Comedy with a Conscience
Azhar Usman is one of the co-founders of the groundbreaking “Allah Made Me Funny” tour which entertained and informed audiences across the United States at a time when the post 9/11 perception of Muslims by many Americans was colored by the tainted lenses of the media. After emceeing the 10th year anniversary celebration of the Chicago-based Inner City Muslim Action Network, Azhar spoke with Final Call Assistant Editor Ashahed M. Muhammad.
Final Call (FC): You skillfully mix serious messages of social and political commentary with comedy, why do you do that?
Azhar Usman (AU): I had the chance to interview Dick Gregory in January of this year, in D.C. at the famous Lincoln Theater, and I said to him ‘you are an inspiration to many young comics and I’m an activist and I’m involved in my community, I care about these issues, and this is what I talk about on stage, how do you do it?’ He said, the first thing you have to realize is that these two parts of you go hand-in-hand and get your inspiration for what you want to talk about on stage based on what you observe in the world. So, there are two parts of who you are and what defines you. The second thing is, don’t mistake one for the other. When you are on stage, you tell jokes and that’s it because no entertainer has ever changed the world. If you want to actually do the hard work of making things right and making this world a better place and getting the problems fixed in our communities, you need to roll up you sleeves, get out in the street and make things happen and that’s why I am here, to support an organization that is taking on the problems in the inner city. I took great inspiration from what Mr. Gregory told me and I realize that my role as a comic is telling jokes on stage, but the rest of my life has to be supporting this kind of work.
FC: You mentioned that you were a lawyer before you became a comedian. So you left the financially lucrative legal profession for the high-risk comedy profession?
AU: (laughs) First, you’ve got to live your dreams. I am a big believer in that. My risk profile should be tolerant of high-risk ventures. I figure, if my biggest problem is that I’ll have to go back to practice law (laughs) then I have a pretty good life. Allah-u-Akbar. Allah has blessed me to be able to take these kinds of risks and I feel an obligation almost. What ‘Allah Made Me Funny’ has always stood for is that we are a community project, and we believe that. When we say that, we mean that. The way I feel that I can give back and live that ideal of giving back is to be a part of something that I feel is so important.
FC: What’s next for you?
AU: We are putting out a movie called “Allah Made Me Funny Live in Concert” and it is in post-production and we recorded it earlier this year. We hope to put it in theaters in 2008, so were just trying to finalize a distribution strategy, if not, it will be a direct to DVD release, so Insh’Allah people will hear about it and we hope that we can drum up an audience here and abroad.
FC: Thank you.
(For more information about upcoming events and tour dates, visit http://www.allahmademefunny.com)