What Would You 'Ask An Arab'? After the Sept. 11 attacks, people with even the most tentative connections to the Middle East were vilified in this country. To create some good-natured conversation, NPR and two Arab comedians hosted "Ask An Arab," in which passersby posed their queries at a D.C. burrito joint.
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What Would You 'Ask An Arab'?

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What Would You 'Ask An Arab'?

What Would You 'Ask An Arab'?

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

These days, to be an Arab and particularly an Arab-American is to be misunderstood. To dispel the many false impressions out there, Dean Obeidallah and Maysoon Zayid, both Arab-Americans, are using a powerful weapon: humor.

They're stand-up comics and part of a comedy tour called "Arabs Gone Wild." When the show came through Washington, Obeidallah and Zayid held court at a Mexican restaurant in Chinatown. They put a sign on their table that said Ask an Arab and invited perfect strangers to ask anything they wanted.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: How do you like the weather today?

Mr. DEAN OBEIDALLAH (Comedian): It's cold for Arabs right now in here, so (unintelligible) Arab-Americans, it's even colder today.

Unidentified Man #2: Do you all like American football?

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: I love American football. I love the Giants.

Ms. MAYSOON ZAYID (Comedian): I love football. But I'm going to admit, I like soccer too.

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: I like football better. Football is my favorite sport to watch and then ice hockey. I play hockey...

Unidentified Man #2: But when you say football, which football? American football?

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: American football.

Unidentified Woman #1: Are you both Muslims?

Ms. ZAYID: Oh, I am.

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: My dad's Muslim, my mom is Christian. So I was raised with both religions in my house.

Ms. ZAYID: I am Muslim, and I identify as Muslim. But, you know, I always tell people it's really important to know that, like, not all Arabs are Muslim. They can be anything. And actually what was frustrating for me growing up was that, like, most of the Arabs I know here are Arab Christians.

Unidentified Woman #1: Right.

Ms. ZAYID: So it was always hard to find someone to date.

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: For me, I mean, I used to date always, like, you know, not Arabs, let's put it that way, until my last girlfriend whom I went out with for four years, who's from the Middle East. She's born and raised in the Middle East. I picked her out of a catalogue. It was great. She's on page three. She was special.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: No, she wasn't special, but she really is from the Middle East. And if it does not work with her, I'm definitely going Asian next.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #2: I want to know, as far as marriage, what is required?

Ms. ZAYID: I actually just got engaged, and I'm getting married to an Arab man. And I'm totally against multiple marriage and, like, most Arabs don't marry multiple people.

Unidentified Woman #2: Okay.

Ms. ZAYID: And if my fiance ever tries to marry someone else, they'd never find him.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. NATASHA(ph): So what do you guys want people to know?

Ms. ZAYID: I think the first thing I always like for people to know about Arabs is the fact that we're not, like, one thing. Arab has a ton of variety, and also we're not all Muslim and that we do actually have the best skin.

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: I mean, we're also comedians. So we want people to know that Arabs can be funny, which is something I think a lot of Americans...

Ms. NATASHA: A funny Arab, hmm, imagine that.

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: Right. Exactly. Oxymoron almost, isn't it, where it's - when you hear the word Arab, the first thing that comes to mind, I doubt, is funny. We hope in the future, one day, it'll be like, Arabs, those guys are funny, like other groups.

Ms. NATASHA: All right, well, thank you.

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: Thank you, Natasha. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of music)


Ms. ZAYID: So, Dean, are you ready to go home?

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: I think we answered as many questions as we could get people to actually sit down and ask us.

Ms. ZAYID: Yeah.

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: So what do you think? How did you feel about it?

Ms. ZAYID: I liked that. I was interested by the questions. I think Ask An Arab has been a raging success.

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: It's been as good as it can be in California Tortilla on 7th Street.

Ms. ZAYID: Dean, I'm really going - we should go home.

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: We were wrapping up...

Ms. ZAYID: We have one last question.

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: ...and we have one last person.

Ms. ZAYID: One last customer. We're wrapping up.

Unidentified Woman #3: Do you have, like, a room for, like, magic carpets?

Ms. ZAYID: I have, like, a magic carpet workshop. I'm, like, two years away from getting it off the ground. I'm going to be the first one to have an actual...

Mr. OBEIDALLAH: I think a magic carpet has so much potential. I like the way you think.

Ms. ZAYID: I got to make it happen.

Unidentified Woman #3: You can do anything, right?

Ms. ZAYID: I hope you invest in...

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Arab-American comedians Maysoon Zayid and Dean Obeidallah fielding questions at California Tortilla here in Washington. Those questions from people who identified themselves as Cedric(ph), Kiwon(ph), Sanjana(ph), Ashley(ph) and Michelle(ph). Zayid and Obeidallah are touring with "Arabs Gone Wild."

And there's a video of Ask an Arab and more at our Web site, npr.org.

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