June 6, 2002
A funny thing happened on the way to the synagogue: A rabbi and an Egyptian American, both professional comics, teamed up to perform "One Arab, One Jew, One Stage" this week at Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village and Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo.
"It sounds like a joke, especially as violence is escalating in the Middle East" says Bob Alper, 57, who bills himself as "the only practicing rabbi in the country doing standup -- intentionally." "But the point is to diffuse the tension and to humanize our two groups."
The humor is nonpolitical, says Ahmed Ahmed, a 31-year-old actor who turned to standup after being typecast as cabbies and terrorists.
"You have no idea how tough it is to be an Arab these days," he begins his synagogue act. "[At] the airport....The man at the ticket counter said, 'Did you pack your bags yourself?' I said, 'Yes, sir.' They arrested me."
When a nightclub hostess gaped at Ahmed, he said, "We just want to come in to celebrate. I just graduated from flight school."
But it was Ahmed who was nervous when Vermont-based Alper approached him about doing joint shows this year. The hip Hollywood comic had won over a potentially hostile crowd at the Comedy Store three days after Sept. 11. But playing a synagogue? "I told Bob, are you nuts?" he recalls. "Then I realized it could be a gesture of peace."
So did audience members who hugged Ahmed after East Coast shul gigs two months ago.
Yet one rabbi has refused to book the duo, stating that comedy is an inappropriate response to Mideast strife. Retorts Alper, "There is no better time, because the only other place you see a Jew and Muslim together is on split screens arguing on MSNBC."