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The original sheiks of comedy

The men of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour know how to engage an audience. Each brings his own personality to the stage, such as Maz Jobrani’s lilting “Persian” voice and Aron Kader’s spot-on George W. Bush impression. With jokes on topics from family and friends to politics and terrorism, the comedians kept the crowd calling for more.

The first act, Dean Obeidallah, is of Palestinian and Italian descent and describes himself and fellow comedian Kader as the most intentionally political. Dressed informally but festively in a “got sheesha?” T-shirt, Obeidallah immediately engaged the audience by asking everyone’s

ethnicity. He continued with humorous blasts against the Patriot Act and airline liquid restrictions, George Bush’s

pronunciation of “Al Qaeda,” and people’s reactions upon discovering his Arabian heritage.

“I have more latitude to make fun of people. As a minority who looks white, you can get away with picking on anyone,” Obeidallah said.

Obeidallah, whose name means “servant of Allah,” also joked about falling victim to random security checks at the airport and how everyone is racist.

Kader followed up with an impeccable impression of Bush’s public address against Sadaam Huessein and an explanation on why Arabs can curse in English – “because God can’t hear them.” Backstage, Kader also joked about what Bush would do once out of office – perhaps he’ll write a book entitled “What’s My Dog Thinking?”

Ahmed Ahmed, who shares the name of an identified terrorist, performed the third act. His jokes ranged from being arrested and detained for no reason to how much Jews and Muslims have in common and the troubles of choosing which terrorist group to join.

Jobrani anchored the show, and he finished up strong. He said he’s from Iran, but when people ask him what country he comes from, he says “the same one as Aladdin.” The audience ate it up and the comedians received a standing ovation at the end.

After the show, conducting interviews backstage proved difficult because the dressing rooms were filled with the entertainers and their friends. Everyone was in high spirits, eating, drinking, laughing, socializing and making too much noise for a digital recorder.

Ahmed extended an invitation to come out to The Hub, a bar in downtown Tampa, and there that the Axis of Evil cast members’ personalities became more familiar. The cool thing about going out for drinks with comedians is that they’re all really funny.

Ahmed was a blast to hang out with. His voice was perfectly audible from across a noisy bar, telling jokes and yelling “fresh horses for my men!” when he wanted another round.

At first he had some trepidation about the article mentioning that he was out drinking. There are stricter guidelines of conduct in Muslim culture and nobody likes to be judged. This exchange offered some insight into how difficult it must be for Middle Eastern-Americans to reconcile their two cultures. Ahmed said that it’s impossible to please everybody, so he no longer tries to please anybody. In the short time we had got to know him as a person, we started to realize that his humorous outlook was a resilient way to deal with a situation that’s actually really difficult.

The jukebox wouldn’t take his money and he accused it of being racist. In the course of a regular conversation he did impressions, voices, and basically made anyone who could hear him laugh hysterically.

Then we had a brief but very interesting conversation with Obeidallah. When asked about stand-up comedy and how difficult it can be, he said he loved the creative freedom. He talked about having to compromise with his work whenever he writes for sketch comedy.

“Fame is the only way out of that. You’ve always got directors and actors and producers to deal with. With stand up, it’s just you,” he said.

Obeidallah displayed uncommon wisdom and self-awareness, explaining that creative input can always make your work better.

“I consider everything that anyone says to me,” he said. “If you’re planning on making a living with your writing you have to check your pride at the door.”

He discussed the possibility of a transition from stand-up to sketch comedy because it’s a more sustainable medium.

The show was humorous and engaging from start to finish, and hanging out with the performers was a real treat. They’re intelligent, down-to-earth guys, and it’s not hard to see that their ability to deal with a globally difficult problem in a resilient way will soon make them household names.