A New Experiment in Muslim Comedy—And Self-Distribution

For those of you who couldn’t make our panel on Islam and pop culture at SXSW earlier this week, I’m hoping to have video to post eventually. And it feels fitting that after discussing what the next step in depictions of Muslims might look like after the cancellation of All-American Muslim, word’s out about a new show that could be an innovation both in those images—and in alternative sources of funding for pilot production. Here Come the Muhammads would feature a soldier coming home to tell his Christian family—his father’s the pastor at a local church—that he’s converted to Islam. “I’ve seen all the shows about [Muslims in] sleeper cells,” comedian and show creator Preacher Moss told Illume magazine, which has a fascinating piece on the project. “I wanted to be able to do something that’s funny and meaningful.”

The show’s meant to solve one of the most common criticisms of All-American Muslim, that it focused too narrowly on Lebanese-American Shia Muslims rather than representing the full diversity of Islam. From the sounds of things, it would keep Muslims and Christians in conversation, rather than depicting Muslism as part of a closed community. And I’m glad Ross is putting front and center the idea of what Muslim comedy might look like. One thing some of us on the panel discussed after seeing Marc Maron interview Jeffrey Tambor at SXSW was the fact that while Jewish humor is very much the product of an enclave, it’s also solidly established as part of the American vernacular, an internal conversation that’s entirely comprehensible to the general public. There’s no such Muslim equivalent yet, and seeing how that plays out would be fascinating.

Then, there’s the matter of the show’s funding:

Currently, Moss is in the process of securing funds to develop a pilot – a process that he said is taking a very different approach from previous shows depicting Muslims.“We’re treating it totally as a start-up, so the idea is that we want to develop a pilot that’s the result of community work, not just one guy,” he said.

Modeled after the Allah Made Me Funny project, a comedy tour founded by Moss that aims to portray the underrepresented peaceful Muslims, Moss plans to raise $50,000 in funding in the same way money is raised for building masjids, schools or hospitals – one that allows community ownership and, consequently, community pride. The low-budget pilot will also require less repayment later, he said.
“However we distribute, there’s community ownership,” he said. “A lot of these shows they put out – Aliens in America, Little Mosque on the Prairie and All-American Muslims – they had literally no connection to the community.”

I’m all for experiments in fan and community investment in programming, but I’d hate to think that giving the community ownership could trade off with getting a show like this to a larger audience. So if there’s a network looking to add a comedy with Muslim characters where the creators are willing to shoot a pilot on their own, Here Come the Muhammads might be worth a look.