Christian comedian Jeremy McLellan, from Charleston, South Carolina has struck a chord with Muslims all over the world but particularly in North America. He has over 100,000 followers on Facebook, and about half are from the United States.
The second highest fan base is from Pakistan, followed by the United Kingdom, Canada and India. McLellan says he knows many of these followers are Muslim through comments and messages he receives.
McLellan puts social justice at the center of his work and his comedy has turned into an unlikely form of advocacy against Islamophobia.
“I didn’t set out to write jokes for Muslims. I tell a lot of jokes about a lot of things — race, immigration, police brutality — all these hot-button topics that I love addressing. But over the past year, a lot of stuff I was saying about Muslims started to go viral, and it actually makes perfect sense. Here is this large demographic, in the United States and around the world who are interested in these exact same issues,” McLellan said.
McLellan, 30, has become a staple at Muslim festivals and events around North America, including the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) annual banquet in Los Angeles, one of the largest CAIR banquets in the country attracting 2,000 people, including prominent American Muslims, interfaith activists and politicians, and the Muslimfest in Toronto, a festival bringing together more than 20,000 people every year to celebrate the best in Muslim art, entertainment and culture.
Dubbing McLellan a rising star, Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR Los Angeles, says McLellan is an important ally to the Muslim community. “We need both voices: a Muslim voice is important because it lives, feels and experiences the challenges. But we also need non-Muslim voices that will humanize our community. You never know, a funny message coming from a Caucasian non-Muslim might resonate with someone who may not be open to listening to a Muslim.”
An untapped market
And it can be good business too. According to the DinarStandard, a New York based growth strategy research and advisory firm, the aggregate American Muslim disposable income in 2013 was $98 billion. Of this, $4.7 billion is spent on entertainment. It’s a demographic that isn’t directly catered to by Hollywood or any other segment of the entertainment industry. And yet Muslims are hungry for voices that represent them, or at least acknowledge them in relatable terms.
And the tide may slowly be turning.
In recent years, Muslim American comedians like Aasif Mandvi and Hasan Minhaj have called out Islamophobia. And it’s not just comedians upending stereotypes. Earning a bronze medal for the United States, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad has highlighted how a woman in a hijab can proudly represent the land of the free at the Olympics; and Marvel Comics has created the fictional super heroine Kamala Khan, a Pakistani American from New Jersey who has shape-shifting powers.
Pakistani Muslim characters like Nasir Khan, the main character in HBO’s latest thriller “The Night Of,” has been effective in portraying Muslims in a nuanced way that provokes viewers to consider Muslims as humans with depth, complications and subtleties says Daniel Tutt, a filmmaker, interfaith activist and fellow at Washington’s Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU).
“It is not a Muslim story, the main character just happens to be Muslim,” he said.
The show tells the story of the son of Pakistani immigrants trying to balance his conservative upbringing with sex, parties, drugs and all the things that can come with being an American teenager. Tutt notes that this is a departure from the one-dimensional depictions of Muslims (intolerant, angry and violent barbarians who hate freedom and have an insatiable desire to slaughter infidels) that has typically taken place in movies like “Aladdin,” shows like “Homeland” and documentaries like “Planet of the Arabs.”
And if mainstream media doesn’t care about nuanced depictions, it certainly does care about ratings. “The Night Of” debuted strong with a total of 1.3 million views and has averaged about 7 million viewers per episode. Viewership for the show grew every week despite competition from the Summer Olympics. The show’s viewership rivaled HBO’s most-watched half-hour series “Ballers” that averages about 7.1 million viewers per episode, highlighting that a Muslim character at the center of a series can be profitable. HBO’s other shows like season three John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” is averaging about 5.6 million viewers while “Real Time with Bill Maher” averaged about 4.4 million.
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SOURCE: Deseret News