As I’ve said before, never underestimate the power of a good joke. Two recent examples more than attest to this. The first can be summed up as follows: a Middle Eastern comic jokes about race on stage, then someone in the crowd calls the police.
Earlier this year, on the 11th of May, Egyptian-born American stand-up comedian Ahmed Ahmed (so good I guess his parents named him twice) performed at the Off The Hook Comedy Club in Naples, Florida. Part of his routine involved poking fun at negative stereotypes about Middle Eastern people. He asked the audience “Clap if you’re from the Middle East…All right. We’ve got a handful of us in here, nice. But, hey, it only takes one of us…” And as the audience roared with laughter he waited a beat and finished with “…to tell the joke.” This is a bit that Ahmed has told at least a thousand times around the world, describing it as “silly, sarcastic banter.”
Unfortunately not everyone agrees with this description. Ahmed went on to do his full set and it went well. So far, so good. However, the next day (Mother’s Day no less) a man who attended the show took Ahmed’s performance somewhat too seriously and anonymously called the local sheriff’s department, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. He thought the joke went too far, so much so he lodged a complaint that the comedian seemed to support terrorism and he wanted to create a terrorist cell in America. The caller was also worried Ahmed would repeat the offensive joke again and again at upcoming shows. The anonymous man explained his reason for calling. “I don’t think that was right. It really bothered me. And I yelled, ‘Yeah, and the paddy wagon is going to be outside to get all of you.’”
After the call was placed the sheriff’s office sent two deputies to address the concern. They arrived at the club later that day and quickly realized the complaint was without merit. Ahmed shared a video online while the police questioned him about the incident. He openly interacted with the deputies. One of them advised him to stay the course. “Don’t change your set. Don’t change a joke. Just go through with it.” Ahmed said the officers were “very polite.” He even invited them to that evening’s show, which they declined.
In a later interview Ahmed said he believed the call was rooted in racism, but he forgave the man and was glad the episode shone a light on Islamophobia. “It was kind of bizarre,” Ahmed expressed. He also said the caller misquoted him. He wrote on Twitter that “I never said ‘We can start our own terrorist organization.'”
As is common in this day and age, the story went worldwide virally. Whilst Ahmed enjoyed his newfound fame, he also realized it wouldn’t last long. He said “No one saw it coming. This call that was made on me has gathered me so much press, I want to thank the guy, thank you so much. He gave me more press than I ever got. You can’t buy this kind of press. Am I toying with people’s emotions, because of Islamophobia, because of what’s going on in the world? Absolutely. That’s what comedy is. It’s supposed to make you think. But it’s 15 minutes of fame that will go away, we all know that. So it’s nice to kind of grab it, shake it up a little bit, put a magnifying glass on it and keep the awareness out there. It’s a larger conversation, it’s a bigger message happening now. It doesn’t even have anything to do with me anymore.”
Ahmed confirmed he was willing to give the anonymous caller two free tickets to his next show, and he also offered the man a “jolly American hug.” He has since performed at the same comedy club again, at the personal request of the owner, Brien Spina.
The second example can be summed up as: an author begrudgingly apologises for a satirical comment she made on a satirical talk show. Recently, on the 17th of May, talk show host Bill Maher interviewed author and former Law & Order actress Fran Lebowitz on his TV program Real Time With Bill Maher. The interview started with Maher asking Lebowitz “The first thing I want to ask you about is Trump. We don’t want to talk about him the whole show but you’re the wisest person I know. I think a lot of people are like me in that they have this dilemma where we don’t want to devote all our time to Trump but we don’t want to be a bad citizen and ignore it. So how do you strike that balance?”
The reply from Lebowitz made her utter disdain for Trump abundantly clear to all. “Are you asking me if I’m sick of thinking about Donald Trump? You cannot imagine how sick I am thinking about Donald Trump. On the other hand, I wouldn’t say I’m thinking about him. He doesn’t really require thought. I would say more I’m plagued by him. It’s like having an awful chronic ailment that you try to ignore. But if you do ignore it for like 20 minutes, like I just said to someone backstage ‘I’ve been here for an hour and I haven’t seen any news. Have we invaded Sweden?’ Because you don’t know what he’s going to do next and that’s why we think about him all the time.”
