Thousands of Palestinians flock to Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jerusalem for the 1001 Laughs comedy festival where serious topics such as identity, stereotypes and the difficulty of air travel turned into comedy gold.
On Friday afternoon Mo Amer stood under two looming globe-shaped light fixtures pouring heat over a makeshift stage at a Bethlehem hotel. The white-sleeved chairs in the modest ballroom were all taken and people stood in the back. Air from mobile units reached no one. With a few comic complaints and melodramatic forehead wiping, Mo plowed on, leaning in to say: “we Arabs, we don’t need doctors. We self-diagnose. If we are sick? It is nothing! It’s just because of lafhet hawa [catching a draft - ds]! And the cure for everything – olive oil!” Ripples of laughter ensued; a lean older man with missing incisors bobbed and grinned and said: “Aywa!”
Mo – short for Mohammed – was one of seven Arab-American comedians performing short skits in an English, or rather Arabish, comedy festival called “1001 Laughs.” Sponsored by the Movenpick Hotel in Ramallah and American Consulate General, the show ran this past week in Ramallah, East Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The producer, opening act, and MC Amer Zahr is well-known to +972 Magazine. He has committed the rare act of spinning his Palestinian diaspora life story, Arab and mixed-religion culture into the stuff of self-deprecatory humor that turns anger on its head, even while legitimizing its causes.
Audiences seemed thirsty for comic relief. Although mainly in English, all shows were sold out, Zahr told +972 Magazine, while explaining that some local artists joined the shows earlier in the week. He said that over 1,800 people attended in total, and that the Bethlehem event was added at the last minute for free – “but…we still consider it sold out!” said Zahr onstage to giggles. The group was surprised: “We worried we wouldn’t get large enough audiences, but people were sitting in the stairs,” Zahr said. He attributes the enthusiasm to the fact that “Palestinians love to laugh, and we know how to turn crazy and sad situations into things that make us laugh.”
Those situations translated into a few core themes that arose throughout the routines, reflecting the maddening frustrations of life that are the basis for good jokes: hardship as an Arab or Muslim American; trouble with air travel; explaining names and identity, typecasting as terrorists....Read More