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Arab-American Comic Hopes to Educate Americans through Laughter

One Arab-American comedian is hoping to educate Americans about his heritage through laughter. VOA's Crystal Park narrates.

"I grew up in the heart of the Middle East conflict in a place called Lodite, New Jersey,” says Dean Obeidallah. “When I say Middle East conflict, I am not talking about the Palestinian-Israeli one. I am talking about a potentially more dangerous one -- of the Arab world versus North Jersey."

Dean Obeidallah used to be a lawyer. But he quit his job and became a comedian. He is currently performing his one-man show titled, "I Come In Peace." Obeidallah created the show after noticing the way Arabs were seen in the United States after the attacks of 9/11.

"I think it has a lot to do with being concerned over how Arabs are being portrayed in the media and being concerned for my own uncles and cousins and aunts who live here and have accents and look Middle-Eastern. I wanted to do something to try and help them. I wanted to explain my fellow Americans who Arabs were and what we were about."

But Obeidallah discovered there was a problem with his plan. "I realized that on September 10, 2001, I went to bed a white guy. September 11th I woke up an Arab. But I realized something, before I could explain to them [American citizens] who we really are, I had to find out who we really are. I did not know anything about my own heritage and I set out to learn. I became proud of it and I wanted to share it with people."

In his act, Obeidallah tells a story about his late father denouncing men who committed violence in the name of Islam.

"My father was a real Muslim. He was a man of peace. And I often wonder how he would be treated in a post 9/11 world. His first name was Abdul. He was born in the Middle East. He had an accent. How difficult would his life become here?"

Obeidallah discusses a range of issues in the show. He tackles serious issues such as racial profiling and the media's portrayal of Muslims.

“I am a Middle East expert. In fact, I just spent a week in Morocco -- Pavilion at Disney's Epcot Center. It was like being in the Middle East, I can assure you."

But he also talks about light-hearted issues and pokes fun at fashion styles and dating issues in the Arab-American community.

"The deli worker. White shirt. Gold chain. Continual use of the word ‘habibi’ my friend. They will usually work at a deli owned by an uncle or cousin but claim they own it themselves."

Obeidallah says Arabs are thought of very differently today. “When I was a child, people were really intrigued by my Arab heritage, they wanted to know more. Again today, they are intrigued and want to know more. The difference is their motivation. When I was a kid, they wanted to learn about an exotic heritage. Now, they are studying the enemy."

Obeidallah is trying to change that -- one person at a time. He wraps up his show with an Arabic saying of peace.