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‘The Muslims Are Coming!’: We’ve heard this one before

NegFarsad (left) Dean Obeidallah solicit hugs Salt Lake City — get some — “The Muslims Are Coming!”

Negin Farsad (left) and Dean Obeidallah solicit hugs in Salt Lake City — and get some — in “The Muslims Are Coming!”

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A documentary produced and directed by Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah. Running time: 82 minutes. No MPAA rating. Now showing at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Updated: October 15, 2013 6:20AM

Muslim comics hit the road to out haters but wind up getting hugs. Stand-up pundits Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah co-direct “The Muslims Are Coming!,”a slight documentary about the their 2011 Red State tour offering free shows in “places where they don’t usually see Muslims.” The title nods to the Cold War comedy “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.”

“Is Barack Obama a Muslim?” bellows Chris Matthews in an MSNBC clip. Farsad notes, “It was alarming to me that being a Muslim became an accusation.” This Iranian-American started a video production company in 2005 “to create smart, insightful, stereotype-crushing comedic entertainment.”

Farsad and Obeidallah, whose father is Palestinian, draw upon earlier material from Farsad’s stage show “The Dirty Immigrant Collective” and Obeidallah’s TV series “The Watch List.” Five other Muslim comics appear on stages in the southeast and southwest. The films’s commentators — including Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart, Cenk Uygur and Ali Velshi — back up the uncontroversial pro-tolerance stance.

Although Farsad gets a little nasty about her sex life, she falls back on traditional immigrant humor. “Inter-gender flesh relations” is how her mother terms intercourse. The best line in “The Muslims Are Coming!” comes from a Thanksgiving-season TV talking head who is not joking: “Every single Butterball turkey sold in the United States of America has been sacrificed to Allah!”

The co-directors stop by the American Family Association office in Tupelo, Miss., and a firing range in Lawrenceville, Ga. Elsewhere they create ridiculous interventions. Playing “Name That Religion,” they read a line of scripture and then ask a contestant its source: Old Testament, New Testament or Koran? When they hold up a “Hug a Muslim” sign in Salt Lake City, Mormons great them warmly.

Bashers are not baited. The only walkouts are a handful of Muslim women wearing hijabs. Afterward, relating this incident brings Farsad to tears. Was her act too randy? Were they too repressed? She cannot say since her film crew never asked them, it seems.

“The Muslims Are Coming!” is as competent and conventional as Farsad’s 2008 documentary “Nerdcore Rising” that chronicled a national tour by MC Frontalot, a hyperverbal hero to geeks and gamers. But her topic this time is not new: “Allah Made Me Funny” and “Just Like Us” already documented Muslim comics on tour. Obeidallah’s quest for Snapple Lemon Tea in various convenience stores is trivial. Children reading titles in sing-song is too cute.

Muslim comics are correct about not needing to defend their faith in post-9/11 America. Their patriotism is not the point. I just wish they told better jokes. Lobbing zingers at Islamophobes does not illuminate Islam.

Bill Stamets is a Chicago freelance writer.

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