BlackBook has a fantastic look at gay stand-up comedians that gets at a point that I think is a challenge both for gay comics and Muslim comedy in general: how do you make the vernacular that’s part of your community conversation legible to a wider audience so they can participate in the jokes with you? And how do you create jokes that are a base that you can build your comedy on, rather than define you on terms that may not precisely be your own? As one of the comedians BlackBook talked to put it:
Part of this is because of the constraints of gay comedy. “There’s a condescending attitude that gay entertainment has to involve drag shows or men being effeminate,” says Brent Sullivan, a New York-based comedian. “I did a show in Chelsea the other day where there was this screaming queen who did a lot better than I did. Even homophobes could enjoy that because you are putting yourself into this box that they’ve created for you. But I think we haven’t challenged the gay-friendly straight men of this world to actually enjoy a gay character or enjoy gay entertainment because we haven’t given them anything to enjoy.”
Watching Marc Maron interview Jeffrey Tambor at SXSW, one of the things that fun about watching them riff off each other was the total lack of need to clarify any of the Jewish humor. Even a moment when they may have crossed the line with a Holocaust joke was immediately apparent to everyone in the room, even though it’s hardly a setting that guarantees a majority-Jewish audience. Jewish humor’s just so deeply-integrated into the American humor tradition—Christopher Hitchens believed the only kind of women who could be funny were Jewish ones and lesbians—that while it registers as particular, it doesn’t register as foreign. Everyone can participate in it, and Jews own it, it’s a tool we get to turn on anti-Semites.
That’s true for a small portion of gay humor, and for essentially no Muslim humor whatsoever. Things like the Allah Made Me Funny tour, The Infidel, Four Lions, and Max on Happy Endings will help. But we have so much work to do to make that language feel automatic and accessible to broad audiences.