Tuesday, July 5, 2022
Fighting Religious Bigotry with Comedy at the RNC
By Briahnna Brown, Howard University News Service
Published July 28, 2016
(courtesy photo)

(courtesy photo)

Republican Donald Trump and his supporters have said things about Muslims that even his own party members have condemned.  They should be banned from the country, they said.  They can never be president, they said.  There should be a national directory for them, they added.

At the 2016 Republican National Convention, a leading Arab American organization decided it was a time to fight back, and it did — with a comedy show.

Yes, as banners and signs condemned their religion in photos and words, the Arab American Institute put on a comedy show.


“It’s a response to the level of inflammatory rhetoric that has sadly skyrocketed,” said Maya Berry, executive director for AAI. “In the wake of violent tragedies, we’ve seen public officials pander to bigotry and fear. Some have sought to define us by exploiting our differences as opposed to celebrating our commonalities.”

“BANNED: Dangerously Funny Arab Americans and American Muslims” was a free, hour-long show at the Playhouse Square Hannah Theater in downtown Cleveland that featured comedians Ramy Yousef, Maysoon Zayid and Dean Obeidallah.

(courtesy photo)

(courtesy photo)

The AAI hosts events at the RNC and DNC every four years, and this year it wanted to host an “unconventional” event to match the “unconventional” election season, Berry said.

As AAI co-founder and President James J. Zogby explained at the show, “Sometimes all you can do is laugh, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

The comedians made fun of how media covers terrorist attacks, the ban on Muslims, how Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, allegedly stole parts of speech Michelle Obama made at the Democratic National convention speech, and of course there was no shortage of jokes about the Republican presidential nominee.

“Ramy, Maysoon and Dean demonstrated it very well; [comedy] humanizes folks, it humanizes minorities,” said Nadia Aziz, the government relations manager with AAI. “When people are able to laugh together, hopefully they’re able to create the groundwork to have more conversations in the future.”

BET corresponded Melissa Harris Perry offered concluding remarks at the show and discussed the significance of functioning in a Democratic nation.


“I take very seriously that to be engaged in the work of Democracy is to recognize that you’re going to lose about half the time,” Perry said. “Democracy means that even when you lose, you don’t have to shut up. Democracy means that even if your side loses today, you get to keep engaging, you get to keep a seat at the table, you get to keep being part of the conversation.”

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