Ahmed Ahmed reigns as the Pharaoh of Standup Comedy
Egyptian immigrant Ahmed Ahmed continues to lead the field of Arab American standup comedy and big screen films as he tours the country performing at your favorite comedy venue. Ahmed is probably the first Arab American to make standup comedy and acting his career focus, and he is very good at it leading a field of Arab American comedians that continues to grow.
By Ray Hanania
The first Arab comedian to speak to Americans was Danny Thomas, who was Lebanese American. He was the star of The Danny Thomas Show a sitcom which aired on American television first titled “Make Room for Daddy” from 1952 until 1957 on ABC TV, and then as The Danny Thomas Show from 1957 until 1964. Thomas played the role of Danny Williams, a successful comedian and nightclub entertainer at the Copa Club, based on the iconic New York City nightclub the Copacabana.
Thomas introduced Americans to their first taste of a positive image of Arab culture, identifying as a typical American father of Lebanese heritage in the series including and strengthening it with the character of his iconic Uncle Tonoose, played by Hans Conried.
There have been a few Arab American actors who have played funny roles on TV sitcoms including Victor Tayback who played the grumpy Mel Sharpless character in the popular sitcom Alive, which aired from 1976 until 1985. Tayback was born in Brooklyn from immigrant parents from Aleppo, Syria, eventually settling in California where the comedy bug has slammed many.
One of those bitten by the comedy and acting bug was an Egyptian American who was born in Egypt and immigrated to America with his parents when he was one month old, Ahmed Ahmed.
Born in Helwan, Egypt, Ahmed was raised in Riverside, California but made his way to Los Angeles at the age of 19 to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
His first big break came in 1996 in the suspense, action film Executive Decision alongside Kurt Russell, Steven Segal, and Halle Berry. He dabbled in comedy for many years while pursing his acting career.
The terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001 changed the lives of every Arab Americans and pushed many Arab Americans to confront the negative images and stereotypes, and Ahmed Ahmed standup comedy became a quick sensation. He was the first Arab American to be recognized on a national level for his standup comedy performances, embraced by the comedy legend Mitzi Shore, the mother of actor and comedian Paulie Shore, at the Comedy Store which she launched in 1972.
Nothing has been more powerful in changing public attitudes than humor, and int he past two decades, we have seen a rise in Arab American comedians who have turned to standup comedy to alter the heavily negative attitudes that many Americans have wrongly had of Arab culture and its people.
And while the Arab American standup comedy venue was competitive, Ahmed Ahmed always helped and encouraged other Arab Americans to pursue their own careers.
In 2002, Ahmed encouraged my fledgeling standup comedy career — or “careen” which crashed landed me into a public battle with then Jewish American comedian Jackie Mason. I had made it to the Zanies comedy club stage for my own 9-show performance in late August 2002 when the club asked me to make room for Mason who needed to practice for a broadway show opening he had planned for that Fall. But when Mason discovered I was “Palestinian,” he had me bounced — from my own show.
Still, it was a lot of fun and I used comedy as a means of confronting the animosity many Arabs faced.
But Ahmed Ahmed took the career further than anyone expanding his movie acting career and also successfully launching a national comedy troupe called The Axis of Evil with two other comedians, Maz Jobrani and Aaron Kader. The trio was phenomenal and no one has come close to their achievements.
I got a chance to enjoy Ahmed’s comedy while he was in Chicago recently at a comedy club called The Comedy Bar, 162 Superior Street in the Loop.
Although Ahmed didn’t shy away from his Arab and Egyptian heritage, bantering with audience members about it during his five-performance run at The Comedy Bar, his comedy was diverse and spoke to issues that every audience could identify with. And it was, most important, hilarious. Funny. Entertaining.
Ahmed Ahmed is at the cutting edge of professional standup comedy. He is hilarious and can carry audience laughter through the entire performance hour. That’s not always an easy thing for comedians to do.
He’s traveling now but will be back in the US soon. I did an interview with him that will be broadcast soon on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit and Washington DC on my national radio show “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” sponsored by Arab News newspaper.
You won’t want to miss his performance the next time he is in your city. Check him out and enjoy it. Be ready for anything.
Follow his performances and career on Instagram @ahmedahmedcomedy.
Here’s more background on Ahmed Ahmed from his bio page at The Improv.
Egyptian-American actor, comedian, producer, and director Ahmed Ahmed is one of the most diverse, multi-faceted talents in the entertainment industry today. In 2014, he can be seen starring as “Ahmed” on TBS’ hit comedy series Sullivan & Son.
Executive Produced by Vince Vaughn, the show follows Steve Sullivan [Steve Byrne], a corporate lawyer who surprises his parents when he leaves his job to take over a bar owned by his father in Pittsburgh. Ahmed made his first appearance as unlucky in love, tow-truck driver [and best friend to Steve] “Ahmed” in season one, and joined the cast as a series regular in season two, quickly becoming a fan favorite. Ahmed is currently the only Arab-American actor playing a non-stereotypical role on a comedy sitcom, today.
Ahmed went on to appear in a handful of blockbuster and cult hit features including Swingers, Iron Man, and You Don’t Mess With The Zohan. On the television front, Ahmed has appeared on top series such as Tracy Takes On, Weeds, and Roseanne to name a few. In 2011, Ahmed made his directorial debut with his groundbreaking documentary Just Like Us.
The film premiered at Tribeca Film Festival, and went on to be selected at 30 international film festivals, winning several “Best Director” and “Best Documentary” awards. The documentary, a celebration of culture and comedy, follows Ahmed and ten American comedians through Dubai, Egypt, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, performing in front of over 20,000 Arabs and Muslims across the region. Just Like Us garnered Ahmed attention on the political front, and he was invited to The White House to have dinner with President Obama, and was also invited to The State Department to have dinner with Hilary Clinton- as they commended him on creating a project that made an effort to break down barriers and encourage cross-cultural dialogue.
Ahmed is currently in post-production on Just Like Us Too, which takes place in Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Oman. While working in film and television Ahmed’s profile in comedy continues to rise, being hand picked by Vince Vaughn for his Wild West Comedy Tour [2005-present]. Vaughn is currently producing the first ever Wild West comedy festival in Nashville, Tennessee where Ahmed will hold the roll of Comedy Ambassador, performing and hosting shows.
In 2005, Ahmed cofounded and performed in the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour which aired on Comedy Central as the first ever Middle Eastern stand up comedy special. Ahmed is also the winner of the first annual Richard Pryor Award for Ethnic Comedy at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival in Scotland. Ahmed is currently a paid regular performer at the world famous Comedy Story in Hollywood, The Laugh Factory, and the Comedy Cellar in New York City. He regularly tours nationally and internationally, and in summer 2014, Ahmed will hit the road for the Sullivan & Son Comedy Tour with his cast mates from the series, hitting 20+ markets across the country. Ahmed is a true believer that laughter heals, and that comedy can bridge the gap between communities across the world.
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