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Hospital show takes on two faiths

Jokes leave'one voice laughing'

By Susan Orr (Contact)
Monday, May 21, 2007

Have you heard the one about the Muslim and the Jew at the Catholic hospital?

It happened Sunday night at St. Mary's Medical Center. Two comics, Rabbi Bob Alper and Egyptian-born Muslim Ahmed Ahmed, performed in front of an audience of Tri-State Muslims and Jews.

The evening was billed as a dinner and comedy show, but the subtext was more weighty interfaith understanding.

About 160 people turned out for the event, at which members of the Muslim community provided the dinner while Temple Adath B'nai Israel funded the comedians' appearance.

Alper and Ahmed each took turns performing solo, and then came together at the end for a brief time.

LOREN HOLMES / Courier & Press Stand-up comedians Ahmed Ahmed, left, and Rabbi Bob Alper entertain a group of local Muslims and Jews at the St. Mary's Medical Center auditorium on Sunday.

As their performance began, Alper appeared alone doing his "shtick." A personable, handsome man who doesn't look like a rabbi, (I was expecting to see him wearing a beard and robe) he told stories about his different experiences, both in his personal and professional life. Of course, he embellished on them to make them funnier. And they were. His humor was fast-paced and gentle, yet effective. His professionalism as a standup comedian came through easily.

"We (he and Ahmed) were in Arkansas, which is the home of the Razorbacks," he explained. "It was kind of unusual to have a Muslim and a Jew performing at a college whose mascot is a pig."

The audience roared.

He then went on to talk about growing up in Rhode Island. Doing a gig at a local synagogue there recently, he saw two girls he dated when he was 14 years old who had stayed for the show.

"What shocked me was that they were 61-year-old women," Alper added.

There were a few times he used Hebrew words the congregation understood, but it went over my head since I don't understand the language. But it had to be hilarious because the audience certainly got a chuckle out of it.

Another Alper story was really funny: "Growing up in the '50s was difficult for Jews. My parents couldn't buy a home, and there was the holocaust. You can imagine how exciting it was for me one morning when I went on the corner of Elmgrove Avenue where Brown University - when they had a home football team - would parade from the campus down to the stadium. I ran home to tell my parents that Brown University was playing against a Jewish college. I excitedly told them there were Jewish cheerleaders, Jewish football players and a Jewish coach. They asked me what Jewish college it was and I said Temple University."

That line brought the house down!

As Alper left the stage, Ahmed appeared for his solo gig. It was interesting to see what the audience's reaction might be in seeing a Muslim on stage in a synagogue or if they would be a little skeptical. However, he was more than well received.

"Our original concept was to have three comedians - a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian. But we couldn't find any Christian comedians," Ahmed quipped.

He also told the crowd about how he invited his non-Muslim friends over to his house in California. When they entered, Ahmed's parents were on their knees with their foreheads to the floor. His friends immediately got on their knees and asked them what they were looking for and were eager to help them find it.

"Get up," Ahmed told them. "They're praying and they do that five times a day."

"Eventually we'd like to take our show to the Middle East on Easter," he said. "We'll just pitch a big white tent, get 5,000 Arabs, 5,000 Jews, roast a pig and bury the hatchet."

That joke really went over big. It was constant good-natured humor.
Ahmed also spoke about the joys of getting on an airplane, only to get frisked because his name is on an A-List.

"Do you know how common the name Ahmed is? My name is on about 20 lists. It takes me six weeks to get on plane," he added.

"I'm used to performing in comedy clubs where there are 20- to 40-year-old drunk people," Ahmed said. "Now, I'm performing in synagogues for 40- to 90-year-olds wearing hearing aids."

Ahmed uses great facial expressions as he tells his jokes and stories, knowing exactly when to pause for an audience reaction.

After his solo performance, Alper joined him for more fun. "We were asked to perform at Harvard, but were told they couldn't pay us. So I asked for an honorary degree. (pause) I didn't get it, so I asked for a sweat suit (pause) which I had to pay for," Ahmed joked.

Alper said he met his partner's parents... "Shirley and Morris" Ahmed.
Ahmed came back quickly, adding "I'm really a Jew posing as an Arab. Tony Rosenthal is my real name."

The duo bantered back and forth comically throughout their program. As they left the stage, the pair attended a reception held in their honor at the synagogue.

Alper has an interesting background. He was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and is the first Jewish person ever to earn a doctorate from the Princeton Theological Seminary. As a rabbi, he practices during the high holy days in Philadelphia. The rest of his time is spent doing standup comedy. He does about 100 shows a year.

His comedy career started in 1986 when he entered the "Jewish Comic of the Year Contest" in Philadelphia. He has been seen on "Good Morning, America," Showtime, BBC, CNN and was featured on the show "Extra."

"I have a line I use: 'I'm the world's only practicing clergyman doing standup comedy... intentionally,'" he added.

Alper has two CDs and has written several books, which can be purchased on his Web site at www.bobalper.com.

Ahmed was born in Egypt but came to the United States as an infant. He's been doing comedy for more than 12 years and has worked as an actor for the past 15 years. He toured with actor Vince Vaughn's "Wild West Comedy Tour," doing 30 cities in 30 nights including the Grand Ole Opry and Notre Dame. Ahmed stated that a documentary on this show will be released this summer.

While pursuing his acting career, he did a small part in the movie "Breakup," which will be in theaters this summer.

"In a couple of movies, I played terrorists and cab drivers and got kind of frustrated by all that so I got into comedy," he said.
Ahmed noted that working with Alper is "different" because they're performing in synagogues and colleges, where people aren't drinking and screaming.

"It's a more subdued, intelligent audience and for me, the experience is sort of like moonlighting," he explained. "One side of me does certain gigs with certain comedians, and then I do the gigs with Bob. It's quite a neat balance and a good experience."

In addition to working with Alper, he also works with three other comedians - an Iranian and two Palestinians - in a show called "Axis Of Evil Comedy Tour."
"We are looking for a Chinese guy if you know anybody," he offered with a smile.

Ahmed also has a CD. Visit his Web site at www.ahmedahmed.com for more information and future performances.

Whether they appear together or separately, these comedians are delightfully funny. Who would have ever thought that a Muslim and a Jew would ever appear on stage together, especially in a synagogue?

Phyllis Bator has been involved with music all her life and has been reviewing entertainment for several years. Comments can be sent to her at
phyllisbator@earthlink.net

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