• Arts
  • October 22, 2006
  • 6 minutes read

“War, Terror, and Other Funny Things”

The “clash of civilizations” in the wake of September 11 and the wars in the Middle East have brought Danish stand-up comedian Omar Marzouk international fame. Before, the 33 year-old son of Egyptian immigrants had simply been cranking out jokes about the life of Muslim immigrants in this small Scandinavian kingdom. Igal Avidan reports

 Omar Marzouk (photo: © danskmusik)
Bild vergr?rn Omar Marzouk: “People hated me because I’m a Muslim. Now they also hate me because I’m a Dane”
With the help of humor, Omar Marzouk wants to overcome the increasing polarization between Muslims and the West. He found the material for the task initially at home among his own family:

“One of my brothers is named Osama and works as an airplane mechanic for the Scandinavian airline SAS,” he jokes. “At work, he doesn’t wear a nametag. Some think this is racist, but we in the family find it smart. Just imagine if the pilot asked him before takeoff: ’Hey, Osama, did you repair the wings yet?’”

Career launch during a festival protesting racism

Omar Marzouk studied engineering, and together with his father he runs a computer store. One day he was offered the chance to participate in a festival against racism. Marzouk wrote the scripts for his friends. But two weeks before the premiere, they canceled on the show. So Marzouk had his one-man world premiere in front of a full house.

Omar Marzouk’s new show is called “War, terror, and other funny things.” Here’s an excerpt:

“A Pakistani group offered head money for a Danish cartoonist. Because I had a bit of financial trouble, I signed up. But the reward was only 250 pounds. Apparently my Pakistani brothers didn’t realize that in Europe we have a minimum wage.”

Hard and pointed jokes

Omar Marzouk’s hard, pointed jokes became more and more popular. In England and Israel he had tips for the police on how to prevent suicide attacks. They should employ Muslims and put them on buses with mock bombs. When a real suicide bomber shows up, they would cry out: “Hey, man, it’s all good. I’m taking care of this bus!” The Israelis laughed.

The Danish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad that set off angry reactions among Muslims after they were published last year were stupid and insulting, says Marzouk. But he also rejects everything that encroaches upon freedom of speech. Ultimately he himself profits from this freedom:

“It was pretty strange being a Dane and a Muslim this year, because I was really confused about whom I was supposed to boycott and what I was supposed to burn. I really didn’t need this fight over the caricatures, because it’s hard enough being a Muslim in the midst of all the chaos. The latest was that people hated me because I’m a Muslim. Now they also hate me because I’m a Dane.”

Debates within the family

With the boycotts against Danish products and the burning of Danish flags in Arabic countries, Marzouk’s Egyptian relatives suddenly discovered this small Scandinavian country. This led to heated debates with his uncle, who demanded that the Danish government immediately ban the newspaper that insulted the Prophet Mohammad. But the family agrees on at least one point:

“I just saw Bush on television. He said: ’They hate us because we love freedom.’ No one hates freedom, not even Muslim fundamentalists. They hate America, not because of the striptease clubs, but because of the wars in Iraq, Palestine, and Afghanistan. As long as the real problems are not solved, my life as a moderate Muslim gets worse and worse because the prejudices against Muslims are building.”

The rise of the xenophobic “Danish People’s Party” has made Marzouk’s work more difficult. The politicians are so extreme in their statements that he is having a hard time topping them as a comedian.

He is also increasingly sensing rejection at his shows. In this kind of atmosphere, Omar Marzouk hardly has the humor anymore to be funny. He wants to leave Denmark and immigrate to London.

Igal Avidan