- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — Four years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, a cadre of Arab-American actors and comedians is finding growing success mining personal experiences for material.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in New York, where the third annual Arab-American Comedy Festival begins this week.

The show, which runs through Thursday, consists primarily of nights of stand-up comedy and theatrical pieces.

Co-founder Dean Obeidallah says no topic is off-limits, but contributors this year are more willing to make fun of the Arab-American community and how it has been treated by others.

“In the past, we may have been resistant to mock ourselves a little,” said Mr. Obeidallah, 35, a lawyer-turned-comedian.

Co-founder Maysoon Zayid, an actress and comedian, said the show essentially uses stereotypes to shatter them.

“We’re not scary. We’re not the enemy,” she said. “We’re really funny.”

In many ways, Miss Zayid said, the Arab-American entertainers are following the path blazed by blacks and other ethnic minorities who have channeled their communities’ status and issues into success on the stage.

“Immediately after [September 11, 2001], I was concerned about talking about being Arab on stage in New York City,” said Mr. Obeidallah, who is half-Sicilian, half-Palestinian. “The first time I went onstage, I didn’t even use my last name. A club owner said: ‘Don’t talk about being Arab for a while.’ That evolved over time to where I talk about it much, much more.”

Sometimes it’s just too easy, especially now that the heightened sense of alert among Arab-Americans has become an almost normal, often absurd state, he said.

Mr. Obeidallah said he once listed the cell phone number of his friend Osama under “Osama cell” on his own phone. Another friend expressed concern on seeing the entry, thinking it was a number for the world’s most notorious terrorist.

“I was like, ‘Are you kidding?’” Mr. Obeidallah said.

The festival attempts to carefully blend the political and the personal. References to Palestinian suicide bombers are in, as are jabs at nosy, matchmaking mothers. There are jokes about Arabs worrying about Arab terrorists, and even a musical.

“The fact that we are commenting on ourselves is important instead of other people commenting on us,” said actor Waleed Zuaiter, an associate producer for the festival.

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