The comic documentary “The Muslims Are Coming!” reveals the core of its approach to cultural relations in its first two minutes. It kicks off with a wave of sound bites culled from television talk shows saying Muslims are threatening everything from the imposition of sharia law to Thanksgiving turkeys somehow tainted by their touch. Then, a snappy lounge jazz tune about how Muslims are gentle and friendly and huggable plays over a credits sequence with lots of happy colors and dancing shapes. The idea is to face hatred with a smile.
The film follows a group of Muslim-American comedians on a stand-up and public-relations tour who try to win over those skeptical of Muslims, one audience at a time. The film’s directors and stars, Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, gathered a few funny friends, stuffed them into two rented cars, and played free shows at cafes and function rooms in places where Muslims might not be terribly popular. That they head to the South and to Middle America may speak to their own prejudices.
At every stop, the comedians do some sort of public promotion, like setting up an “Ask a Muslim” booth or handing out fliers outside a gun show. One woman is surprised that Farsad and Obeidallah are Muslim-Americans and not “Muslim Muslims.” An older man says he doesn’t identify as Dutch-American, so why should anyone else put a qualifier on being an American? Everyone should just be an American.
Politicians and talking heads politicize Islam frequently, something a bevy of guest comedians and Muslims comment on, sometimes poignantly, sometimes hilariously. Every comedian on the tour nods to that at some point. But more often, they look to personal, nonpolitical, observational topics for laughs, onstage and off, with varying degrees of success. Obeidallah riffs on learning Spanish. Farsad speaks frankly about sex, which causes a group of women wearing hijabs to leave one show. Aron Kader wonders why ghosts never seem to haunt Muslim or Jewish families.
“The Muslims Are Coming!” is at its best when the comedians talk to real people outside the controlled environment of a stage. They have to suffer through someone shouting at them to go back to their own country, but they ultimately find that most people are too preoccupied with their jobs and families to nurture any hate for Muslims, which is the most surprising punch line in the film.Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.