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THE ALTERNATIVES

Never fear -- it's just funny

January 19, 2006|Susan Carpenter

As a comedian who co-founded the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival, Dean Obeidallah feels successful whenever the terms "terrorist," "gunman" or "militant" are not used in a news story about Arabs.

"It's a struggle," says Obeidallah, who's bringing the festival to L.A. for the first time, beginning Tuesday. "It's not often you see the word 'Arab' and the word 'funny' in the same story."

Hollywood's casting of Arabs and how to be a "real Arab" are among the topics that will be skewered during three nights of shows. The first two, at the Hudson Mainstage Theater, are all short, comedic plays -- written, directed and performed by Arab Americans, including actresses Leila Sbitani and Hend Ayoub, and comedians Ahmed Ahmed, Obeidallah and fest co-founder Maysoon Zayid. The third night, at the Laugh Factory, is pure stand-up.

"Comedy is so disarming," says Obeidallah, 36. "When people are laughing, it's very hard for them to continue to be mad at you."

The L.A. version of the annual fest is two days shorter than its New York counterpart, which began three years ago to showcase Arab American talent and counteract stereotyping.

Obeidallah is hoping the L.A. show will accomplish a third goal.

"If you turn on the TV, there's no Arab 'In Living Color' yet, but we're hoping to plant a seed in the mind of the industry," he said. "This isn't just for ego and careers. The average American's opinions are affected by what they see in entertainment."

*

-- Susan Carpenter

New York Arab-American Comedy Festival, Hudson Mainstage Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. $20. (323) 960-7745.

* Also at the Laugh Factory, 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. 7:45 p.m. next Thursday. $20 plus two-drink minimum. (323) 656-1336. arabcomedy.org

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