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Arab-American comedian hosting laugh-fest this weekend, "hopefully before Trump deports us all"

Dec 2, 2016

 

Amer Zahr
Credit Courtesy of Amer Zahr

The election of Donald Trump worries a lot of people.

Some women, immigrants, and Muslims are wondering if Trump’s presidency will be anything like his campaign rallies, and what that might mean for their lives.

In the wake of his election, we’ve seen a couple dozen disturbing events across Michigan.

A man beat up a cab driver of East African descent, yelling again and again, “Trump!”

Students at a middle school chanting “Build the wall,” while surrounding Latino students.

A white man threatened to set a Muslim woman on fire if she didn’t remove her head covering.

Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American who lives in Dearborn. He’s a comedian, professor and speaker. He’s also the author of The Civil Arab.

Zahr told us he believes in the old adage that tragedy brings the best comedy.

“Comedy is most needed in times of maybe despair, instability or uncertainty, and we’re definitely going through that in America right now,” he said.

Zahr has done a few comedy shows in Grand Rapids and around the country since the election.

“You feel the sort of tension and you feel the sort of uncertainty, and comedy sort of serves as this therapeutic thing to kind of break some of that. Let people go a little bit, let them release a little of that tension,” he said.

“People are still laughing like they were before. Maybe laughing in a little bit of a different way, for a little bit different reasons, but they haven’t lost that laughter.”

Zahr told us he wasn’t surprised when Trump won the election in November. A self-described optimist, he hopes that this is a chance for Americans to get together and have real conversations that we’ve avoided for a long time.

“If I saw anything happen in this election, it was that Americans of different racial backgrounds still view racism and the legacy of racism in totally disparate ways,” he told us.

“It would be silly to say that the people who voted for Trump, or most of the people who voted for Trump, are racist. However, what it does seem to be is that his racism and his xenophobia, those weren’t breaking points for them,” Zahr said.

“For non-white people, we don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘well those things don’t affect us, he doesn’t mean that,’ you know. But you saw a lot of that coming from Trump voters.”

Zahr believes comedy is a great way to broach these uncomfortable topics and to voice potentially controversial views.

“Comedy is a way to say what you would like to say against power, but when you use laughter, the response doesn’t have to be throwing you in jail or anything like that,” he said.

“If you yell and scream and protest, that’s kind of how they expect you to handle it and they know how to respond to that. However, if somebody’s trying to take away your rights and you start laughing at them, they don’t know how to handle that.”

The fourth annual 1001 Laughs Dearborn Comedy Festival is this weekend.

The festival's performance lineup has been “admittedly sort of Arab-heavy” in previous years, but Zahr said there’s been an intentional effort to diversify this year’s program.

“This year we’re balanced really nicely between a lot of African American performers, Arab performers, white performers, we have a Native American comedian coming and joining us from Colorado, so I really want to make this festival more about the whole sort of image of America,” Zahr said.

“I didn’t want the comedy festival just to have sort of one cultural take anymore, I wanted it to have many cultural takes and be a real comedy festival that represented many diverse faces of America.”

Learn more about the festival and ticket information at 1001laughs.com.

Listen to more in our conversation above.

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