The Fundamentals of Laughter
Muslim comic is on a humor pilgrimage
by MICHAEL T. JARVIS

December 12, 2004

Preacher Moss would be the first to agree that some might view Muslim comedy as an oxymoron. That's one reason why the L.A.-based writer and comic cooked up the "Allah Made Me Funny" comedy tour, a three-man show featuring Moss and fellow funnymen Azeem and Azhar Usman that's been breaking them up in places such as North Carolina and the Midwest. A native of Washington, D.C., Moss, who taught emotionally disturbed children before coming to Hollywood in 1997, sees comedy as another chance to teach, and he has applied his sense of the absurd to hot-potato topics such as race in his writing for Damon Wayans, Darrell Hammond, the "George Lopez" show and a previous comedy tour titled "End of Racism." We asked Moss, 37, who has been a Muslim since 1988, about the spirit of hilarity.

What inspired the "Allah Made Me Funny" tour?

The fact that dialogue was missing. Now people can actually get out and discuss these issues. What are we really fearing? We had a 9/11 report that revealed that no American Muslims were involved with the hijacking. However, who suffers the most with the Patriot Act? For Muslims, we've become very isolated.

What is distinctive about a Muslim comedy show?

We keep a clean show, a G-rated show. All three of us have different points of view. Working clubs, we ask that they don't serve alcohol. Some people say, "That's terrible." I've gone to clubs that have had dry nights because they were hosting special events for Alcoholics Anonymous. No one raised an eyebrow with AA, but a Muslim, that's a problem.

Don't some Muslims consider comedy blasphemous?

Azhar Usman had to do a show in Vancouver for a group of Shiite Muslims. One faction said it wasn't permitted. They actually had to contact a grand ayatollah and get a ruling. He came back with, "Yes, laughter is permitted."

What makes you a comedian?

Allah made me funny. That's my personal credo. He made me a communicator and a person who can be introspective about things going on around me. For lack of a better word, a storyteller. My comedy is representative of a healing process.

Should race be fair game to comics of any color?

If somebody is informed, yes. Nobody wants to hear an idiot up there talk about race. It's boring. If you're going to talk about race, get educated about it. Be accountable about what you say. Do your homework. Don't give us the emotional. Give us the analytical side of it and then make it funny.

Is it still hard to laugh about race in America?

Yes. America is good about talking about race at a time of crisis, when everyone is very emotional. Once the emotion wears down, we finally get to the deal at hand. I try to be very focused and calm when I'm talking or arguing about race. I want people to understand that we're having a dialogue, a discussion. You're a human being and I'm a human being.

Who are your comedy role models?

Dick Gregory. I was always inspired by his work for civil rights and by the fact that he endeared himself to comedy for the betterment of mankind. Richard Pryor made it OK for black people to laugh at themselves in the mainstream. George Lopez inspired me to take initiative with my comedy. His audience that I was opening for was mostly Latino, but at no point did he tell me to change my act for a Latino audience. He and Darrell Hammond were the first comedians to tell me, "Tell it like you do and the rest of the world will catch up."

How do Los Angeles audiences differ from those elsewhere?

I identify more with people in the Midwest. There are core values based around family living. L.A. is very much an industry town based around productivity. In comedy clubs in L.A., one group of people might be enjoying themselves, but another group is thinking, "How can I get that type of humor to pay off my house?"

Is Los Angeles funny?

Yes. Actors make a living pretending to be others. A criminal pretends to be someone else, he doesn't get any awards. He gets 25 years.

Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times