|Arab American comedian Meena Dimian|
DEARBORN — "That is a lot of peach fuzz mustaches," said New York comedian Meena Dimian when someone told him that 90 percent of Fordson High School students are Arab.
Dimian performed at the school's auditorium on May 16 with three other Middle Eastern comics.
He's part of a growing movement of Arab and Persian Americans using humor on stage as an outlet for the frustrations of being Middle Eastern in America — and of growing up with Middle Eastern parents.
"It's a voice. And it's a way to express ourselves," said Dimian about the satisfaction of putting Arab culture and struggle out in the open through laughter.
He said it's a way to get mainstream Americans to say "Maybe they're just like us."
Dimian jokes about everything from his unusual name and skinny build, to the intense strength of Arab-style coffee — or "boiled Pennzoil" — to the way non-Arabs often react to him as an Arab. He said people often whisper to him, wide-eyed, "Are you Muslim?"
Or they throw in other random things they've heard on CNN: "Are you Islam? Are you Islamabad?"
Local Arab Americans who have a knack for standup will have an opportunity to perform on stage at the 2nd Annual Mizna Arab American Comedy Festival on August 15 at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn. Auditions will be held beginning June 19 (email director
Mike Mosallam, email@example.com, for information).
Dimian said jokes in which he's making fun of himself do the best, but the bread and butter of most Middle Eastern acts: parents.
|Persian American comic Max Amini|
High-energy Iranian American performer Max Amini went all-out at the Fordson show, acting-out beatings his father gave him as a child, and his mother's supernatural persistence in getting him to drink tomato juice.
Amini, of Los Angeles, also touched on Middle Eastern idiosyncrasies like the tendency to be utterly depressed when alone, and completely overjoyed when a lot of people are around.
"I like to send out positive messages," he said about his act. "Our job is to show how fun we can be… When we're together, we're all happy. As soon as five of us get together, we're the loudest at the party," he said.
Amini makes jokes about being too skinny to be able to physically fight other men, a bit he said he does to dismantle stereotypes.
"They think Middle Eastern people are violent… They look at us pretty negatively. We're not violent people."
Dimian went a step further.
"The most caring culture in the world is the Arab culture," he said.
He said that African, Hispanic and Jewish Americans have all been put on display on mainstream stages, and that Arabs should follow suit.
"Everyone has their own circuit, and we should too," he said.
Dimian, a philosophy graduate from Rutgers University, still catches some flack from his Egyptian mother about his job.
He uses it in his act along with other things she does that make him want to pull his hair out.
"Comedy comes out of frustration. It brings forth a lot of comedy… But in her defense, my mother has been incredibly supportive," Dimian said.
Amini said the mother stories are all about over-the-top expressions of love.
"It's not about tomato juice, it's about the love and the caring. The most important thing we can do is to spread some love."
One elderly woman in the front row at the Dearborn show didn't speak English. She had people translating jokes to her throughout the night and at one point she heckled Dimian with pleasantries about his handsome face.
Amini, when he realized the woman had come to the event without being able to understand, decided to give her a little something extra.
He told the DJ to cue some Arab music and danced wildly — a sideshow specifically for the woman.
"Comedy is universal. That's why I wanted to make her feel special," he said.
In another improvised interaction with the crowd, Amini called out a young couple who refused to admit that they were dating.
"Oh, the whole community's here. You can't say that you're dating. You're Middle Eastern. You say you're 'friends.'"
When asked later about having ruined the secret romance the two may have had, Amini said his job is to point to things that are overdone, given too much weight, taken too seriously.
"We're comedians. We talk about things that are over-rated," he said. "We poke fun at intense challenges… This is all done for the better."
Dimian and Amini said they relish being able to bring Arab Americans together and putting them under a microscope for laughter.
"It's very important for us to unify with each other," Dimian said.
"This is how far we've come," said Amini. "We can come out and talk about what we talk about."
Dearborn comedian Amer Zahr also performed at the show, attacking subjects like the school lunches packed by Arab American parents — consisting of dried apricots, bizr (roasted seeds) and baklava — and similarities between Arab and African Americans — like the ability to scare white people.
Zahr can be seen performing locally, Amini performs regularly in the Los Angeles-area and Dimian in the New York-area — though his dream is to perform in Egypt.
Dimian said two people from different worlds profoundly influenced his style of humor: Egyptian actor Adel Imam and Johnny Carson.