Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Secret to Ethnic Comedy

As an Arab-American comedian I want to do ethnic comedy. As a New York comedian I want to do smart comedy that does not rely on cheap, easy stereotype jokes. What do I do? Completely avoid mentioning my heritage on stage or write all my jokes about how stupid Bush and airport security are (a topic white comedians won't touch)?

A: Ethnic comedy is like spice. Too much ethnic spice overpowers the natural flavor of your act. How can you tell that story about how your mom tried to make you gay by forcing you to watch "Falcon Crest" and "Dynasty" when your whole set list is about how everyone thinks you're a terrorist? But you need some spice or else it's bland.

I suppose now's as good a time as any for an ethnic bit.

I like the idea of Arab American comedy, but it needs to develop its own legends. There are great comedians now of course but what about our comic legacy from the past? The history is not as big as the history of other ethnicities. African-Americans gave us Redd Foxx, Bill Cosby, Chris Rock. Jewish Americans gave us Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman, Jerry Seinfeld. Our contribution: Tony Shalhoub on "Wings." And even on that shitcom he played an Italian.

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