- Published on Saturday, 08 September 2012 08:29
In the era of comedic news broadcasting and political critiquing comes a comic, armed with the political wit, who breaks down the worst stereotypes known to America: Arab-American Dean Obeidallah. Half-Palestinian, half Sicilian-American, completely Muslim, entirely New Yorker, Obeidallah is no stranger to the often mapless navigation that comes with forming not just American identity, but one that also involves certain characteristics that are very often marginalized in mainstream media today.
And it’s an identity that Obeidallah would rather laugh at than cry over. Think of him as a cultural ambassador in stand up. He’s been seen performing around the world, covering topics from pop culture to Islamophobia, and his media appearances range from Comedy Central’s Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, SNL’s “Weekend Update,” ABC’s The View and CBS’s The Late Late Show to more analytical roles as a commentator on MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes, NBC’s Rock Center, CNN’s The Joy Behar Show, Current TV’s The Young Turks and CNN, where he regularly blogs and dishes out political commentary, always with a comedic twist. His upcoming documentary, The Muslims are Coming, features him alongside other notable Muslim-American comics as they make their way through performing free comedy shows throughout the Midwest and Deep South. Known for his “thought-provoking comedy,” Dean Obeidallah is notorious for politically educating, while entertaining your socks off.
If you thought Stephen Colbert running for President of the United States was enough of a riot, you must not have heard yet about Obeidallah’s new faux-litical campaign. “Who really wants to be President in this new hyper-partisan political climate?” he asks. “I’d rather be V.P. You get paid great, treated like a celebrity and do almost nothing - it’s like being one of the lesser Kardashian sisters.” His new eight-city tour, Dean Obeidallah for Vice President Tour, kicking off in Portland on September 8 and headlining in Seattle the next evening, is a sure hit. Straightforward and cutting, the show calls the shots as they are: “Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann claims that the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to infiltrate the U.S. government... I wish that intelligence would infiltrate Bachmann’s brain.” When Dean Obeidallah says “It better be funny!” we’ve learned it’s more often true than not.
Watch the DEAN OBEIDALLAH FOR VICE PRESIDENT COMEDY TOUR TRAILER
Aslan Media contributor Mohamed “BigMo” Alkhadher recently had a chance to catch up with Dean Obeidallah about being a mixed-race American, how he comes up with new material and the burgeoning role of political commentary in educating and offering nuanced coverage often overlooked by mainstream media outlets.
Aslan Media: You’re a mixed Arab, but you can easily pass as a white male- do you think your content is better received, or welcomed by your non-Arab viewers; as opposed to if you looked more "Arab"?
Dean Obeidallah: The fact I look like a “white” guy to many only prevents me from being cast in a movie as an Arab terrorist-thankfully. But it has never had an impact on my comedy being received by mainstream comedy club audiences. People believe me when I say I’m of Arab heritage because in this climate who would pretend to be Arab?!
AM: In light of continuously unfolding events in Middle East and Muslim communities, has it helped you come up with new material?
DO: Yes, but a great deal of my comedy is about American politics, my view of American society and breaking down negative stereotypes about our community whenever possible using comedy.
AM: With the rise of political comedians such as you, and John Stewart (for example), do you consider comedy as a new medium for broadcasting news?
DO: Comedy shows like The Daily Show, Colbert Report and SNL’s “Weekend Update” definitely do educate people as well as entertain. It is the type of comedy I always aspire to do.
I actually think The Daily Show actually offers more nuanced coverage than the traditional news channels on various topics. I also try to make sure all my jokes about politics are factually accurate so people can hopefully learn a little while laughing.
AM: Do you think as a comedian, it can be a challenge for your opinion to be taken seriously - especially, when featured on news networks such as CNN, and why?
DO: It depends on the topic. I’ve been writing a weekly opinion article for CNN.com since January, and I have written about a wide range of topics from politics to pop culture to issues focusing on the Arab and Muslim communities. If I write an article, it tends to give me the credibility I need to be invited on TV or radio shows to discuss them. But without the CNN articles it would be much more difficult to get into the media as just a comedian to offer political commentary.
AM: You perform in both the Middle East and the U.S. - how do your routines differ between audiences in both regions?
DO: I think people are amazed that I can do almost the same comedy in both places. The younger people who attend my shows in the Middle East are well versed in American politics and pop culture. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have truly made the world smaller and more closely linked.
There are limits on content in some Arab countries: in Lebanon the promoter told us we can tell jokes about any topic we want, but if we did jokes about Hezbollah, we were on our own.
AM: What can we expect from you during your Dean Obeidallah for Vice President Tour?
It better be funny! The comedy will address a range of topics from politics to pop culture to relationships to Islamaphobia. The show will not all be politics, but being a presidential election year there will a lot of material on the race and the issues the candidates are talking about.
My political point of view is definitely left leaning so if you like progressive political humor like on The Daily Show, I think you will love my show. If you are really conservative, you will probably disagree a lot but hopefully still laugh - or at least not get too angry!
Dean Obeidallah is set to begin his eight-city tour in Portland on Saturday, September 8 at McMenamins Mission Theater, then headline in Seattle on Sunday, September 9 at the SCCC Broadway Performance Hall. Future stops on the tour include Sacramento, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, New York City and Washington DC. For more information, and to order tickets, visit the tour’s page on his website.