Nothing funny about the forces of separation

Ray Hanania’s Column

It was all supposed to be humor, but it turned so sour. The Middle East conflict is raw and filled with emotions. It is hard to resist getting pulled into the cycle of hatred and emotion.

I have even succumbed, dragged in by events that stir personal emotions. I have family living in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and I can feel the pain of their suffering. That causes people – human beings – to say things they sometimes regret. And I have certainly said a few things I regret.

But overall, I believe I am a good person who believes in fairness. You don’t judge people by one column that is tough and pushes reason to the edge. You judge a person by his overall views. And mine are based on fairness and respect.

On the other hand, the conflict also can motivate people to do things to try to bridge the gap.

Recently, comedian Jackie Mason (or probably someone who works for him) decided to dump me from a scheduled performance at Zanies Comedy Club. I have ventured into stand-up comedy recently, for reasons I will explain later. The facts of the Zanies incident get blurred by the war of words. But … I was booked first. Mason was added later as the headliner, after I already had made contact with several media.

I was told Mason would have to approve my appearance. I understood. Last week, the manager at Zanies called to say she had “great news.” Mason had “approved” me to be the opener. I asked if he was interested in doing a few interviews together. After all, how often do Palestinian and Jewish comedians perform together? Mason’s people said no, but told Zanies I could publicize my own act. I did.

Then, someone had second thoughts. Hours before I was to go on stage, after everyone had been told to attend (fans and media), I was told I could not perform “because Jackie Mason’s people decided it was not a good idea to have a Palestinian with him on stage.”

Naturally, I was crushed. I asked if I could talk to Mason. They said no.I was irritated. I called my friends and explained I was dumped from the show. I called the media that had agreed to cover me on Wednesday (NBC-TV news and The Wall Street Journal). (The Daily Herald ran a note on the Friday before.)

Word got out fast because this is a world of news and we are a people who love controversy. And I was inundated with calls. I could not lie and say, “Oh, Jackie thought I was a terrible comedian.” I said what I was told, but added that I didn’t think it was him. I thought it might be his managers.

I may be an inexperienced comedian, but I think he was unprofessional. They changed their story three times from “being Palestinian,” to “being inexperienced” and settling on a more personal attack.

This is show biz, folks. But I didn’t start a comedy routine to become a celebrity. I did it because I believed Arabs must present themselves in a different, more effective way to Americans. I believe Americans and Jews must see us in a better light.

We need to try to break the headlock of hatred that has Palestinians and Israelis in a death grip. It is hard to reason with a person’s anger. But sometimes, laughter can break through.

It is not the only way out. But I felt it could help. Sadly, Jackie Mason didn’t see it that way. He felt obligated to defend himself against claims I never made. I must have looked easy to pounce on. But the real problem is bigger than even Jackie Mason.

Just as it is difficult to bring Arabs and Jews to cross a military battlefield in peace, the same hatred and attraction to confrontation that consumes both sides seems to keep them apart everywhere, including on a stand-up comedy stage.

(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American writer based in Chicago and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN). His columns are archived on the web at

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