The Muslims Are Coming!
Runs Fri., Sept. 13–Thurs., Sept. 19 at Grand Illusion. Not rated. 85 minutes.
Interviewed in a laundromat, David Cross says he usually avoids identity-themed comedy nights—an evening of gay comics, black comics, Ukrainian comics, etc. Yet he and several other boldface names—including Janeane Garofalo, Colin Quinn, Lewis Black, and Aasif Mandvi—gladly lend their comments to this scrappy little documentary. Because, really, what could be harder than telling jokes onstage after 9/11 when you specifically identify yourself as Muslim-American? Yet two such comics, Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, do just that; and they gathered a half-dozen of their cohort to tour the red states, offering free tickets to their shows. Somewhat padded with interviews (Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, etc.), this doc follows their tour and gently attempts to rebut anti-Muslim stereotypes.
It’s all very admirable, but you may find yourself nodding in agreement more than doubled with laughter. With her bright lipstick and plunging décolletage, the L.A.-raised Farsad mocks her mother’s obdurate Persian ways like Margaret Cho. Polite white Southern audiences react better to her familiar family complaints than her I-am-not-a-slut tales from the barroom. The smoother Obeidallah, a New Yorker from an interfaith marriage, uses his generic appearance to sly advantage. (You could see him doing guest shots on a sitcom, playing a programmer from some indeterminate country.) In one bit, when told “You don’t look like a Muslim,” he responds, “Good! That means our secret plot is going according to plan! Bwah-ha-ha . . . ” Most of their peers also joke about prejudice, but with care not to sound angry. It’s like they’re at the 1960s Bill Cosby stage of black humor: Make your point, but from behind a smile, and don’t make anyone too uncomfortable.
Likewise, the filmmakers are generous with the locals they meet, letting only one shop owner’s racism speak for itself. Their best bits are like Daily Show remote segments, as when they set up a sidewalk “Hug a Muslim” booth in downtown Salt Lake City. The funny part is that the Mormon hugs are entirely sincere. Their jokes might land better in Williamsburg or Silver Lake, but the human connection is what counts here. (Note: Directors Farsad and Obeidallah will attend Friday’s screenings.)