Omar Regan: Can Religion Be Funny? Getting ‘Funatical’ By Laughing At Differences
A lot of people ask me what it’s like to be a Muslim comedian and if it’s possible to be religious and funny. I believe laughter and prayer helps people heal. Islam is not just something I practice, like working out or something. It’s how I aim to live my life. It makes me a peaceful person, easy-going, positive by nature, loving, caring, forgiving, firm and confident. It has taught me that we are all connected — we are all people, we all want peace, love and respect, we are all one and believe in a common message. We must love each other like we love ourselves. Just as Jesus said, “We even have to love the ones who don’t love us for if we only love the ones who love us, what reward is there in that?”
Comedy is a bonding experience through which better relationships can be built. When we can laugh with each other, we can understand the serious issues in a way that brings a better understanding and appreciation of our differences. To make people smile is a great reward and highly encouraged in Islam, and with any talent that we have been blessed by the creator to have, we are encouraged to use it for good. Islam helps me be conscious of all my material, it grounds me to not just want to make people laugh, but to focus on the greater good and a bigger picture as I know I’m accountable for every word that comes out of my mouth. Religious topics can be funny when you poke fun of the misunderstandings and misinterpretations that are humorous at times. People usually see truth within themselves that makes them laugh because they can relate to the material in one way or another.
It was a dream of mine to be a part of something like the ‘FUNATICAL’ comedy tour, so when I was invited to perform, I felt my prayers were answered. These days, Muslims should be doing more to break stereotypes. We need to lead by example and make peace between people, help those in need, uplift and restore — do things that will unite and not divide. Each religion has a voice, and each religion shares a common message, so the goal is to remind us all that we need each other. We have more in common than we have uncommon. We don’t ask each other “What religion are you?” when a crisis hits. As humans we are naturally touched because a fellow human being is in danger. We shouldn’t wait until a tragedy hits to unite. ‘FUNATICAL’ encourages laughter and love — that being different is good and we aren’t all supposed to be the same.
Those are just some of my beliefs and I’m curious as to what my fellow comedians who perform with me in the ‘FUNATICAL’ — Washington, D.C. tour think.
Thanks, Omar. Since my mother is Jewish and my father is Muslim, I have a very personal reason to support inter-religious peace. Every time the families get together, we have our own Holy War going on in the living room! It actually is not that bad. For the most part the two sides get along, so I have seen firsthand that people of differing religious views can not only live in peace, but can produce a marriage of 47 years and four children. So if Mohamed Kazem can love Norma Epstein and they accept each others’ differing beliefs, maybe we can all get along. This is why the ‘FUNATICAL Comedy Tour’ is so important. If we can laugh at each other, we can love each other. Comedy is about comparing and contrasting differences. Be it about gender, married vs. single, race, religion, politics etc. So, as long as you take a respectful approach in writing the material, religious differences can be funny. Also, I think God has a sense of humor. Have you seen the platypus? Half duck, half beaver. That seems like the start to a bar joke. Seriously, I do think the Jewish faith has been tied to humor since the beginning. This probably explains the over abundance of Jewish comedians, and I know some pretty funny Rabbis.
Very true. I’m Christian and Arab so I support inter-religious peace because none of us have the answers and it really is a huge ego that is intolerant of others just because they have different beliefs. I don’t need anyone to believe in the same things I do — I’m all for the “agree to disagree” mentality. What’s worse than getting into a religious debate with someone? Everyone’s on the defensive, and they just dig their heels harder into what they’ve always believed. The good thing about comedy is there’s an opportunity to be understood without all the defenses. Of course on the other hand, you can’t control how people take a joke. Sometimes people hear the word “Jesus” and suddenly they are up in arms, even before they’ve heard the rest of the joke. There’s really nothing you can do. You’ll probably always offend someone with religious humor, but at the very least you’re reaching the people who are willing to laugh. But if you want to do jokes about religion AND you don’t want to offend anyone then please, use a puppet.
