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'Axis of Evil' inspires laughs

  • Story Highlights
  • "Axis of Evil" comics joke about Mideast stereotypes
  • More than 200,000 have viewed their videos on YouTube
  • One member has same name as terrorist on FBI list
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By Jill Dougherty
CNN
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (CNN) -- Standing onstage, comedian Aron Kader describes how his cousin in the Middle East likes to curse the United States -- in English.

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Maz Jobrani (left) says Middle Easterners get a bad rap in the media. Ahmed Ahmed has the name of a "most-wanted" terrorist

"Arabs love to cuss in English," Kader belts out. "They cuss their heads off in English, but they won't do it in Arabic because then God can hear them."

The audience, two-thirds of Mideast descent, explodes in laughter.

Kader is a member of the "Axis of Evil" comedy group, a collection of comics with Mideast roots who have formed a niche by taking on Mideast stereotypes and making subjects such as war, terrorism and suicide bombers funny.

It's a delicate balance, but one that seems to be catching on with a larger audience. The comics' videos on YouTube have been viewed more than 200,000 times, they recently had a one-hour special on Comedy Central and they currently are on a 15-city tour with packed crowds.

How do they make such serious topics funny?

The key, Kader says, is getting the audience on board. "Let them know that 'Hey, I get it, you guys have a stereotype of us, and I know what you see.' "

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Ethnic humor has a long history in the United States, but Kader says being Middle Eastern is different. He says people too often think of militants, terrorists and suicide bombers. "You just say you're Palestinian, and it's like you made a political statement."

And so the group has worked to try to change those stereotypes, one laugh at a time.

'AXIS' JOKES

The following are examples of jokes by the "Axis of Evil":

"I tell my American friends, yeah, I'm Iranian and they go, like, 'So you're Arab.' And I'm like, 'No we're actually different. We're not Arab. You know, we're similar; we're all getting shot at.'" -- Maz Jobrani

"We are the new enemy. We've replaced the Soviet Union. And we are stuck here until somebody replaces us. That's why I'm begging you to help me taunt North Korea as much as possible!" -- Dean Obeidallah

In November 2005, the comics took up the name Axis of Evil, playing off the term President Bush used in his 2002 State of the Union address to describe Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

There are four members of the Axis comedy group. Kader is a Palestinian-American, and Maz Jobrani is an Iranian-American with a degree in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. (Jobrani was one of the stars of the ABC series "The Knights of Prosperity.")

Rounding out the Axis are Ahmed Ahmed, an Egyptian-American, and Dean Obeidallah, a Palestinian-American who once was a practicing attorney.

Their biting humor is something to which many in their audience can relate. Jobrani says when he tells one joke begging for the news media to show Middle Easterners doing something positive -- like "baking a cookie or something" -- the crowd loves it for more than just its humor.

"That gets a laugh, but it also gets a clap from regular audiences, and I think that's because a lot of people are sick of seeing Middle Easterners depicted the way we're always depicted," he says.

Obeidallah says he never felt like a Middle Easterner until after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Now, he says, he does his comedy "not just for me."

"It's for my cousins, it's for my friends, it's for other Arabs and other people who get dirty looks or looked at funny because they have an accent or are viewed as suspicious simply because of their heritage," he says.

"We don't want to be defined any longer by the worst examples in our community, and it's a very small amount of people. There are a few terrorists and they define all of us."

Ahmed says he gets problems at the airport -- because his name matches the alias of a terrorist on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list.

But he takes it in stride. Like his fellow Axis comedians, he says, you can "scare people into laughing."

He quotes a comedy colleague who is a rabbi.

"He always says you can't hate anybody when you're laughing with them. So it's nice, when we're doing our comedy show, to see the diversity in the crowd and people actually laughing together," Ahmed says.

"You see Arabs and Jews and Mexicans and whites, and they're all sitting together and they're sharing the same laugh. Comedy's like food or music. It's universal. Laughter's universal." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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