Arab American Lawyers Ditch Humorless Jobs for Stand-Up Comedy
Introducing our Ex-Lawyers of the Week: Dean Obeidallah and Amer Zahr.
Both Obeidallah and Zahr began their professional careers as attorneys, the Associated Press reports. But their senses of humor -- and their shared sensitivities about the public's perception of Arab Americans in the wake of 9/11 -- led them to new careers as stereotype-shattering stand-up comics.
"People are afraid of us because they don't know really who we are," Obeidallah joked on Comedy Central's "Axis of Evil Comedy Tour," noting two kinds of news stories about Arabs:
"There's the bad story, where we're described as militant gunmen and terrorists," ex-lawyer Dean Obeidallah said, "and then there's the occasional positive one, where we're described as alleged militant gunmen and terrorists."
Obeidallah, 42, born in New Jersey to a Palestinian father and an Italian mother, worked five years as an attorney before co-workers encouraged his comedic pursuits.
"People at the firm suggested I enter the funniest lawyer contest," Obeidallah told the Institute for Middle East Understanding. "I took it as a hint I should quit being a lawyer."
That was before the 9/11 attacks, which led Obeidallah to turn his "vanilla" jokes into political ones. He and other Arab comedians took their show on the road -- including a stop at the University of Michigan's law school, where student Amer Zahr was in the audience.
Zahr, born in Jordan and raised in Pennsylvania, answered a call for an audience member to fill time before the show in 2002. "I told a couple stories about my dad, and everyone loved it," Zahr told the AP.
Zahr, now 34, eventually also left the law, and joined Obeidallah on a recent comedy tour. You can watch clips from both comedians here:
Ex-lawyer comics Dean Obeidallah and Amer Zahr both continue to headline their own shows as well; tour dates can be found on their personal websites, listed below.
Curious about other ways to use your JD, or how ex-lawyers have found success in other fields? Check back here for more ex-lawyer profiles and success stories. And if you have suggestions for our Ex-Lawyer of the Week series, let us know by posting your tip on our FindLaw for Legal Professionals Facebook page.
- US Arab-Muslim comedy community grows, pushes beyond funny talk in post-9/11 world (The Associated Press)
- Dean of Comedy (Dean Obeidallah's Website)
- Amer Zahr / Arab-American Comedian / Palestinian Writer & Speaker (Amer Zahr's Website)
- 99 Things to Do With Your JD, Besides Practice Law (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)