I agree with Maria that it’s a fine line. The religion that I was born into is called Sikhism which means “learning forever.” I feel that it is a very pragmatic religion. It is based on the fundamentals of “live and let live” and equality and justice for all. A true Sikh strives to learn from other religions and achieve salvation. The aspect that I find hilarious about religion is that originally all religions start out teaching peace and harmony, but today, more people are killed on the name of religion than any other threat to mankind. If you look at the true essence of religions, they are all supposed to lead us salvation and peace of mind. Ironically, today more people have lost their minds and their peace because of religion. If the basic core of every religion is peace, then why is there so much violence in our temples, churches and mosques? We all claim that our religion is best and the only toward salvation and internal peace. I look at religion like a school: It does not matter what school you go to, they all should get you a diploma. Similarly, all religions lead you toward salvation. Once you understand this basic concept, you will have a hard time hating other religions. Said, what do you think?
As a Muslim, it is extremely important for me to encourage tolerance and peace among all religions because that is essentially what my religion has taught me to do. Islam is not a set of rules I aim to follow, it is a way of life. Part of that way of life is what I always refer to as Jihad 2.0 or Jihad of the 21st century. You see the word “jihad” and you think of the references to Holy War, as if it is some battle with guns blazing and Clint Eastwood standing in front of you with darker skin and a thicker beard asking if “you feel lucky, punk.” In truth, jihad in our present day is not a war with guns or swords; it is a battle of tolerance. If I am on stage performing for non-Muslims and I get them to laugh with me and enjoy my comedy, I made an impression on them. Nobody trusts someone that they don’t like, which is why you never hear a person say, “I sure hate Abdullah, but I trust the hell out of him!” Muslims can be funny and we can make you laugh with us rather than at us. If we all smile and laugh and loosen up — and I can learn about you and you can learn about me — through it all we will build respect and tolerance for each other. Not much in life can be more important than that, so give me your best joke …
In so many parts of the world, religion is the border divide. Yet when you look at the basis of religion, just like people, they are not all that different from one another. The details may be different but the overall basics are the same. “Thou shalt not lie, cheat, steal, kill, and/or covet thy neighbor’s wife”. When you look at these regional conflicts you realize it is not truly a matter of religious conflict but regional conflict. These people are arguing over land, water, resources, not really over God. Religion is supposed to make you a better person with ideals and morals. It’s not about suicide bombings or AK47s. I’m a true mix: Half Iranian/half black with a Muslim/Baptist/Jewish/Zoroastrian mix. I feel that I embody the ideology that can make peace in the world. These religions can all get along because they all get along in me. Bringing people together is why I do what I do on stage. However making religion and/or race funny is always a very tricky game. There is a very thin line between funny and offensive and I try my best not to cross it. The best way to make everyone equal is to make fun of them equally. The biggest difference between a Jew with a big beard, a Christian with a big beard, and a Muslim with a big beard is the way they are dressed. Make them metaphorically “naked” and they are really all the same.
All very interesting perspectives. I was raised Muslim and was taught that we should respect all religions, beliefs, etc. My old friend and colleague, Rabbi Bob Alper, once told me, “You can’t hate anyone with whom you’ve laughed.” Everything about religions is profoundly funny, I think. The stories are amazing! I mean Jesus walked across water? God spoke to Moses through a burning bush? Mohammed ascended to Heaven from a rock in Jerusalem? Noah built an Ark and was able to gather TWO of each animals from around the world?! We are talking about the super heroes of religion. BRILLIANT!
Omar Regan (“Rush Hour 2″), Matt Kazam (NBC’s “Last Comic Standing”), Maria Shehata (Showtime, Comedy Central), Paul Singh (Apollo Theater), Said Durrah (“Arabs Gone Wild”), Tehran SoParvaz (Laugh Factory) and headliner Ahmed Ahmed (“Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show,” Tonight Show with Jay Leno, “Iron Man,” “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” Axis of Evil, Comedy Central, Showtime) will be performing in ‘FUNATICAL: Taking Comedy to the Extreme’s “We Come in Peace” Tour’ on April 14 (Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse) and April 16 (Ernst Theater at NVCC Annandale) in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
Producers and performers of ‘FUNATICAL’ have also been invited to speak at panel discussions atThe National Press Club on April 14 and Georgetown University on April 15.
The shows will benefit the Nooristan Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit that supports charitable projects in Afghanistan.