For comedians Scott Blakeman and Dean Obeidallah, walking into the College’s Spiritual Center put a new spin on their familiar comedy routine. “We aspire for it to be more of a comedy show to bring people of all religions together,” Obeidallah said. “So, on some level, (the setting) makes sense.”
On March 30, the comedians did just that, uniting students of all faiths during their “Standup for Peace” comedy show. As the final event of Jewish Awareness Month, the show was co-sponsored by the Jewish Student Union (JSU) and the Islamic Student Association (ISA).
Throughout the course of the hour-and-a-half show, each comedian did a solo routine, focusing on their experiences and backgrounds. Obeidallah, a half-Palestinian half-Sicilian comedian from Paramus, N.J., talked about the experiences of Arab-Americans since Sept. 11.
His poignant and humorous depiction of life as America’s newest persecuted minority resonated with the students in attendance.
“As a Muslim student, I find it comforting that there are forces thinking about this issue,” Linda Hamdan, senior mechanical engineering major and former ISA president, said.
Blakeman, a Jewish comedian from Brooklyn, N.Y., also touched on pertinent social issues in his act.
“Part of our show is to knock down stereotypes about people,” he told the crowd during his act, which included plenty of comments tailored to the College. “I picked up a copy of The Signal,” he said, “and my favorite section is ‘Cop Shop.’ This week a student stole condiments. I think that should be a capital offense.”
When the comedy portion of the show was finished, the comedians opened the floor up to the audience, asking for an open dialogue about the situation in the Middle East.
“So much on campus these days relating to the Middle East is so polarizing and tense, so we talk about these issues in a way that is funny and brings people together. And that is the most important thing,” Blakeman said.
Since starting three years ago on a New York City bus, “where all good ideas come from,” Blakeman said, the duo has taken their show to college campuses across the country in an effort to bring together groups of different religious traditions. The comedians hope to promote social awareness and a frank dialogue that exposes the similarities between Jews and Muslims, not the differences.
An important aspect of the act is that it goes beyond the scope of humor or social commentary. On a very real level, it brings people together. “One thing that happens before we even step onstage is bringing a Jewish student group and a Muslim student group together,” Blakeman said. “For a lot of these organizations, it is the first time they have worked together.”
“People who believe in a religion, any religion, have a commonality,” Obeidallah told the audience in his closing monologue. “We have to let go of who was wrong in the past or we will sacrifice the future.”
For the students, the opportunity to present a united front on a controversial issue like the Middle East was invaluable. “I think that these are the types of things that change people’s minds,” Hamden said.
“I think that events like these are important to our campus because they promote awareness of issues like the Jewish-Palestinian conflict, but also promote understanding between these two groups,” Melanie Kaufer, sophomore sever-year med. and English major and Jewish Awareness Month chairperson for JSU, said. “Even though the crowd was small everyone seemed to have a lot of fun and really enjoyed the show.” At the end of the day, the two comedians would like to make people think long after they’ve made them laugh.
“We’re here to entertain and be funny, and the point comes through,” Blakeman said. “It’s about finding things we have in common as opposed to pointing out our differences.”
Obeidallah added. “Jews and Arabs and Jews and Muslims have much more in common than we do apart.”