Saturday, Oct 10 , 2015 ( Thul-Hijjah, 1436)

Updated:10:00 PM GMT

Uniting Through Laughter

By Amina Khan
IOL Correspondent

Azhar Usman
Usman, who left his profession as a lawyer to pursue a career as a comedian, joked about racial profiling at airports.
NEW YORK — A Muslim lawyer and a Jewish Rabbi, one in his 30s the other in his 60s, one from rural Vermont and the other from Chicago are hoping to use humor to build understanding between their cultures and make people focus on similarities rather than differences between Muslims and Jews.

"This is a fun show [in] which people can enjoy the things we have in common, we spend a lot of time discussing those issues," Azhar Usman told IslamOnline.net.

"I think we can have a couple of hours on a given night to laugh and discuss something else."

Usman and Rabbi Bob Alper, both professional stand-up comedians, have recently started performing together at theaters, colleges, synagogues, mosques, churches and corporate events.

They do not joke about religion, especially each others.

"I take my religion very seriously, there are no blasphemous or sacrilegious jokes in my act," said Usman.

This is something he holds in common with Alper, who boasts that his act is "totally clean" covering such topics as being a rabbi, going to a religious school, weddings, funerals, and baby naming ceremonies.

Alper, who was ordained as a rabbi in 1972 and received his doctor of ministry from Princeton Theological Seminary, told IOL that he does not joke about religion, but rather about religious people.

He recalled that after one of his shows an older Jewish man came up to him and said, "Thank you for respecting us."

Alper has served congregations in Buffalo and Philadelphia, but left to perform stand-up around the country for the past 20 years.

Usman also left his profession as a lawyer to pursue a career as a comedian.

He has performed at comedy clubs around the country and overseas and co-founded the hugely successful "Allah Made Me Funny the Official Muslim Comedy Tour."

United on Stage   


The comedians hope to use humor to build understanding between their cultures and make people focus on similarities between Muslims and Jews. (IOL photo)

The funny couple doubt-teamed in a recent comedy event held at New York University on Thursday, March 22.

The "One Muslim, One Jew, One Stage" show as sponsored by the Islamic Center at NYU, the Jewish Student group Hilel and Shuruq, an Islamic arts and cultural organization.

Usman, tall with a long beard, joked about racial profiling at airports.

"If I was a crazy fundamentalist, this is not the disguise I would choose."

He also jokes about being a Muslim-American post 9-11.

"I have a friend named Osama, who I have programmed in my phone as 'Osama cell' and every time he calls I feel the need to overcompensate by answering "Hey Sami, my AMERICAN friend, remember when we sang the Star - Spangled Banner together?"

Alper joked about studying Hebrew, noting the difference between spoken Hebrew and rabbinical Hebrew.

"Behold! Here I descend," he once told an Israeli cab driver on reaching his destination.

The light-hearted show stays away from current events and politics, although in his solo act Usman says there is no topic he will stay away from.

"I differ to Bob in keeping it a non-political show," the Muslim comedian told IOL.

After both performed their solo acts, they came on stage together where they told the audience about their backgrounds and how they felt about performing together.


Some audience members enjoyed the non-political humor.

"I like the fact that it had nothing to do with politics and was focused on similarities and cutting up stereotypes," Shahzad Qalbani, 30, a finance professional, told IOL.

While others like Naomi Sorkin, 20, thought that although it was "entertaining, it was not too daring."

"The Muslim comedian was more politicized," she said, citing jokes about the Danish cartoon controversy and the Iraq war.

Sorkin said the Jewish comedian had more "family-centered jokes."

The applauding and cheering audience seemed to have shared happiness and laughter.

"It was a breath of fresh air, and surprisingly funny," said Eric Lord, 25.

"It was good, great, they are both guys with good characters and so funny," agreed Pamela, 19.

The show ended with Alper joking "there is one thing that could make more peace between all people, one thing that could be healing if all of us together Jews and Muslims ("Muslims and Jews," Usman chimed in) could learn…Irish dancing."

The pair then broke into an Irish jig and embraced as the audience laughed and cheered.

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