Daily Southtown: Who knew 'Axis of Evil' is funny?

In the soft-stepping months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Egyptian-born comedian Ahmed Ahmed was angry. Anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate crimes had zoomed up 1,000 percent.

It left the Los Angeles resident heartsick.

Not that Arabs and Muslims were being targeted, mind you. But mostly that, despite the spike, they still ranked behind blacks, Jews and gays in victimhood.

“What do we have to do here?” he said via cell phone in L.A. “We can’t even win in hatred? We want to be No. 1 in something.”

There’s nothing shy about Ahmed’s routine. Nor those of the two other comics — Iranian-born Maz Jobrani and Palestinian-Mormon Aron Kader — who round out the not-so-subtly named Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, which stops at Riddles Comedy Club in Orland Park this week.

The three comics all had flourishing careers before Sept. 11, 2001, serving as regulars at the World Famous Comedy Store, the end-all-be-all stand-up venue in L.A.

But in the past four years, they have gained international acclaim with their wink-and-nod and kick-to-the-crotch comedic stylings.

“It’s not really easy to be Middle Eastern,” Ahmed said. “The only way to deal with it is to laugh at it.”

The three comedians — all of whom have extensive TV and film credits — began the Axis of Evil tour in November. They had been performing off and on together since 2000 under the name “Arabian Knights,” but thought the new title would be a bit more biting.

Jobrani, who lived in Iran until moving to Northern California at age 6, worries a bit that the tour will get pigeon-holed as being only for Middle Easterners.

“Sometimes I don’t even know what my style is,” he said as he drove his souped up Jetta around L.A. “I talk about being Iranian in America. But I also talk about getting married, getting older, being bald. I try to encompass all of me.”

There is plenty to Jobrani. The 34-year-old earned a political science degree from University of California, Berkeley, and had begun a Ph.D. program at UCLA before dropping it all to chase his acting dream.

Stand-up comedy has given him a stage to voice his political views in a way that gets people to actually listen, he said.

Comedy is a tool many ethnic groups have used to get attention for serious problems, said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations — Chicago.

“Comedy is a non-threatening environment,” said Rehab, who plans to go to one of the shows. “It’s non-confrontational and appeals to the audience at the basic need for joy.”

It also, frankly, gives the three comedians a helpful angle to get noticed. But Jobrani bristles when people suggest that the Sept. 11 attacks somehow helped his career.

He was doing the same type of comedy before the attacks and would have kept doing it if the attacks had never happened.

“I don’t want to be an ‘Iranian comedian,’ ” Jobrani said. “I want to be a comedian who happens to be Iranian. I want to be known as a strong and good comedian in any aspect.”

Riddles Comedy Club owner Brent Flores said he expects the five shows to sell out the 250-seat club.

“Everyone’s looking at it like it’s a Middle Eastern tour,” Flores said. “But these guys are very mainstream. It touches all borders. It just happens that they’re all of Middle Eastern descent.”

Dan Lavoie may be reached at dlavoie@dailysouthtown.com or (708) 633-5994.

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