Arab-Americans visit U. to channel laughs
Middle Eastern and Muslim students congregated to hear Arab-American comedians perform material on racial profiling and their experiences living in a post-Sept. 11 world Tuesday in the Raritan River Lounge of the Student Activities Center on the College Avenue campus.
The Arabic Cultural Club and Belief, Awareness, Knowledge and Activism hosted the event, with stand-up comedy performances by Mohamed Masoud, Meena Dimian and Maria Shehata.
But headlining was Dean Obeidallah, a Palestinian and Sicilian who performed on Comedy Central's "Axis of Evil" tour after his career as an attorney.
"I think, if anything, I would be labeled as a comic who talks about social issues in the vein of people I admire, like John Stewart or Chris Rock," Obeidallah said. "Certainly [Rock's] comedy is colored by the fact that he is African-American. There is a filter that he sees the world through, and it's the same thing for me as an Arab-American."
University alumnus Mohamed Masoud said he sometimes faces discrimination as an Arab-American comedian.
"People mostly think I'm Puerto Rican," he said. "But for the most part, people do take jabs at me. [They say,] 'Oh, your name is Mohamed. You must be a terrorist. Where's your turban?' But it doesn't really get to me."
Maria Shehata, who also performed, said more Arab-Americans are finding ways to laugh about the stereotypes placed on their race.
"The amount of Arab-American comedians has grown in the past five years," she said. "There has been a lot of racial profiling and racism toward Arab-Americans since Sept. 11, and we have to laugh about it and bring it out into the light and joke about it. If you don't, then it's just swept under the rug."
Arabic Cultural Club President Kareem Mahmoud, a School of Engineering junior, described the demand for the comedians.
"We had people lining up an hour beforehand, and the word spread like fire because everyone knows these guys," Mahmoud said. "Students go to see these comedians in the city, and they pay much more there."
Arabic Cultural Club public relations officer Mohamad Saleh, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said he enjoyed the comedy as much as the crowd.
The group of about 100 students gave the comedy a personal vibe, he said.
"Things definitely ran smoothly," Saleh said. "We had a big turnout. The food was good, and the reaction from the crowd was great."