“I have to get to the airport six weeks before my flight,” he jokes.
Somehow, Ahmed, 34, who is dark-skinned with dark eyes and dark, short, curly hair, has a hard time explaining that he’s a member of the Axis of Evil comedy tour, a Los Angeles-based troupe of three self-described Middle Eastern comedians who performed at Washington’s Improv earlier this month.
Ahmed says he uses the bad things that happen in his life in his routines. So do his cohorts, Maz Jobrani, 33, and Aron Kader, 30.
“Usually we wouldn’t tell people we were Middle Eastern — it wouldn’t help us,” explains Kader, the shortest comedian of the crew, with lush, curly black hair that he has to “set” hours before he performs.
Sitting outside James Mackey’s restaurant and bar last Thursday afternoon in downtown Washington, the boys are revving up for the evening shows — one was added because they all sold out. Jobrani is listening to Ahmed’s airport tales. “We’re like, whatever, Ahmed, see you later,” the dark, nearly balding comedian says, explaining what he and Kader do when their friend gets detained.
They never joke about the tragedy of Sept. 11; rather, about how they experience the backlash. “We all approach the political situation in a way that is unique to us that doesn’t offend anybody,” says Kader. “We can talk about sensitive subjects without making it difficult to listen to or making people’s ass cheeks clench up.
“We want to make people laugh and think at the same time.”
Jobrani chimes in, deadpan, “We want to bring peace to the world.”
Although they’ve been performing the Axis of Evil tour since 2000, the not-so-funny thing is, none of them likes Bush personally.
Professionally, it’s another story.
“We love Bush,” says Jobrani, eyes widening. It is, after all, the terrorist activity that occurred during Bush’s presidency that helped give them their comedic identity.
In his routine, Kader does an imitation of Bush in which he makes fun of the president’s aversion to reporters’ questions. “He always has that look on his face,” Kader says in his routine. “I’m about to say some s- - -. I’m about to be honest.”
One trait they share is the discomfort of being Middle Eastern. Kader, who is Palestinian, grew up outside Washington, in Reston, Va., and says he never fit in during high school — partly because of ethnicity and because his mother was a Mormon.
Aron’s father, Omar Kader, is a prominent Arab American businessman in Washington who works with the U.S. government in aiding Third World countries.
Ahmed was the only Egyptian in his high school in Riverside, Calif. He says his parents are like the Egyptian Ropers from “Three’s Company.”
“We were like the Munsters,” he says. “We were like the weird family that had the weird smells coming out of the house. The neighborhood thought we were weird. I thought we were weird.”
Ahmed’s parents, particularly his father, weren’t pleased about his career choice, and his father disowned him for seven years: “My parents didn’t want me to be a comedian. They wanted me to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. He’d say, ‘Ahmed, Allah doesn’t live in Hollywood.’ I was sleeping on a friend’s couch waiting tables. To him, I was a huge letdown.”
Jobrani came to Tiburon, Calif., from Iran when he was in fourth grade. Being funny, he says, was a way of making friends. He talks about how his mother would embarrass him. “She would dress me Euro-gay,” he says, straight-faced. “It wasn’t cool.”
Even though none of the comedians has an accent, they all break out Middle Eastern dialect to be funny. Kader talks about eating hummus for breakfast and about the excessive garlic his family eats, insisting it’s still coming out of his pores.
The trio got their start at the Comedy Store in Hollywood. They all use their families for material.
In a heavy accent, Jobrani recalls memories of going for ice cream and having his mother say to the female scooper, “Hello. You want to be wife for my son?”
All three comedians started out wanting to be actors; they all have had roles on TV or in films. Jobrani will appear in the upcoming movie “The Interpreter.” He also appears on the Fox sitcom “Life on a Stick.” Ahmed has appeared on MTV’s “Punk’d” three times. Kader has appeared on Comedy Central, as well as FX’s “The Shield.”
At times during the interview, it’s difficult to discern whether the comedians are trying out new material or if this is how they always are. This afternoon, they insist they are not “on.” Rather, they are in relaxation mode before the show. Each has his own way of getting ready.
“Believe it or not, I stretch,” Ahmed says. “I need to feel loose.”
Aron has to deal with his hair. “I have to set my hair,” he says. “You have to shower. You have to feel clean.”
Jobrani needs lots of liquid; soda water will do. “You should not be wasted on stage,” he says.
Three and a half hours pass. The boys are in the Green Room at the Improv just minutes before they will go on stage, and the scene is pretty mellow, except for Ahmed, who is overly concerned about his jaw: “Does it look puffy or swollen? It feels like I have an apple in my cheek.”
Jobrani drinks coffee. “I’m talking to Jesus right now,” he jokes. Ahmed begins his stretches. Kader paces the small cubicle of a room. And Jobrani wants to know, “Should we do our pre-show prayer?”
No one takes him seriously.
With that, he grins and walks out.