Later on the subject turned to what should happen to Trump, specifically with regards to impeachment. The always outspoken author was, as always, outspoken. “Here’s where I am on impeachment. I certainly think he deserves to be impeached. Impeachment would be just the beginning of what he deserves. It’s not even scratching the surface of what he deserves. Whenever I think about this and what he really deserves, I think we should turn him over to the Saudis, his buddies, the same Saudis who got rid of that reporter. Maybe they could do the same for him.”
Her comments prompted laughter and shocked gasps from members of the studio audience, before viewers quickly reacted on social media. “That reporter” is Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who, according to the CIA, was tortured and murdered on orders from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last year in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Later on in the show, in an online-only segment called Overtime, she apologised for her earlier remarks. Kind of. It seemed obvious to me that both she and Maher were more annoyed that an apology was necessary in the current climate of political correctness and social media reactions. Maher asked her if she was sorry for her earlier remark because it had gone too far. “That’s what the producer said. He said we’re getting blowback on Twitter or something. I saw your face when I said it. I didn’t realise that I said it. I had 12 cups of coffee. I regret saying it.” Maher reiterated simply that “It’s a live show. You don’t really want to see the President dismembered by the Saudis.” Lebowitz said “No, I don’t.” But then, relatively seriously and somewhat sarcastically, she added “I did not mean that, and I regret saying it, and I regret that everyone misinterpreted it because they misinterpret everything. Why should they stop at me?”
Since I clearly love jokes, especially controversial and thought provoking ones, please find below a handpicked selection of humorous quotes that I hope make you think as well as smile and, who knows, some may even make you gasp. Either way, enjoy!
PS Due to some adult language, user discretion is advised. You have been warned!
Every time there is a terrorist attack of any description, I always think two things. The first thing I’m fine with, the second thing I’m embarrassed by, but I want to tell you about in the interest of building empathy. The first thing I think whenever there’s been a terrorist attack is “I hope everyone is okay.” Fine. The second thing I think whenever there’s been a terrorist attack is “OH GOD! PLEASE BE A WHITE GUY! Oh God, I want it to be a white guy so badly.” Every time they’re about to announce the name I’m always like, with fingers crossed, “Come on Graham Johnson!” All I want to hear is “The suspect is known to be a fan of Mumford And Sons and the film La La Land.” That’s all I want to hear. Because when white people kill people no one cares. Everyone’s like “Ah, he was probably hungry. Come on! Maybe his internet was being weird. Let’s not make a big deal out of this.” All I’m saying is there’s a cultural imbalance and I’m just trying to redress it. That’s all I’m saying. There’s a double standard when white people kill people. – Nish Kumar
I got married to an Indian woman. Not casino-Indian but computer-Indian. Basically, I married tech support. Best move I ever made. We have an Iranian-Indian kid in America. How cool is that? That kid’s going to get his ass kicked. The key is you’ve got to give him a good name so he doesn’t get into trouble in America. And that’s what we did, we gave him a good name. We named him Mujibur Mohammed Abdullah Raheem Osama Bin Laden Jobrani. Why? Because I need the material. I’ll be like “Son, how was your day at school? You were deported? Fantastic! I can work that into my act.” – Maz Jobrani, from his 2009 stand up show Brown And Friendly
Joggers. I don’t trust them. They’re the ones who keep finding all the dead bodies. Coincidence? I don’t think so! – Bill Bailey
I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve been getting older recently. I’m 28 now, a Wang’s dozen. All those quintessential trappings of age have started to get me. Like, I’m becoming more right-wing with age. I was hoping that one wouldn’t be true. I know, it’s a real shame, they say you become more right-wing with age, and it turns out that’s true. My political leanings have really changed in the last couple of years. Like, I used to think I was a socialist, but looking back now, I realise I just didn’t have any money. I’ve got money now. I ain’t sharing that shit! That’s mine! Back off, you Commies. Turns out capitalism is OK when you’ve got capital. – Phil Wang
