American Muslim Comedians Share Stories of Identity and Laughter in UCSB Capps Center Panel

American Muslim Comedians Share Stories of Identity and Laughter in UCSB Capps Center Panel

The University of California Santa Barbara’s (USCB) Capps Center on Ethics and Religious Studies hosted a panel of American Muslim comedians on June 6 titled “American Muslim Comedians: A Serious Conversation,” with comedians Preacher Moss, Yasmin Elhady, Moses the Comic (Musa Suleiman), and Omar Regan. Morganne Thonnart, a PhD candidate at UCSB, served as moderator.

Aiming to inspire future performers and advocate for the power of comedy, the panelists discussed highlights from their careers, from failed stand-up shows to breaking into mainstream comedy, as well as the importance of their identities in shaping their work. 

Preacher Moss, best known as a member of the world-touring comedy troupe Allah Made Me Funny, which he launched in 2004 along with comedians Azhar Usman and Azeem Muhammad (later replaced by Mohammed Amer in 2006), spoke about his journey from comedy writing to stand-up. He discussed the global impact of Allah Made Me Funny and his time as a writer for “In Living Color,” “Saturday Night Live,” and “The George Lopez Show.”In speaking about how his identity informs his comedy routines, Moss shared the story of the time an informant was discovered at his local mosque and a community member defended the accused by saying “He’s a snitch, not a spy!” Moss’s identity as a Black man and as a Muslim revert inform his craft — not only what he performs, but also who he performs for.

Yasmin Elhady decided to start in comedy during Trump’s rise to prominence as a presidential candidate and his Islamophobic comments. Elhady views comedy as a way to disarm people and make them let go of their misconceptions, so she decided to do an open mic in Bethesda, Maryland responding to Trump’s campaign. She has persisted as a comedian ever since. Elhady’s full time job is as a lawyer in the public sector, working in civil rights and immigration law. Elhady paid tribute to the Black Muslim comedians like Preacher Moss who paved the way for comedians like her that came up later, saying, “There are a lot of Black Muslims who have allowed me into their community. I know what they have been through to be up there.”

Moses the Comic spoke about the importance of laughter, sharing a moving story of a woman, struggling with grief after losing her husband, who came to one of his shows and later wrote to him thanking him for bringing her joy in a difficult time. Sulaiman began his comedy career in Philadelphia at the comedy club Laff-House, and went on to tour with several comedians over his career, focusing his work on his identity and his experiences as a Black Muslim.

For Omar Regan, one the most important parts of being a comedian is persisting despite failure when performing stand-up. Regan’s start as a stand-up comic in the late ‘90s involved completely bombing three shows, three weeks in a row. Even so he continued, and is now a celebrated comedian as well as a a director, actor and the founder of Halalywood Entertainment, a production company that focuses on entertainment for Muslim families. 

Each of the comedians spoke about the importance of their work, not only because they are American Muslim comedians in a field where there are few, but also because they have the opportunity to bring laughter and joy to their audiences amidst difficulties both personal and societal.

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