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Comedy can be quite cathartic

Today, the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour takes over Tampa Bay. Far from being “evil,” comedians Ahmed Ahmed, Maz Jobrani, Aron Kader and special guest Dean Obeidallah share Middle Eastern roots and the ability to make Middle Eastern stereotypes laughable.

The Axis of Evil allies met shortly before Sept. 11, 2001, at the world-famous Comedy Store, owned by Pauly Shore’s mother, Mitzi. The Comedy Store was the first club for black and female comics to find refuge, but it had never set the stage for Middle Eastern performers.

The group began as “The Arabian Knights,” but because of Jobrani’s Iranian heritage, the men changed the name to “Axis of Evil.”

“We wanted to make light of how over-produced (George) Bush’s term is after 9/11,” Ahmed said. “The only way to dispel that is to put a magnifying glass on it in a comedic way.”

Ahmed, born in Egypt, moved to America when he was one month old and grew up in California. He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, but learned stand-up comedy by entertaining customers while waiting tables. He’s made appearances in movies and TV shows, including Swingers, JAG, Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, PUNK’D, The View and the upcoming ONION MOVIE by FOX Searchlight.

“I’ve pursued acting for seven years and have made a decent living at playing terrorists and cab drivers,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed also wrote a screenplay entitled The Pilgrimage about his journey to Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad, Islam’s holiest city and the pilgrimage site for devout believers of the faith.

With experience in both acting and writing for film, Ahmed hopes to eventually employ his people skills to become a producer.

Like Ahmed, Jobrani was California-raised, but he was born in Tehran, Iran. Jobrani has enjoyed acting since the eighth grade when his school performed Li’l Abner. Since then he has landed roles in a smattering of films and guest appearances for a handful of TV shows, including The Interpreter, 13 Going On 30, Late Night Show with Jay Leno, ER and Law and Order.

In the works for Jobrani is Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero, a screenplay that’s a cross between Pink Panther and Bend it Like Beckham, according to

Although Kader’s acting repertoire may not be as extensive as Ahmed’s or Jobrani’s, the third founding member of Axis of Evil has received recognition in national publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, and achieved high reviews at arts festivals around the world.

Guest comic Obeidallah, a former attorney, is an accomplished comedian and has appeared on several radio and TV shows for ABC, CNN, PBS and NPR. Obeidallah helped create Comedy Central’s Watch List and the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival. He is also the recipient of the Bill Hicks Spirit Award for “thought-provoking comedy” and has earned mention in Time, Newsweek and New York Times, according to the Axis of Evil Web site.

These men place comedy before social or political activism, but the Axis of Evil tour can educate audiences about the impact of stereotypes and address important social issues. They are devoted to bringing people together to laugh and make light of their differences and find satisfaction along the way.

“I don’t think I’m being offensive or inappropriate,” Ahmed said. “I don’t curse a lot, I don’t attack religion – it’s all self-deprecating. It’s a therapy session.”

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