Meet Dean Obeidallah — the half Palestinian, half Sicilian, ex-lawyer from New Jersey who left the courtroom for comedy. In 2003, Obeidallah and fellow funny lady, Maysoon Zayid, had an idea. “You know, we don’t get a month that celebrates our heritage in America like a Black History Month,” Obeidallah says in his sketches. “We get orange alert.” They wanted to create something truthful to showcase the funny side of the Arab culture. And out of that came the Arab-American Comedy Festival.
This week the festival kicks off its seventh year with five crazy nights in New York followed by the Arabs Gone Wild tour, which will be hitting a town near you. Obeidallah spoke with Need to Know:
How is Arab-American comedy different from other comedy? Is it?
Funny is funny. What makes our comedy unique is that we are talking about issues specific to our community and culture – just as Hispanic or African-American comedians often do. We were in a unique position after 9/11 where we were considered suspicious because of our heritage so we tried to use comedy to diffuse that stereotype.
What was the first year of the festival like? Did people laugh?
Of course people laughed! The first year we had no idea what we’re doing nor did we have any idea how much work it would be. We just wanted to put on a three-day festival. It went so well that we decided to try it a second year. Since then it became an annual comedy tradition.
Does the comedy change from city to city or country to country?
It can change from region to region within the U.S. slightly but its more about generational gap — younger people in U.S. and Middle East get the same jokes — older people tend not to in either place.
Who’s the funniest person you know?
Who’s your favorite public figure (to mock)?
George Bush, of course.
What’s your favorite (Arabic) food?
In one word, your reaction to…
George W. Bush: comedy gold
Sarah Palin: scary
Barack Obama: genius
Pope Benedict XVI: holy
Nicolas Sarkozy: hot wife
Kim Jong Il: short
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: hairy
Tiger Woods: player
Larry King: still alive?