What's so funny about being an Arab these days?
Plenty — if you go by the number of bookings some comedians are getting.
Comics of Arab descent, and even some who just look like they are, are in high demand.
"The first weekend after the attacks, my show was canceled," says Saad Sarwana, a White Plains, N.Y.-based funnyman and self-proclaimed No. 1 Pakistani comic. "But since that first week, everything's picked up."
Before the attacks there was very little interest in voices like his, says Sarwana. Now that some time has passed, Americans are more curious at learning how the so-called other side feels.
But there are limitations, says Chicago comedian and journalist Ray Hanania. The actual attacks are out, as is making fun of Islam, although politics is always fair game.
All of Hanania's jokes are focused on his own life and experiences — including his marriage to a Jewish woman.
"You should have been at my wedding. We had all the Jews on one side, all the Arabs on the other side," he says. "We didn't have a wedding party. We had a U.N. peace force right down the middle, and had 28 casualties: Two Jews and 26 Arabs."
Sarwana has been joking with audiences that no matter how outrageously he acts, he still doesn't get stopped and searched at airports. Being a victim of non-racial profiling has given him a psychological complex. "I feel left out," he kids.
Joking aside, the two believe humor helps deflect hostility.
Hanania, who calls comedy "the back door to the American public, " argues that humor is a good way to deal with hatred when it gets out of hand. "And I think the anti-Arab atmosphere in this country has gotten way out of hand."
Adds Sarwana: "Comedy is therapy. And it's always a good way to talk about what's going on beneath the surface."