Thursday we left Chicago for a quick change of city, state, and time zone for Dearborn, Michigan. We picked Dearborn because this Detroit suburb of give or take 100,000 is home to the largest concentration of Arabs in America. We had from mid-day Thursday until our show Friday evening to figure out, as comedians are wont to do, “what’s the deal with Arabs?”
After visiting the only Arab-American Museum in the US, the biggest mosque in the US, chatting with an Arab-American comedian/comedy promoter over delicious shawermas at Arabica Bistro and desserts from the Shatila Bakery so good that we wanted to gay marry them, we learned an important lesson. It might come as a shock to a lot of Americans, because you don’t hear this a whole lot in our public discourse, but nevertheless, here it is: Arabs are just like everybody else.
Like a splash of cold water, so I’ll give you a minute to let it sink in, with this muckracking expose:
Oblivious imperious Americans tend to gloss over the reality that Arabs and Muslims are two overlapping but distinct and highly diverse groups. Arabs only make up 20% of Muslims, while 10% of Arabs are Christians. Also, Arabs have been in America pretty much as long as it’s been America, and done stuff in every part of American life. There are Arabs who are awesome and Arabs who are jerks for reasons that have nothing to do with their Arabness. For example, on the one hand you have corporate scumbag and right-wing Congressman Darrel Issa, and on the other hand you have Helen Thomas, the dean of the White House Press Corps.
Eide Alawan, the Interfaith Outreach Coordinator at the Islamic Center of America patiently explained about all the programs of the mosque, the Muslim community of Dearborn, and the interactions between the congregants and other groups. He said something that blew our minds, and if he had said it in a comedy club, it would be too edgy for Doug Stanhope. He told us that 9/11 was good for Muslims because it got Americans interested in understanding and engaging with Muslims in a way they never had before. He said it like he meant it. Then said it again later, like he really wanted it to sink into our thick heads. Still sinking. We would only have been a little surprised if he had followed it up with, “Did I stutter, motherfucker?” Mainly because he was so sweet.
Then we had our worst show of the week. Not only had we never performed in the Detroit metro area, didn’t know anyone, and had no idea where to do a show or how to promote it, but then we made the colossal mistake of picking the cheapest theater, which was a 400-seater cleverly hidden in the woods on a community college campus where no one would ever find it. We forgot the famous dictum of Mao Tse-Tung (or maybe Sun Tzu), applied equally to guerrilla warfare and comedy: “With small forces, fight in enclosed spaces.”
What would have been an adequate show in a tiny black box theater instead became the “all is lost” plot point of our epic quest. To paraphrase Nietzsche and Mort Sahl, we joked into the abyss and the abyss joked back.
It turns out that Arabs are like people also in that their suburbs are not hip and happening centers of nocturnal entertainment. Our bad. Fortunately, our new Arab friends in Dearborn and Detroit activists like Invincible were gracious enough to offer to help do Laughter Against the Machine justice when we come back. We’re not done with you, Detroit metropolitan area.