The Return of the Court Jester

You won’t see many visible Muslims (heavily bearded men, hijab wearing women) in Toronto’s entertainment district. The area dotted with night clubs and bars is usually filled with drunks and others out for a good time or as some would say cheap thrills. But for four days last month the area saw a huge influx of Muslims. The occasion was the Muslim Comedy Festival at the Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club. The turnout was impressive considering that the ticket was priced at $17 a pop.

The stand up comics were as diverse in their dress as with their joking abilities. The Turkish born compere did a fairly reasonable job. The star attraction was an African-American convert whose satirical social commentary was very much worth listening. There was a Chicago lawyer, born to immigrant parents, dressed in the traditional attire whose old jokes and sometimes insensitive comments regarding Muslim converts, immigrants and others left a bad after taste. A third one looked like he is better suited for a remake of a Charlie Chaplin silent movie. Then there was the token female comic who was more remarkable for her yelling abilities than for her jokes. Good jokes or otherwise, the audience were all laughs. It looked like some of them have not laughed in twenty years so.

The emergence and popularity of the Muslim stand up comic marks the return of the court jester from the days of yore. The Durbari Maskhara, as he was called in the sub-continent, was one of the most powerful courtiers as he was a close confidante of the ruler. The Durbari Maskhara along with the Durbari Mullah (court jurist) were feared and held in awe but not always respected.

Today’s Muslim comic is but a reincarnation of the classical court jester. The latter served his ruler whereas the former entertains the masses, this being the age of democracy. A further parallel can be drawn between some of the modern day Imams and the court jurists. The Durbari Mullah served the ruler, giving out favorable fatwas. Some modern day Imams do the same thing: dishing out favorable fatwas or ignoring the contentious issues in order to serve their affluent patrons (most likely to be doctors or highly positioned engineers and businessmen in North America).

While the modern day politicized Imam is much reviled, the profession of the Muslim comic is highly respected. Some enthusiastic elders go as far as to claim that the emergence of the Muslim comic marks the dawn of a new enlightened age for the Muslims. They are increasingly being seen as the spokespersons of the community. As a matter, fact one of them is an authorized spokesperson for a major Muslim organization and why not. When idiots can become presidents of countries, why can’t intelligent comedians serve as spokesmen for the community? This is indeed a bizarre world we are living in.