The Laugh in Peace Tour
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The Laugh in Peace Tour

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The best kept secret in music


"Jesters of Different Faiths Use Laughs to Bridge the Divide"

MADISON, N.J. — The Jewish comedian began with a routine about raising adolescents. "There was a reason Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac at 12 and not 13," he said. "At 13, it wouldn't have been a sacrifice."

A half hour later, the Muslim comedian took the stage, raising his hands so the Jew could pat him down for weapons. He then urged the Muslims and Jews in the theater, adversaries on the world stage, to cheer their commonalities: "C'mon," he exhorted, "let's give it up for lunar calendaring."

The evangelical Christian comedian also did a half-hour set, observing that though his children's school teaches abstinence, it also gives out condoms. "That," he said, "is like a department store saying 'No shoplifting, but just in case, here's a trench coat.' "

It was only at the end of the program at Drew University here that all three comedians were on stage together. Operating under the wistful supposition that a troupe of jesters getting disparate people to laugh it up together is a first step toward something larger, the Jew, the Muslim and the Christian sought to ring in world peace in the only way they knew how: with a shamefully bad if highly enthusiastic Irish jig.

The dance was not pretty, but it had the audience convulsing.

Bridging the religious divide was not the original goal of any of the participants in this ecumenical performance. The Jewish comedian on the bill, Bob Alper, a 63-year-old rabbi who is now a full-time comic, said he had been having trouble getting gigs when a public relations agent suggested that he begin performing with a Muslim.

Rabbi Alper said he had responded, "Do you have any other ideas?"

It was not, he said, that he considered working with a Muslim unappealing — just the thought of traveling with a fellow comedian, a breed in which neurosis and misery surmounts cultural barriers all too readily.

And though the rabbi gave the concept a whirl only in the hope of drumming up more jobs, hundreds of shows later, he cannot help hearing in the collective laughter of an audience that is regularly composed of members of various faiths at least the remote chance for a more civilized discourse.

Rabbi Alper worked for years with the Egyptian-born Ahmed Ahmed, and they billed themselves as Comedy's Odd Couple. Though the two still perform together, Rabbi Alper now works more regularly with Azhar Usman, a 32-year-old lawyer who was able to fold his practice to do regular comedy jobs at mosques and other Muslim venues. (He refers to it as a new-age Borscht Belt, or the Kebab Comedy Circuit.)

More recently, the Jewish and Muslim comedians began performing with an evangelical Christian who grew up in Toledo, Ohio, by way of the Gaza Strip and Kuwait. His stage name is Nazareth, and his given name is Nazareth Rizkallah, which the comedian, a resident of California, says he pronounces Smith.

With his Arab-Christian background, Mr. Rizkallah, 45, defies several expectations. "I am from the Middle East," he told the audience at the start of his performance, "but ever since Sept. 11, I feel so Mexican."

Mr. Usman's routine is the most political, but when the comedians take the stage at the end of their performances to answer questions, they avoid anything overtly political.

The point of the night, Rabbi Alper said, is not to be ham-handed and preachy.

Mr. Usman, who also goes on the Allah Made Me Funny comedy tour, speaks of having Rabbi Alper to his home in suburban Chicago, where his three children call his comedy partner Uncle Rabbi Bob. Their goal is to hold themselves up as the simplest of geopolitical success stories: friends.

The lack of politics, Mr. Usman allowed, can "become like the elephant in the room."

But Mr. Rizkallah — who was asked during the question and answer session if he ever tried to convert his partners and replied that he was the world's laziest evangelical, so, no — noted that they risked failing in their main task if they edged too close to the verbal trapdoor that is politics. Their job, after all, is to generate laughs.

Mr. Rizkallah said: "If people ask me, 'What do you think of Hamas?' Well, I don't like them. But my goal is to have a good show and make a gesture of peace."

Rabbi Alper added that humor could start the process of warding off grievances and chronic mistrust, because it was more than simply a diversion. "There is a holiness to humor," he said.

Many of their shows on college campuses are jointly financed by Jewish and Muslim campus organizations. When they perform at synagogues, the Jewish comedian warms up the crowd; at mosques the Muslim.

And if it all leads to a modest and quite possibly fleeting moment of peace, Mr. Rizkallah said, so be it — but he held out at least the remote hope for better.

"All the sides live and thrive and pursue happiness," he said, shortly before taking the stage to dance the jig with the Jew and Muslim.

He shrugged before he took the stage to dance, and said, "Maybe I'm just an optimist."

- The New York Times


Bob's DVD and two CDs are heard multiple times daily on XM /Sirius (Laugh USA).

Azhar's "Allah Made Me Funny: the Movie" was released in selected theatres and is now available on DVD.



There’s a reason why XM / Sirius satellite radio plays Rabbi Bob Alper’s comedy bits several times daily, often sandwiched between Bob Newhart and Bill Cosby: Bob’s unique background…he’s an ordained rabbi who served congregations for fourteen years and holds a doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary…prepared him well for a twenty-two year comedy career with wonderfully unique material presented in a way that’s hilarious, sophisticated, and 100% clean.

Azhar Usman is perhaps the world’s most famous American Muslim comedian. He was the subject of an entire episode of ABC’s Nightline, and was featured on CBS Sunday Morning. He hails from Chicago, with roots from the Indian subcontinent, and has performed throughout the US and in numerous foreign countries with the “Allah Made Me Funny” comedy tour.