The time is long gone when America could ignore its Muslim population and comedian Dean Obeidallah is proud to have something to do with that. Tonight is the San Francisco stop in his eight-city "Dean Obeidallah for Vice President" tour and he's ready to collect votes and dole laughs about the people and politicians who've been trying for years to make America's Muslims into America's enemies.
"There is nothing more painful, for someone trying to make a really divisive point or hate-mongering point, when everyone's laughing at them," Obeidallah says. "I can assure you that's one of the greatest weapons -- much, much more effective and much, much better than violent protest, which should never happen."
He's referring of course, to the latest Muslim fear scandal that has hit the American media: that whole thing about a YouTube trailer (no one's ever seen the full film) allegedly made by a porn director and a con man. When a Newsweek article about the trouble was boldly titled "Muslim Rage," Obeidallah, along with many in the Muslim American community, took to the media and social media to make fun of such outright bigotry. The result was a Twitter hashtag, #MuslimRage, and lots of comedy.
"Comedy is one of the greatest weapons -- it's much more productive" -- than violence or reciprocal hate -- he says. And he's right. What the Muslim American community did with the #MuslimRage hashtag is what Obeidallah has been doing for years: making fun of the haters. From Comedy Central specials to nationwide and worldwide tours, Obeidallah and his troop of laugh-makers have used humor to connect people.
They've even experimented in parts of America where there aren't as many Muslims as there are in the San Francisco Bay Area: they put on free shows to reach out to those who wouldn't normally attend a comedy show with the name Obeidallah in it. Throughout the Deep South, the response was overwhelming, with standing-room only shows and people coming up to Obeidallah to tell him what a great experience it was to learn more about Muslim Americans. The project was so successful that Obeidallah and his co-Producer, Iranian-American Negin Farsad, are working on a documentary about their experience: "Muslims Are Coming!"
In the lead up to the 2012 presidential election, however, Obeidallah is focused on politics. Tonight's show is about "the best job in American politics" -- the vice presidency, of course -- and the players in what Obeidallah sees as one of the greatest comedy shows in American culture: the presidential election season.
"I'm running for Vice President because President really sucks. But Vice President is a great job, you get paid $230,000 a year, you do almost nothing and you're treated like a celebrity," Obeidallah says. "It's like being a Kardashian -- and not even like Kim Kardashian: one of the other sisters you haven't even heard of."
Does he ever want to really run for office? "Totally a possibility," he says. He got a bit of a taste for it dabbling in New Jersey Democratic party politics back in the day, but he might want to run for office for real if he decides it can be more impactful than his comedy. "As an elected official you can call attention with press conferences and events that as a comedian you really can't do as much."
Obeidallah, whose late father was a Palestinian Muslim and whose mother is a Sicilian Catholic whose parents immigrated to America, is, nonetheless, having more of an impact than many elected officials because through comedy he is doing what politicians want more than anything: getting attention and getting his message across.
He's also changing the face of Islam in the American media.
His regular CNN column touches on the important issues facing Muslims today and he's also projecting the image of the average American Muslim: someone who doesn't pray five times a day, doesn't attend mosque regularly and simply has a personal relationship with religion, as most American Christians and Jewish people do, too. "I'm a Muslim," he says, "but I don't speak for any Muslims but myself. I don't pray five times a day, I pray every day to God."
As for his Muslim rage? "I have rage all the time," Obeidallah says, "but it has nothing to do with my faith. It has to do with growing up in New Jersey and living in New York City for so many years. We get angry at everything in a second -- but it passes pretty quickly."
Obeidallah will be performing at Cobb's Comedy Club in San Francisco, tonight, September 27, at 8 p.m.