Two Canadian comedians, Ali Hassan and Dave Merheje, decided to transform their personal experiences with racial profiling into a comedy act they hope everyone can understand, relate to and laugh about.
They performed We Ain’t Terrorists at the SAIT campus Gateway Pub on Jan. 24, 2019.
The show, created by Merheje who has a Lebanese background, not only draws on his own experiences with racism but also his family’s. Having been called a terrorist in the past, he says that’s how he came up with the shows title.
We Ain’t Terrorists reinforces the idea that Merheje and his family are just as Canadian as anyone else. On stage, Merheje jokes about his father getting excited about Burger King and being that crazy sports dad on the sidelines of soccer games.
The show began in Toronto where Merheje and Hassan are originally from. At first, the show had a rotating crew that performed with Merheje – after performing with Hassan, Merheje decided to take him on as a full-time partner. They’ve performed with Just for Laughs and Merheje has a segment on the Netflix series called Comedians of the World.
Hassan has also faced his fair shares of discrimination, but both he and Merheje consider themselves lucky to have a comedic outlet to release their frustration.
“If [we] don’t turn this into humour, it’s going to brew and it’s going to develop,” says Merheje. “We can take those type of situations and flip them into humour and you feel better.”
At the end of the day though, the two say they don’t hold any resentment towards people and believe that informing the community is the best approach.
“Lack of knowledge isn’t racism. Lack of knowledge is just what it is. You grew up the way you grew up,” explains Hassan.
They say that what they are doing on stage, whether directly or indirectly, is reminding the public how similar everyone is.
“You don’t have to focus on the differences,” states Hassan. “There’s this very divisive atmosphere – us versus them – and [it’s great] if comedy can even help that a little bit.”
Irfan Chaudhry, sociology professor and director of diversity and equity at MacEwan University, calls the us-versus-them dichotomy “othering,” or treating others poorly because of their differences from the group one identifies with.
“Lack of knowledge isn’t racism. Lack of knowledge is just what it is. You grew up the way you grew up.” – Ali Hassan
Sometimes the media can perpetuate this dichotomy, Chaudhry says. He understands media need to report facts as they happen but he says the media and the audience must avoid making inaccurate generalizations about marginalized groups.
He explains, “[It is] important to be very mindful of how …you connect certain acts. Let’s say violent extremism to a perceived faith group — that’s where that media narrative sometimes fuels some of the panic.”
Merheje and Hassan say comedy is their way of combating distorted perceptions.
“This is what we have. We have comedy and we can represent ourselves well or in a way that we feel is positive,” says Hassan.
Editor: Sam Nar | firstname.lastname@example.org