Jewish, Muslim comics laughing in dark times
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Jewish, Muslim comics laughing in dark times

Yeganeh Mafaher of “Shalom Habibi” Photo by Mark Lavin
Yeganeh Mafaher of “Shalom Habibi” Photo by Mark Lavin

Yeganeh Mafaher knows her upcoming performance at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan may have consequences.

“I probably won’t be allowed back in Iran,” quips the comedian, who moved from Tehran to California as a child. “But my aunt is still there. She can send pictures.”

Born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother, the 21-year-old befriended Jewish comic Eitan Levine, 30, after he invited her to perform at a show he hosted in his Manhattan apartment. The two decided to produce “The Shalom Habibi Comedy Tour,” which features acts by Muslim, Arab, and Jewish comedians followed by a Q&A. The tour kicks off Jan. 25 with some well-known guests like Josh Gondelman and Marcia Belsky (7 p.m., jccmanhattan.org, $25), and continues with gigs set for colleges and interfaith centers nationwide.

Levine, a grandson of Holocaust survivors, grew up Modern Orthodox and graduated from Yeshiva University. He said one goal of the tour is to fight anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

“What’s been going on with chasidic Jews being targeted is horrifying,” he said. “You know, anti-Semitism has been around forever and there are no easy answers. We want to get out there and use comedy, talk to people and see what they’re thinking.”

Levine said the Iran news has been “crazy” and makes Mafaher’s involvement all the more important.

Mafaher, in turn, said she’s been getting more gigs after a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Suleimani on Jan. 3.

“I just did a show in Bushwick and I was like, ‘What a time to be Iranian?’” she said. “People are really scared it’s gonna be World War III. But then the news shows you people chanting ‘Death to America.’ It’s not new. It’s been that way for years.”

The Brooklyn resident said people have hurled insults at her on the subway, saying she “did 9/11,” to which she responded that she was 3 at the time. She said hatred of any kind bothers her, and she’s heard people badmouth Jews.

“It’s sad because I know people in Williamsburg who speak openly against chasidic Jews and they don’t even know what anti-Semitism is,” she said. “I have a lot of respect that they keep to their faith; it’s kind of like hijabi women, and people shouldn’t live here and make negative comments about people.”

Levine said the tour’s timing is good but he knows people may be offended. There will likely be Holocaust and Rep. Ilhan Omar jokes.

“I think people will realize whatever jokes are made, they’re not coming from a place of anger, but from a good place,” he said. “We’re trying to have a conversation, and we hope it will bring unity.”

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