There’s a lot of common misconceptions of Arabs. A lot of people think we are rich, that we are loaded, that all of us have 6 barrels of oil in our basements, and we drive Ferraris while we pet our cheetahs. No! That’s not the case, that’s maybe the top 1% but the rest of us are cheap as hell! – Abdallah Jasim
It is just inherently alarming whenever Trump claims that something is going well. If you ever hear him say “We love this building, don’t we folks? So little fire,” get the f*** out of there, it is about to burn to the ground. – John Oliver, 19 May 2019, from the Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
Pope Francis met with more than 200 Italian Catholic hairstylists and warned them about the temptation of gossip in beauty salons, especially when that gossip is “Did you hear what happened to those altar boys?” – Michael Che, 04 May 2019, from the TV show Saturday Night Live
Pope Francis ended a Vatican summit by promising the Catholic church would confront clergy sex abuse “head-on.” Instead of their usual way: face down, ass up. – Michael Che, 18 May 2019, from the TV show Saturday Night Live
Deciding who is going to be the next Prime Minister is like deciding which toilet to use at a music festival. – Bennett Arron, May 2019, referring to Theresa May resigning
I am Mo. Mo is actually short for Mohammed. Surprise, bitches! Today is the day! Your cell phones are locked up. It’s too late for you, motherf*****s! Get the door, Aziz! No, I’m just kidding…Mohammed is the most popular name in the world, but I can’t find one key chain with my name on it anywhere. Not one person has shared a Coca-Cola with me in America, not a single person…I have a nephew named Osama. What this poor kid had to endure! I hate that fact. There’s so many terrorist acts done by white people, not a single person is changing their kid’s name from being Timothy. It’s insane! This poor kid! This kid has to deal with so much, I can only imagine. – Mo Amer, from his 2018 Netflix special Vagabond
Sensible dialogue has ceased. The alt-right vomit out high-speed soundbites, before lumbering old-school wildebeest journalists can interrupt them with facts, and their followers swiftly repurpose these into potent online propaganda. Traditional resistance is futile. We have entered the Age of the Weaponised Milkshake…the flinging of milkshakes represents a frustration with traditional media’s failure to hold the far right to account. – Stewart Lee, May 2019, referring to Nigel Farage being milkshaked repeatedly during the European election campaign
My name is a Ahamed Weinberg. [Audience laughs] Thank you. My parents wrote that joke. I’m happy to be in Canada, to be out of America, because I’m a white Jewish Muslim vegetarian. My parents are Muslim. A lot of people are scared of Islam, but they’re just normal homophobic parents. Being a white Muslim is an interesting reality. First of all my name’s Ahamed, it’s not Mohammed, which is more confusing. My phone didn’t know what Ahamed was. The first time I typed my name into my phone, I typed ‘Ahamed’ and it immediately autocorrected too ‘Ashamed’. That was a tough moment for me. And then I was like, you know what, I am ashamed. That’s it, that’s right. Because I’m a white Muslim which is weird because I know if I looked Muslim my life would be much harder in America. But I’m white and it’s great! I think that’s the secret, if you want to be Muslim just be white and have red hair and make sure your last name is Weinberg. – Ahamed Weinberg
There was this kid last year in Texas who got arrested for making a clock. His name was Ahmed and he brought a clock to school that he made and they arrested him because they thought it was a bomb. And that really offended me as a Muslim. And then I looked up a picture of his clock…it was a pretty bomby clock. That couldn’t have been more like a bomb, I think. It was in a metal briefcase, it had red and blue wires sticking out of it, and it had computer chips. It was just a classic Rush Hour 2 bomb. And everyone was like ‘Oh, this kid’s a genius’ and he went to the White House. I was like ‘He just made a clock! It was a digital clock. He just took a clock from his dad’s house and made it look like a bomb.’ – Ahamed Weinberg