Azhar Muhammad Usman (Urdu: اظہر محمد عثمان; born December 23, 1975) is an American comedian, actor, writer, and film producer of Indian descent. He is a former lecturer, community activist and lawyer and has been referred to as the "Ayatollah of Comedy" and "Bin Laughin". He is best known as one third of comedy trio Allah Made Me Funny.
Usman during the 2007 Allah Made Me Funny Tour in Dublin
|Birth name||Azhar Muhammad Usman|
|Born||December 23, 1975|
Skokie, Illinois, United States
|Medium||Stand-up, Television, Film|
|Genres||Observational comedy, Character comedy, Sketch comedy, Improvisational comedy|
|Subject(s)||Islamic humour, Islamophobia, War on Terror, Indian culture, Political humour, Islam in the United States, Multiculturalism, Culture, Human interaction|
Usman was born in Chicago and as a child lived in mostly Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois, United States. In the 1970s, Usman's veterinarian father Zia Usman (a graduate of Aligarh Muslim University) and housewife mother Atiya Usman left Bihar, India and emigrated to the United States.
In 1993, Usman graduated from Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois. In 1996, he graduated with a BA degree in Communication and Spanish from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and in 1999 a Juris Doctorate in Law from the University of Minnesota Law School. He co-founded an Internet startup, then practiced law, and then started performing stand-up comedy.
Although Usman obtained a law degree, he did not practice law after law school. Instead he did a dot-com start-up. He turned down six-figure salary offers to pay himself $35,000 working for his own dot com. He then folded the dot-com business and started practicing law briefly as a solo practitioner, whilst doing stand up as a hobby.
Since 1996, Usman had a friend who was an amateur comic and he would take him to a comedy club in Minneapolis. This inspired him to write an act in 2000. Usman started performing stand-up comedy in early 2001, a few months before September 11, initially as a hobby. However, in 2004, he had enough bookings to make a run at it. In early 2004, Usman stopped practicing law full-time. He has performed in many major cities in the U.S. as well as in over 20 countries on five continents.
In May 2004, Usman along with Preacher Moss and Azeem Muhammad (later replaced by Mohammed Amer in 2006) launched a comedy tour titled Allah Made Me Funny. He also co-wrote and produced a feature-length documentary/concert film based on the live tour, which was theatrically exhibited at Landmark Theatres in over a dozen top US markets in 2008. The film was directed by award-winning documentarian Andrea Kalin and funded by the Unity Productions Foundation. Allah Made Me Funny toured 30 U.S. cities during its first year, and also in Canada, Europe, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the Middle East.
He has performed in 23 countries on five different continents. Usman and his comedy have been covered by over 100 major world media outlets, including The New York Times, The Economist, CBS Sunday Morning, CNN Headline News, and a whole episode of ABC Nightline. He has played original sketch comedy characters for MTV Networks, E4, and he was the creator and star of his own short-lived, semi-scripted, alternative web comedy show Tinku's World. He performed at Global Peace and Unity Event in the ExCeL Exhibition Centre in London. He also appeared in the independent film Mooz-lum. He has shared the stage with comedians including Dave Chappelle, Jim Gaffigan, Russell Peters, Todd Barry and Mitch Hedberg.
In 2008, CNN aired an hour-long special, entitled America's Funniest Muslim, on its Turkish affiliate, which included both performance clips and an extended Q&A session with Usman. In November 2008, he toured India, debuting at the American Center in New Delhi.
Usman and Matt Sunbulli founded a production company called 9 Saints. (now defunct). In 2008, Usman produced a short film, The Boundary (directed by Julius Onah), which was selected as a finalist by the HBO Short Film Competition, and aired on that network several times. Usman also appeared in the critically acclaimed, independent feature film Mooz-lum (directed by Qasim "Q" Basir) in 2011, starring opposite Roger Guenveur Smith, Evan Ross, Nia Long, and film legend Danny Glover. He also appeared in several documentaries as himself, including It's My Country Too: Muslim Americans (directed by Ruhi Hamid for BBC), Me and the Mosque (directed by Zarqa Nawaz for CBC), and STANDUP: Muslim American Comics Come of Age (directed by Glenn Baker for PBS).
Usman's character comedy includes "Sheikh Abdul, the radical imam", who intersperses vitriolic lectures with announcements about double-parked cars and meetings to re-elect the mosque committee that has remained unchanged for 37 years. There is also "Uncle Letmesplainyou", an antique Muslim who barely speaks English, has crazy political views and a voracious desire to share them, elbowing others aside to embarrass the community in television interviews. He also brags about the growth of Muslim America to people who don't care.
Usman is an artist and an activist and was a co-founding board member and director of The Nawawi Foundation, an Illinois non-profit dedicated to contemporary Islamic research and private Muslim think tank.
Awards and recognitionEdit
In March 2005, ABC Nightline ran an entire episode about Usman called "MUSLIM COMIC." In 2008, CNN's Turkish affiliate (CNN Türk) ran a one-hour special starring Usman, entitled "America's Funniest Muslim," which included a portion of live standup, followed by a lengthy Q&A session with the audience. In 2009, Usman was listed as one of The 500 Most Influential Muslims by Georgetown University's The Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim–Christian Understanding and Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre of Jordan. In 2010, fellow comedian and legendary standup icon Dave Chappelle remarked: "Azhar Usman is untouchable", after a show at The New Parish in Oakland, California. Usman has opened for Chappelle over 40 times since first meeting him in 2005.
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- BBC interview with Azhar Usman
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- Khan, Yasmeen. Does Islam have a sense of humour?. BBC News. Tuesday, 20 November 2007
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- Kieran, Fox, Muslim comedy trio take on UK. BBC News. April 17, 2009
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- Comedian-activist Azhar Usman to keynote ‘Nonviolence in the Islamic Traditions’ conference here Saturday. Bulletin today. University of St. Thomas. Wednesday, April 6, 2011
- Abrams, Abby. Take five: American Muslim comedian makes people laugh by telling the truth. St. Louis Beacon. August 21, 2012
- "Allah Made Me Funny are funny!. Youth Central". Archived from the original on 2014-03-10. Retrieved 2018-10-30.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)