Did I say Muslims? I meant comedians. Comedians who also happen to be Muslim. They also have a Kickstarter campaign for a feature documentary film they’re making called The Muslims Are Coming. Though they plan on coming to a movie theater near you sometime this year, hopefully before the election, they have already taken their comedy to some interesting places. As part of the filming process, the directors Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, along with fellow comedians of “threatening” descent, took a comedy tour by the same name on the road, hitting up all the hot spots along the southern Bible-Belt, and into such immigrant-friendly states as Arizona.
They have yet to reach full funding –—there’s still tickets to Jimmy Fallon with an autographed photo of Jimmy up for grabs — but their story has already gotten picked up from national press outlets like The Washington Post and NBC’s Rock Center. Although the tour’s performances contained 100% comedy, the tour itself had a more serious intention. Inspired by Civil Rights groups like the Freedom Riders who traveled to the places like the Deep South to engage those who did not understand them, Farsad and Obeidallah sought out small towns and even set up booths in town center offering the opportunity for anyone to “Ask a Muslim.” You can see a brief glimpse of these encounters and more in the official trailer below.
Yes, that was Jon Stewart, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo, and Rachel Maddow. Oh, NOW, you’re listening? As long as you’re listening.
In addition to being activists and advocates for identity politics, both Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah are seasoned stand-up comedians. Obeidallah toured with The Axis of Evil comedy tour in the Middle East and US, and appeared in the Comedy Central special of the tour. He has appeared on ABC, CNN, MSNBC, PBS, and been heard on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” In his spare time, he also co-created the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival and was the Executive Director of The Amman Stand Up Comedy Festival in Jordan — the first ever comedy festival in the Middle East. He also co-created a comedy show with Jewish comic Scott Blakeman called “Stand Up for Peace.” I cannot confirm this with any journalistic integrity, but I think he only sleeps once a month.
Farsad was recently named one of the 50 Funniest Women by the Huffington Post. She has written for MTV, PBS, Comedy Central, IFC, and AOL. She performs stand-up comedy, and also directs movies. Her first feature documentary, Nerdcore Rising, won wide acclaim at festivals across the country after premiering at South by Southwest. She also has a Masters degree in Race Relations from Columbia University, and a second Masters (same Ivy League school) in Urban Management. What have you done with your life, lately? I ask myself that every day.
One thing I did do with my life recently was throw a few questions Farsad’s way about the film and the latest fundraising efforts. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule of preparing the way for the coming of the Muslims, naturally.
Where did you originally get the idea for this film? Was there a specific moment or event that inspired the documentary?
With so many years out of 9/11, it seemed like things were getting better for Iranians, Arabs, and generally Middle Eastern/South East Asian populations – when all of a sudden Obama wins the presidency! That really changed things for me because Obama was routinely (is routinely) accused of being Muslim – like heaven forbid there should be a Muslim president AH!!!!!
The fact that being a Muslim became a nation-wide accusation made me realize Islamophobia is on the rise. Then, the Park 51 controversy, which led to a series of mosque controversies around the country – that really sealed the deal.
We felt like we should DO something – of course, whaddya do when standup is your only real skill? Hence The Muslims Are Coming!, an activist standup comedy tour. We had decided to make it a film because, luckily, I have made two documentary features before – I knew that would help get the message to even more eyeballs.
How have your individual and professional backgrounds led to the making of this film?
Dean and I have both done various projects that deal with identity politics over the years. I had a show off-Broadway at the Culture Project and at the Edinburgh Fringe called The Dirty Immigrant Collective. Dean has a show called “The Big Brown Show” at the Broadway Comedy Club. I currently have a musical in development at The Lark called “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Romantic Comedy.” Before that, the two of us worked on Comedy Centrals “The Watch List” – which was like “Chappelle Show,” but for brown people. We have also created content for Queen Rania [of Jordan]’s YouTube channel, whose mission is to dispel stereotypes.
Were you always planning on calling the film this, or were there a few other titles in the mix?
We did always plan on calling it The Muslims Are Coming. There was a moment where we questioned the safety of it, but then it was clear, no, let’s get straight up satirical. If people don’t get it, they’re too far gone for us to deal with anyway.
So who is the brave team behind The Muslims Are Coming?
Dean and I are co-directors/co-producers, shit-haulers, and occasional janitorial staff. Blair Johnson is Director of Photography and Andrew Mendelson is the Editor. We’re really lucky because those bastards are very good at what they do – like Emmy Award-winning good. I’ve worked with them on previous films so they are sort of stuck with me FOREVER.
And I mean that in the most menacing way possible.
What other comedians were on the tour?
We had a great lineup of Muslim-American comedians including Preacher Moss, Karim Omary, Omar Elba, Aron Kader, and Maysoon Zayid. They were a rotating lineup depending on where we were in the country.
How long has film been in the works?
We shot the film over a few weeks on the road, and then spent another month or so shooting interviews in New York. We’ve been in post-production since the fall, and you know, with 300 hours of footage you can imagine how time-consuming it is to cut a doc. That’s why we’re running out of money!
The film needed money, you went the Kickstarter route. Kind of an obvious question, but why Kickstarter?
I guess its no mystery that documentary films are not, ahem, lucrative. Funding for these films is always a struggle and this film is no different. We have had some very generous support from foundations and individual investors, but it simply wasn’t enough to finish the film.
We also knew that Islamophobia is an issue that matters to a lot of people around the globe, that there are people that feel so strongly that they would want to become a part of the filmmaking process. That’s why a Kickstarter made sense for us. We’re not only getting finishing funds for the film, but we’re inviting people to become a part of the process – to get invested in it. Then, when the movie does come out, they’ll be twice as involved in spreading the word because they actually helped the movie get made.
Have you gotten any interesting comments regarding contributions since you started the campaign?
There were one or two questions on whether pledging to the Kickstarter campaign would get someone on a hit list — I guess a hit list on either side, self-declared Muslims who are violent haters, or right-wingers who are violent haters. It’s funny that the two ends of the spectrum don’t see that they have so violence and hatred in common!
Of course, we can’t promise that pledging to the movie won’t get you on a hit list, but at the end of the day, we do think it’s highly unlikely. After all, it’s a COMEDY!
* * *
At this point, it’s too early for the team to talk about distribution. They need to get the funding first, but hope to at the very least hold a premiere in the next season. The title may be provocative, but the message seems much simpler: in a world filled with cultural misunderstandings, humor may be the best point of entry to connect.
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