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Muslim Comics Draw Laughs by Making Fun of Stereotypes

Egyptian-born comedian Ahmed Ahmed

"Salam Alaykum everybody!" Muslim American comedian Omar Regan shouts. "This is Funatical comedy tour! Everybody, we gonna take over the world!"

The name of the show says it all. "Funatical" makes fun of the stereotype of Muslims as religious fanatics.

America is a nation of immigrants who have enriched this country's culture, especially the arts, including comedy. Now Muslim American comics are getting into the act.

Recently, Funatical brought a group of mostly Muslim comics to a theater in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia.

Egyptian-born Ahmed Ahmed, one of the best known Muslim American comedians, was among them.

"And all because my name is Ahmed Ahmed, I can't even fly a kite these days," he told the sold-out crowd that could barely stop laughing.

Several years ago Ahmed went to the Middle East with two other Muslim comics on the "Axis of Evil" comedy tour. He also did a U.S. tour with a rabbi.

"You know, I always think funny is funny," he said after the Arlington show. "And if you can make people laugh and do it from a lighthearted point of view, it's hard to hate someone with whom you laugh. That's an old quote from my friend Rabbi Bob Alper, who's a rabbi comedian."

Many on the Funatical team say comedy transcends cultures. The show's Afghan American director Samira Atash says that's why not all the comedians in the show are Muslim.

"When people come, they're going to look at the comedians and go, 'Wow, I didn’t know that there’s an Indian Jewish comedian or Iranian Jewish or that an Arab can be a Christian," she said. "It makes it fun. And we are just getting the comedians together to kind of laugh at what makes us different instead of fighting over it."

Sikh comic Paul Singh agrees.

"There's so much turmoil in the world," he said. "People are killing each other, hating each other over their beliefs. And if we can make some comedy out of it, if we can make some laughter out of it, it really breaks down the barriers. It makes it easier to accept each other."

Fans say joking about stereotypes makes it easier to deal with them. Laila Mokhiber works at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

"I guess you've just got to take things a little more lightly," she says. "If you're too heavy about these things. If you take it too seriously you're always going to be fighting. You're never going to really understand."

Before coming to the Washington area, Funatical wowed audiences in Los Angeles. Producers are planning to take the show to other cities in North America - and eventually, to the Middle East.