Student groups, comedians StandUp for Peace
By GABRIEL ERBS, Jewish Review Intern
article created on: 2011-06-15T00:00:00
By Gabriel Erbs
Jewish Review Intern
Portland State University welcomed Comedians Dean Obeidallah and Scott Blakeman May 28 to present StandUp For Peace, an interfaith stand-up comedy act.
Twelve student groups, including the Jewish Student Union and PDX Hillel, orchestrated the event. Other organizers included Arab and Muslim clubs. The show benefited the PSU International Student Emergency Relief Fund, which among other projects, supported Libyan students at PSU affected by the recent civil strife in Libya.
Prior to their StandUp for Peace partnership, Obeidallah appeared on the Axis of Evil Comedy Show airing on Comedy Central. Blakeman is also a political pundit appearing frequently as a liberal point-of-view on Fox News. Both comics performed routines integrating humor about their heritages.
Riding a bus one day in Manhattan, the two discovered that their comedy was a common denominator for Arab and Jewish students at campuses where they had preformed. The show went through several iterations, first benefiting Seeds of Peace dedicated to the reconciliation of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers. When Obeidallah and Blakeman decided to take their show on the road, StandUp for Peace was born.
The night started with individual routines, most centered on the comedian’s heritage. Blakeman remembered growing up with an overbearing mother who constantly worried about a young Blakeman catching a cold.
“Going to the beach was a little bit traumatic; my parents would think that a child in a wet bathing suit, standing for a second, would catch pneumonia on the spot. So, they would wait for me as I came out the water. It was a little bit like the pit stop at the Indianapolis 500. It was like, ‘Arthur do you have the dry suit, I’ll take off the wet suit. Go.’ And they would spin me around, dragging the wet suit down around my—it was great being naked in front of 5000 other people. This was last summer too.”
Obeidallah cited a poll in which 15 percent of Americans responded that they did in fact believe President Barack Obama was a Muslim or Arab: “I’m waiting for a truly Arab president. Not an Arab-American president, but a truly Arab one with an open shirt, hair spilling out and a giant gold chain. He wears sandals exclusively.”
Max Werner, 21, a PSU sophomore and an officer in the JSU and JSU officer Austin Riley, 20, led the JSU in their efforts to bring Obeidallah and Blakeman to town.
“The planning and logistics were almost more important than the event,” said Werner “The relationships that were built during the planning and production of the event, I believe, were more meaningful than the event itself.”
PSU Middle East Studies Advisor Kanann Kanaan first reached out to Werner. “Interaction was slow in the beginning, we tried to foster the atmosphere [of teamwork],” said Kanaan. A synthesis of their efforts would bear fruit, later forming the 12-club consortium behind the show’s arrival to PSU.
The comedians never encountered violence at past shows. However, the Israeli-Arab conflict spurred incident at unrelated events. A Jewish student at the University of California Berkeley, Jessica Felber, alleged that UC Berkeley did not effectively deal with harassment and intimidation by Muslim and pro-Arab student groups at student events, leading to “a dangerous and threatening environment.”
Kanaan and Werner were cautious but confident that disturbances of a similar nature would not occur. Kanaan shared anxiety about a potential disruption, “you always prepare for that type of thing, but as you can see nothing happened.” The show sold out at the box office turning the ballroom into a standing-room-only crowd of more than 600 people. Werner pointed out “we should have had security, just owing to the scale of the event. It’s important to notice that it wasn’t necessary.”
This was truly a collaborative endeavor. The Saudi Student Club (SSC), the United Arab Emirate (UAESG), the Jewish Student Union (JSU), the Arab Persian Student Organization (APSO), the Kuwaiti Student Association (KSA), the Organization of International Students (OIS), the Ishtar Women’s Group and the Iranian Student Association of Portland (ISAP) organized the event. The Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon (AACCO), the Middle East Studies Center (MESC), the Associated Students of Portland Community College (ASPCC Sylvania), the Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU) and the PDX Hillel served as cosponsors.