National Press Club

'Funaticals' deliver religious comedy, dispel stereotypes

April 18, 2011 | By Peter Hickman |

Ahmed Ahmed, Mariam Atash Nawabi (PlanetPix Media) and Omar Regan of the 'FUNATICALS Comedy Tour.'

Ahmed Ahmed, Mariam Atash Nawabi (PlanetPix Media) and Omar Regan of the 'FUNATICALS Comedy Tour.'

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Stop us if you've heard this one.

An African-American convert to Islam, a Christian Egyptian woman, an Egyptian Muslim--all comedians--and three Afghan-American sisters go into the National Press Club on April 14 and...hold a Newsmaker. Seriously.

The first three are members of "FUNATICALS," a Middle Eastern/South Asian/Jewish/Christian comey group that was in Washington as part of its Taking Comedy to the Extreme's 'We Come in Peace' tour. The sisters are the founders of PlanetPix Media, prodcer of the Funaticals tour.

The comedians were Ahmed Ahmed, the star of the original "Axis of Evil" show, Maria Shehata ("Comedy Central", "Showtime") and Omar Regan ("Rush Hour 2"). The sisters were Samira and Alina Atash and Mariam Atash Nawabi.

Their topic was how media and entertainment can be used as a tool for "cultural diplomacy" to dispel stereotypes and show similarities among people of all faiths--and those with no formal faith--and backgrounds.

They take their show to the Middle East, Shehata said, although sometimes they have trim back some of the edgier humor and language.

For example, Ahmed said that in one of his acts he uses the "f-word" 14 times. The censors in one country told him he could not use it there more than twice.

He also said he found bootleg copies of one of his CDs on sale in a country. When he told the dealer who he was, he said the dealer asked if he would give him a new one so he could make better quality copies of it. Bada-boom.

And despite their focus on dispelling stereotypes, Regan admitted, "To be honest with you, I stereotype people, too." Regan also said he knows of other Muslims who had no idea that there "could be such a thing as a black American Muslim" like him. ("That's funny, you don't look...")

As to countering the anti-western propaganda of radical Muslims, Shehata said they should be regarded and treated as "criminal groups" and "not representative of the religion as a whole."

"As we get more openess in Middle Eastern governments, the more comedy and satire (such as theirs) are likely to be used," she said.