 11 years. But this year, they felt it was important to rally around the shared experience of growing up Muslim in America, and use comedy to process that experience.
"Even though all the comedians are Muslims, we all have very different experiences, whether it is the culture we grew up in or the extent to which we practice our faith," Zayid told The Huffington Post. "The common link that, sadly, brings us together is the bigotry and hatred we are currently experiencing as American Muslims, and I am hoping that the Muslim Funny Fest will do something to dilute that hate."
American attitudes toward Muslims have taken a turn for the worse in recent years.
In 2010, close to half of Muslim-Americans said they’d experienced some form of personal racial or religious discrimination. And Muslims are viewed more coldly than any other major religious group in the country, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center poll.
"The United States is scared of two things: black people and Muslims," comedian Preacher Moss says in a trailer for the fest. "I've got the best of both worlds."
The festival will feature stars like Negin Farsad, a producer, actor and social justice activist, "Mo" Amer, who was part of the comedy tour "Allah Made Me Funny," and Azhar Usman, a former attorney who has performed stand-up on five continents.
Obeidallah said that one of his biggest hopes for the festival is that the audience is diverse and that it includes non-Muslims of many faiths and backgrounds.
"We felt really strongly the need to show people that Muslims can be funny, that we have a sense of humor, and most importantly, that we can laugh at ourselves," he said.