Friday, April 5, 2013

The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour (2008)

As much as I love stand-up, I seldom write reviews of it because of its subjective nature. I’ll happily make an exception with Comedy Central’s Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, though. I can’t overstate how refreshing it feels to see my feelings on the world and life as an Arab-American articulated so adroitly by these awesome comedians.

I usually use this blog to comment on how a film portrays Arabs and Muslims. Obviously, as a stand-up special featuring Arab-Americans, this film consists of their own perspectives on life in America, something I can’t comment on the veracity of. I can say that I found it very easy to identify with the stories they told about life as an “other” here. In the years since 2008, this special hasn’t lost a shred of relevance for me.1 Digs at George W. Bush abound, but considering the extent to which the legacies of his administration continue to suffuse our foreign policy and economic situation, I think the jokes still remain timely.

I live in fear of this look every time I fly.
Between each performance, we get skits featuring a pushy TSA agent (played by Loni Love), which serve to remind me how much I hate flying. Personally, I can’t go through a metal detector without having a mini-panic attack in fear that a TSA agent will look at my name and single me out for a cavity search… or worse.

Incidentally, Loni Love has done some pretty great stand-up in her own right.

Featured comedian Dean Obeidallah opens the show.

Obeidallah has a pleasant stage presence, if not quite the aplomb of his colleagues.
He tears into the PATRIOT Act wonderfully, plus he conveys exactly how it feels to have an Arab name, to grow up in two radically different cultures simultaneously, and to “resemble several people on the government’s most wanted list.” Also, I found this dead on…
There are basically two news stories about us… There’s the bad story where we’re described as militant gunmen or terrorists, and then the occasional positive one where we’re described as alleged militant gunmen or terrorists.
This quote accurately describes both Arabs and Muslims, something still relevant and summed up expertly by this Al Jazeera writer just days ago.

Ahmed Ahmed: funny and not a bad-lookin’ dude either.
Of all the performances, I liked Ahmed Ahmed the best. He has a certain mastery of the art of the awkward silence. He makes one of the truest statements in the special: that even a lot of lapsed and non-practicing Muslims still won’t eat pork.

Aron Kader has the most relaxed presence.
Third, we get Aron Kader. As a half-Aryan, half-Semite Arab-American born and raised in this country (like Obeidallah… and me), Kader’s material has a lot of overlap with that of his colleagues. His comedy has a subtle cynical, misanthropic undercurrent that sets it apart. That bent comes in handy as he riffs on the spread of American consumerism and imperialism abroad.

Jobrani dances for Iranian pride.

The only non-Arab of the group, Iranian-American actor/comedian Maz Jobrani, closes out the show. He proves a good choice as the last act, as he has the most physical style—and concomitant energy—of the comics.

Also, I can testify to the truth of this.

People think, just ’cause I’m from the Middle East, I'm an expert on the Middle East. So, like, I got a friend… Any time the gas prices go up he’ll always ask my opinion about it. He’ll always corner me. “Hey, Maz… in your opinion, what’s going on with this gas thing? … 50 words or less; break it down, would you? You are my Middle Eastern friend.” I’m like, “Dude… I don’t work at OPEC! I pay the same price as you! … I don’t have a discount pump at the gas station!”

I get stupid questions. Same guy thinks that I know when the next terrorist hit is going down! He’ll ask my opinion about it. He’ll be like, “Hey, Maz, what’s the word on the street?” … He’s like, “Bro, I been watching CNN; I know you know somebody. What’s going on?”

I tell him, “Dude, I don’t know any terrorists, okay? I've never met one or talked to one, not even accidentally!”

Obeidallah and Jobrani both end with perorations calling for peace, tolerance, love, and understanding. Their words really speak to the core idea of the special. Although not to the extent of Lenny Bruce or Richard Pryor, the comedians poke fun at stereotypes and themselves in the name of social justice.

Overall, I really like the special. I won’t lie and say I find it particularly memorable; as you might suspect from my summaries, the jokes about terrorism, suicide bombing, flying, and awkward interactions with non-Arabs all bleed together even shortly after watching it. I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to call it my favorite stand-up special of all time.2 Like most of Comedy Central’s other work, it makes for a fun way to kill a little over an hour.

Nevertheless, I found the special, as a whole, very funny and very easy to identify with. As of this writing, you can find it on Netflix Instant. I watched it there myself. No sooner did the credits roll than Netflix did the usual recommending of three “similar titles”… all Russell Peters comedy specials. Russell Peters has a style completely unlike these comedians, he occupies a higher echelon of fame (as one of the highest-paid comedians in the world), and as an Indian-Canadian born and raised in Ontario, he neither has family from nor does he live in the same countries as any of these comedians. Peters’ father grew up 1740 miles from Maz Jobrani’s birthplace and both Peters and Jobrani do stand-up; the similarities end there.

That says everything about how Americans continue to view the Middle East that this special didn’t.

1 One comedian made a Helen Thomas joke, and another made a Mysapce joke, so maybe a couple tiny, tiny shreds.
2 That title always has and probably always will go to Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain.

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