Comedian Dean Obeidallah explains why ‘Arabs Gone Wild’ is a good thing

Article I wrote for the Examiner– Published February 21, 2010

It’s a great time to be an Arab-American comedian.

Just ask lawyer turned comedian Dean Obeidallah, who likes to ask whether a funny Arab is an oxymoron or the wave of the future.

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I caught up with the Palestinian-blooded comedian between shows of the U.S. tour of “Arabs Gone Wild,” featuring Maysoon Zayid and Aron Kader. Arabs Gone Wild was produced by the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival, which was co-founded by Obeidallah and Zayid. It came about around the time President Bush left office, and the national dialogue began to shift left.

“I wanted to do anther tour and evolve,” says Obeidallah. “Especially now under Obama, the climate is different. Arabs Gone Wild says it’s time to have some fun, now we can make fun and make fun of people.”

You can view the official Arabs Gone Wild trailor at the show’s website.

Last Thursday’s sold-out Los Angeles show at The World Famous Comedy Store was the largest Arab-American comedy show in the U.S. featuring 11 comedians.

“It’s an Arabaggedeon of comedy,” raves Dean. “It’s amazing we have that support.”

Like previous shows such as The Amman Stand-up Comedy Festival in Jordan, Arabs Gone Wild will visit the Middle East, with two shows in Egypt next month.

Obeidallah says it’s not difficult finding an English speaking audience to fill a room, especially when he performs in Amman.

“So many young people there speak English, and it’s great to go back and get in touch with my roots,” he says.

Growing up in New Jersey, Obeidallah, whose father is Palestinian and mother is Italian, did not always identify with being Arab.

“Before 9/11 I wouldn’t say I was Arab,” he says. I had Arab cousins and remember celebrating the Eid holiday, but I didn’t necessarily identify with that.”

Dean’s father passed away 10 years ago, and his transformation began in 2001, when he actively began socializing more with Arabs, joining organizations like The Network of Arab American Professionals and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

“We (fellow Arabs) met up, and eventually some of us did comedy together, and I saw the Arab-American community was coming out to support me and the other comedians,” he says, adding that his cousins are his biggest fans.

The Arabs Gone Wild Tour kicked off on Jan. 30 with a sold out show at the 1400 seat Lisner Theater in Washington DC. Shows in San Francisco boasted over 1000 people in attendance, and in Anaheim, organizers were forced to add another show after the House of Blues sold out. While filling up at abut 350 people, The LA show at The Comedy Store was unique not only because it featured 11 Arab-American comedians, but because casting directors and producers attended.

“Hopefully this means they will start using more Arab-Americans in their projects,” Says Obeidallah.

The show has received loads of positive press coverage, including several television appearances, most recently the NPR-featured spoof ‘Ask an Arab.’ Recently, Dean and several other comedians shot a youtube video encouraging the Arab-American community to fill out the 2010 census.

“As a community, we are still struggling to show our identity, but there are enough of us…we should be able to take Hollywood by storm,” he laughs.

Over the past few years, as his identity as an Arab became more pronounced, Dean’ success has skyrocketed. I asked him if he there was something about comedy that made it easier to identify with one’s self.

“In comedy you can explore just about everything,” he says. “People understand that it has been used to address social issues before…it helps you make sense of what is going on in the world.”

Tonight Obeidallah and Zayid will be honored with a Culture and Arts Achievement Award in New York at NAAP’s Eighth Anniversary Banquet.

“It’s all been so rewarding and exciting,” he says. “And this just goes to show that Arabs love comedy and love to be made fun of in a playful, good-natured way.”

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