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A night of jokes

A Muslim, a Christian and a Jew to walk onto the stage at ECU

By Kelley Kirk-Swindell
The Daily Reflector

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim together on stage.

Sounds like a joke, doesn't it?

It's a whole night of jokes, actually.

One Muslim, One Christian, One Jew: A Night of Non-Political Laughter will be held at 7 p.m. Monday as part of East Carolina University's Diversity Week events.

Taking the stage in the name of laughter will be Rabbi Bob Alper, Nazareth — a Palestinian Christian, and Azhar Usman, who is Muslim. In this inaugural presentation of three comics, each will perform a set during the event.

Following their routines, the comedians will hold a question-and-answer session that will provide a little from their backgrounds.

According to Alper, the ECU comedy presentation promises to be filled with "totally clean" humor.

"We are all religious men," Alper said by phone while waiting for a flight at the Charlotte airport. "We do comedy that doesn't hurt others."

Alper began doing standup comedy in 1986 when he entered the "Jewish Comic of the Year" contest at the Going Bananas Club in Philadelphia. During his 20-year comedy career, Alper believes he's performed somewhere between 12,000 and 13,000 shows.

His worst experience?

"I was at a synagogue in New Jersey," he said. "A man in the audience looked kind of pale. Then he looked more pale. Then he turned green, and then he keeled over."

The paramedics were called and the man was treated. He was OK and able to leave under his own steam, but the flow of Alper's show was understandably interrupted.

"How do you follow that up?" he said. "So I said to the audience, 'I wonder what joke made him sick?'"

And since the man was OK, the audience laughed.

It's that kind of humor that's made Alper popular. His humor is fast-paced and sophisticated, yet gentle and not hurtful.

Alper performed a solo act for many years, until it was suggested he do a show with comedians from other religious backgrounds in fall 2001.

"My publicist suggested that I do a show with an Arab one night," Alper said. "At the time, I recall saying, 'Do you have any other ideas?'"

Even though Alper jests the publicist did more to put him into the witness-protection program than promote his career, the idea was a good one.

By April 2002, the practicing rabbi did his first show with comedian Ahmed Ahmed in a synagogue. Ahmed currently is the featured comedian on the Axis of Evil Comedy tour.

"We've now done about 100 shows together," Alper said.

The ECU show will be the first time the three comedians will perform in one performance.

"There is tension between our people," Alp said. "But we are not political pundits."

Alper also has made appearances on "Good Morning America," "Showtime," the BBC and CNN. His inspirational book, "Life Doesn't Get Any Better Than This," is now in its fifth printing, and he wrote the award-winning full-color cartoon book "A Rabbi Confesses."

The other comics

AZHAR USMAN is one of the world's few American Muslim standup comedians. He has developed an act based on transethnic and intercultural issues and general observational humor. In 2004, he co-founded Allah Made Me Funny, The Official Muslim Comedy Tour with fellow Muslim comedian Preacher Moss. Azhar and the tour have been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Newsweek and Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. In addition to his comedy, Usman is an experienced lecturer, a lawyer and community activist.

NAZARETH is one of the top standup comics working the Christian circuit today. His show "Proud to be an American" draws its humor from his background. Nazareth was born in Israel, lived in Kuwai and finally legally immigrated to the United States in 1984. His comedy reflects his feelings of privilege living in the U.S. and being a Christian in this country. Nazareth is the president of the Christian Comedy Association, which has more than 300 Christians comedians. He has produced four CDs and wrote "Can Anything Good Ever Come Out of Nazareth Again?"

If you Go!

What: One Muslim, One Christian, One Jew: A Night of Non-Political Laughter

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: ECU Hendrix Theater

Cost: Free

Call: 328-4742

Contact features writer Kelley Kirk-Swindell at 329-9596 or


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