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Arab-issh comedy across cultural lines

“Hijabi Free® is a registered trademark, your mama wears combat boots, I need to change the oil in my car. . .” went part of a disclaimer at the end of a hilarious infomercial that kicked off Saturday night’s Arab-issh comedy fiesta.  A prime example of how these edgy comedians cross cultural lines, this infomercial, by Khaled and Mo Na, mixes the traditional Muslim headscarf with the cheesy American sales pitch to purchase junk in just “three easy installments!”  Cheesiness aside, the irony is that much like the infomercial, these comics also transcend cultural boundaries.

The opening headliner was a founding member of Arab-issh, Khaled TheComic or “Megatron” as he apparently would have preferred to his difficult, throaty and often ridiculed Arabic name.  “Megatron,” said Khaled not just because it’s easier, but think of the “street cred” you get with a name like Megatron.  Even funnier and equally familiar were the shenanigans of his Lebanese grandmother who learned Ebonics style English upon arriving to this country and told customs officials that Khaled had drugs on him in order to create a diversion for her suitcase full of food from the old country.

Also performing on Saturday was Tony Vincent.  Relaxed yet sharp, Vincent pointed out some similarities between African-Americans and Arab-Americans, the most obvious being that “we both hate pigs.”  Gwen La Roka then had the crowd rolling as she poked fun at her experiences as a skinny lesbian with scoliosis.  “She’s so gay, her spine’s not even straight,” joked La Roka.

Peter Kremidas also drew many laughs with his dry wit.  When opining on the “ground zero mosque,” Kremidas rightfully pointed out that in all fairness, “we’ve been building ground zero near mosques for a while.”  Finally, the closing headliner and another founding member of Arab-issh, Mo Na, engaged the crowd with clever tales from her Arabic father's attempts to assimilate by obsessing over the NFL to translating Arabic swear words at her American mother’s request and then getting grounded for the translation.

Bringing a new daring perspective to the art of stand-up, the comics of Arab-issh are the first of their kind in Chicago.  While other Arab-American comedy tours originated on the coasts and often bypass Chicago, Arab-issh is indigenous to the Windy City.  Despite being well received by audiences, however, Arab-issh initially struggled to find a home here.  Upon hearing the name “Arab-issh, most venues turned this group away.  It was The Chicago Center for the Performing Arts that, thankfully, gave them a chance.  For updates on future performances, follow Arab-issh on Facebook and Twitter.

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