Muslim comics take aim at Trump

Four days before showtime, "The Big Brown Comedy Hour" had sold out. "That never happens," organizer Dean Obeidallah told the crowd at Comic Strip Live, a venerable club in Manhattan. "We're pretty sure Homeland Security bought a block of tickets."

Like many of the night's quips, rants, impressions and wisecracks, it was both a joke -- and serious. It was comedy as an "act of resistance," said Obeidallah, a way of empowering Muslims and racial minorities to talk back to the incoming powers that be. Namely, Donald Trump.

For years, "The Big Brown Comedy Hour" has been a regular feature at Comic Strip Live. But this Sunday night was different. The inauguration was days away, and some of the comedians, many of whom were Muslim and of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, expressed deep uneasiness about Trump's impending presidency. The evening's event was dubbed "The Last Show Before Trump Deports Us."


Laughing to keep from crying

"People need to laugh," Obeidallah said, "if only to keep from crying."

This is not an amusing time to be a Muslim in America. Hate crimes against Muslims spiked during the last two years, with attacks on Muslims and mosques rising to a high not seen since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Meanwhile, Trump has regularly stoked suspicion about Islam, pushing fake stories about Muslims in New Jersey celebrating on 9/11, re-telling tall tales about an American general killing Muslims with bullets dipped in pig's blood, saying "Islam hates us," and proposing a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the United States and a registry to monitor Muslims already here.

Trump has said such measures are necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attacks. He has denied that he is anti-Muslim, saying he has "many friends who are Muslim."


A new mission for comics

But as Trump begins his presidency, many of the "Big Brown" comedians said that his unorthodox policies and outsized personality have not only given them new material, but a new mission.

"I don't get to talk about my cat Beyonce anymore," said Maysoon Zayid, one of the comics who drew large laughs for castigating Trump this Sunday night. "This is much more pressing. I am genuinely terrified about women's rights, disability rights and especially people of color's rights in Trump's America."

Zayid, a Palestinian-American perhaps best known for her funny and uplifting TED Talk about living with cerebral palsy, said her act has turned darker since November 9.

"I was never an angry comic before the Trump election." Indeed, Zayid's act included "99 names for Trump," few of which are fit for publication on this website.

But not all of the acts were angry, or about Islam, or even about Trump. Some poked gentle fun at ethnic stereotypes, such as interfering Indian aunties and uncles.


A tip for Trump's America

For much of the evening, though, gallows humor reigned, as the comedians joked about how Trump might enforce a ban on Muslim immigrants (hint: bacon cheeseburgers) and whether there will be WiFi in Muslim internment camps.

"How many people here in the audience are Muslim?" Obeidallah asked at the beginning of the show, looking out at an audience sprinkled with hijabis and men in conservative dress.

As hands began to rise, the comic offered a warning. "Little tip: When Trump is president, when someone asks, 'Where are the Muslims?' Don't raise your hands."

Still, the night ended on a hopeful note. The "Big Brown Comedy Hour" plans to host another show March 5. Its name: "Still Laughing Until Trump Deports Us."