When I first traveled to the Middle East to do shows in 2007 with two other comedians as part of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, the promoters would warn us everywhere we went, “No sex, no religion and no politics.” Well, as you can imagine, that pretty much took away all our jokes except maybe any we’d written about our pet turtles—and even those could have been construed as sexual.
It left me wondering why comedy was seen as such a threat in these countries.
Then I had to reflect on the United States, where I grew up and have spent most of my life. Let’s not forget that only 50 to 60 years ago, Lenny Bruce was getting arrested for things he was saying at comedy clubs around the country. After him, it was comedians like George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Dick Gregory who were pushing the envelope of free speech in the United States and often being shut down for it.
The attacks in France have put satire in the Muslim world front and center. I am a standup comedian who has performed comedy in the Middle East in front of thousands of Muslims. And believe it or not, they laughed at plenty, especially when we poked fun at local culture.