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Muslim-American Comedians Bridge Cultures


You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News. A group of comedians is on a world-wide tour. The comedians are featured in a new film called "Allah Made Me Funny." They're all American-Muslims. NPR's Jamie Tarabay visited with the tour's organizer, one of its stars, who calls himself Preacher Moss.

JAMIE TARABAY: Real name, Bryant Moss. He's more than happy to poke fun at the stereotype of African-American Muslims. In this scene, he sends up the idea of a Nation of Islam weatherman.

Mr. BRYANT MOSS (Comedian): Assalam alaikum, everybody.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. MOSS: And welcome to your weather. Meet Minister James Three Ace. Come on over to the chart. Bring the chart down, white man!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOSS: If you look in L.A. County, the weather's going to be beautiful. 85, sunny, not a cloud in the sky. For the black man, rain all day!

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. MOSS: Those brothers love that bit.

TARABAY: Moss' comedy tour also features an Arab-American Muslim, an Indian-American Muslim, and even a comedian from the Nation of Islam. He's trying to show audiences just how diverse America's Muslim community really is.

Mr. MOSS: I think some of the people that come to the shows who aren't Muslim are coming for information. And while you're doing a show, there's an invisible challenge or a barrier that you have to break because people have a very general and sincere interest to find out who these people are.

TARABAY: That's a challenge, preconceived ideas. And it's something he knows about personally. When he converted to Islam almost 20 years ago, Moss had to first deal with his parents. He grew up Christian in Washington D.C., and their only experience of Muslims at the time was the Nation of Islam. His father offered to buy him a certain tie because he thought all black Muslims dressed like that. But Moss' Islam was more mainstream.

Mr. MOSS: Yeah, he said, you don't talk a brother, brother. You know, they talk forceful, you - you're soft. You're a soft Muslim, you know?

TARABAY: Moss also points the finger at Muslims themselves for not doing more to challenge stereotypes. In this scene from his show, he jokes that Muslims should advertise more.

Mr. MOSS: Three in the morning, I watched this guy jumping out of my TV. Are you tired of eating pork?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOSS: Are you sick of drinking alcohol? You only got one wife? What?

(Soundbite of laughter)

TARABAY: But there's a serious side to all the comedy. Much of his humor centers on the trials Muslims have faced since the 9/11 attacks, and how for African Americans, that sort of stuff, like government eavesdropping, has been happening for years and years.

Mr. MOSS: Don't think they're just listening now. You know, they've been listening for a while, you know? What makes you special?

TARABAY: Moss says there's a load of division within the American Muslim community that he's experienced first hand.

Mr. MOSS: Everything is fragmented, which means that certain people don't want to come to the black mosque. You know, black Muslims, African-American Muslims don't feel like they're invited at this mosque, and I've been to some mosques where I walked up services, guy didn't want to shake my hand. I'm like, what's that all about? They want to hold on to these things that uniquely make them isolated.

TARABAY: But he hopes that through laughter, he and other Muslim comedians will eventually change all that. Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Morning EditionAll Things Considered
Jamie Tarabay
After reporting from Iraq for two years as NPR's Baghdad Bureau Chief, Jamie Tarabay is now embarking on a two year project reporting on America's Muslims. The coverage will take in the country's approx 6 million Muslims, of different ethnic, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and the issues facing their daily lives as Americans.