Muslim comedian Azhar Usman is one of the few people who could joke about the Sept. 11 attacks and actually illicit laughs.
Usman performed in the Jack Morton Auditorium Friday night, helping the Muslim Student Association raise $7,000 for flood victims in Bangladesh.
A sold-out crowd enjoyed Usman’ s political humor.
“People often assume that because I’m Muslim I’m responsible for 9/11 … maybe 7-Eleven, but not 9/11,” Usman joked.
Usman, a native of Chicago, thanks his upbringing in a large Muslim-American community for his strong affinity for Muslim culture. After graduating from law school in 2001, Usman started doing standup. Shortly after, the events of Sept. 11 put Usman’s Muslim brand of comedy in high demand.
“9/11 has been a boon for Muslim artists to come out of the dark as interest in their work rises,” Usman said in an interview after his show. “Americans are becoming genuinely interested in Islam.”
Usman has been featured in a number of publications, including The New York Times and Washington Post. Usman said he tries not to let the attention go to his head.
“My religion is serious to me and it teaches me to stay grounded. You can’t let the media get to your head, but I am cognizant that it has fueled my success,” Usman said. “I am very thankful and it is a great step in this lifelong journey.”
Usman sees Muslim-American comedy as an emerging genre and said he hopes it will become as prevalent as Jewish or Black comedy. Usman is traveling on a Muslim comedy tour, “Allah Made Me Funny,” in an effort to bring the genre to the mainstream. His ultimate goal is to create the comedic genre “Muslim-schtik,” in which comedians are as recognizable as Chris Rock or Jackie Mason.
The world is a much different place since Sept. 11, Usman said. He said racial profiling and bias toward Muslims bother him; the Patriot Act, which allows the government to go through the personal information of suspected terrorists, has become a focus in many of his stand-up routines.
“The nice thing about America is our freedom of speech and expression,” Usman said. “These policies are very imbalanced. To me, being American is about being yourself and people need to strive to be the best Americans they can. The Patriot Act doesn’t let people do that.”
Usman’s performance was well received, with a crowd of about 260 people in attendance. Tickets were sold at $10, with all the proceeds going to a relief fund for flood victims in Bangladesh. Nearly 760 people have died and 30 million more have been affected by the floods.
Donations of $20 provide enough for a Bangladeshi family to eat for a month. MSA members contracted with GWorld so students could make direct contributions to the flood victims using Colonial Cash.
This article appeared in the October 4, 2004 issue of the Hatchet.