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THE MUSLIMS ARE COMING!: The Linoleum Knife Review

Early on in the comedy-tour doc The Muslims Are Coming!, actor-comedian David Cross notes that nothing turns him off faster than the idea of “An Evening of [blank] Comedy,” where the “blank” is “Gay” or “Female” or whatever. And while this film, which follows a gaggle of Muslim comedians on a tour of the Deep South, occasionally falls into the “blank” trap, it’s an amusing and timely movie, even if it’s basically a Daily Show sketch writ large.

Negin-Dean-Hug-a-Muz-SLCAfter the “Ground Zero mosque” hullabaloo a few years’ back, comedians (and the film’s co-directors) Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah assembled some of their fellow “Muzzie” stand-ups for a comedy tour of the south. The idea was to do a series of free shows and to allow Americans who might have never met a real-life Muslim before to put a face on a culture that’s currently getting a bad rap in the U.S. (The film opens with a medley of loony clips from Fox News and other right-wing media — plus Bill Maher — including a religious radio host who claims that “every single Butterball turkey has been sacrificed to Allah.”)

The tour footage itself is only so-so, and if these are the highlights of these stand-up acts, then these folks are the Muslim equivalent of what drag performer Jackie Beat calls “gay first, funny second” comedians. Wisely, the filmmakers bolster the movie with talking-head quotes from a gaggle of media, government and comedy big-wigs, including Cross, Jon Stewart, Rep. Keith Ellison, Janeane Garofalo, Lewis Black, Soledad O’Brien, Aasif Mandvi, Rachel Maddow and Cenk Uygur. (Full disclosure: Uygur is the big cheese at The Young Turks, which produces What the Flick?!, a show on which I regularly appear.)

Also livening up the proceedings are Michael Moore–esque street theater moments, particularly when the comics gather in a town square in Alabama and challenge locals to play “Guess That Religion,” where you have to decide if a quote comes from the Old Testament, the New Testament or the Koran. The locals, including an ordained minister, tend to guess wrong.

One of the most interesting facets of The Muslims are Coming! is that it shows the diversity within their own community; when Farsad starts working a little blue and goes into detail about her sex life and her conversations about same with her mother, a group of headdress-wearing Musilm women storm out.

It would have been interesting to explore those internal conflicts a little more, yes, but the movie is already casting its lines out into many directions, from a trip to a gun show to a discussion of the questions Muslims get asked most. (“Why don’t all the women cover their head?” “Why aren’t you all out there loudly condemning 9/11?”)

It wouldn’t be the end of the world if you waited for this one to pop up on cable, but if you’re a big fan of stand-up comedy or multiculturalism, you’ll get some laughs, Allah willing.

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