American University of Kuwait

Tonight we performed two shows at the American University of Kuwait. I am on the bill with the very funny Maz Jobrani, Ahmed Ahmed and Angelo Tsarouchas. We were all a bit concerned beforehand because we were told that the President of the University as well as the Dean of Students would be in the crowd, which meant no cursing, no sex and no religion jokes.
The following conversation actually took place between the comedians and one of the promoters backstage;
“Can we say ‘shit’?”
“No ‘shit’”.
“C’mon, everybody shits! Why can’t we just say it?”
“No ‘shit’.”
“What about ‘bitch’? Can we say ‘bitch’?”
“I guess you can say ‘bitch’.”
“But definitely no ‘fucks’, right?”
“Nooooo. No ‘fucks’.”
Language isn’t really much of an issue with me but I have topics that some people can find offensive. “Jesus would work the balls” was out immediately, as was my abortion joke. But we were only doing twenty minutes, so it’s not a problem to get through that.
I went out to a crowd of about three hundred Kuwaitis and they were a great crowd. They got everything. I did my Obama stuff, my Bush stuff, my woman president stuff and they loved it. I even did some stuff on Chris Brown and Rihanna and they got that.
As one girl said to me at the meet and greet after the show, “Thank you so much for coming to Kuwait. It means so much to us. People think we don’t exist or that we’re disconnected from the rest of the world but we’re just like everyone else.”
And I said “Do you want me to sign your ticket or not?”
No, it was a great experience and reaffirms the lessons that I took away from Amman, Jordan last November. People are people and so many of my assumptions about the Middle East and its people are false and based on ignorance. It’s really a lack of effort on my part to learn anything about other countries or look beyond the parade of stereotypical images that the news or media in general puts in our faces. I grew up on movies where the bad guys were Arab. Other than Sayid on “Lost” I can’t think of too many regular, fully dimensional characters of Middle Eastern descent on television or film.
It will take time to overcome stereotypes, as it has with other groups. But the election of Barack Hussein Obama embodies a definite shift in perceptions. Sometimes it’s almost laughable to think back to 2001 and then flash forward to the election of Barack Hussein Obama as our forty-fourth President.
Maz and I were talking about how comedy can act as a bridge, too, changing perceptions and broadening peoples’ understanding of one another. I am grateful for the education I am getting and the people I am meeting from around the world. It only reminds me that I have a lot to learn and a long way to go. And it’s great to be able to make people of all races, religions and creeds laugh, even if we can’t say “shit”.

Easter in Kuwait

I arrived safely in Kuwait after a stopover in Cairo for a few hours. I am spending my Easter Sunday relatively close to Jesus’ old ‘hood. I’m keepin’ it real this Easter.
It was quite an interesting trip. In customs they made me open my suitcase to examine my box of CDs and DVDs. It’s a little weird to try to explain the cover photo of my CD/DVD to a Kuwaiti customs agent. If you haven’t seen the cover or heard my prison rape joke, the photo definitely just looks like male porn. A big inmate is holding me from behind, both of us in orange prison jumpsuits, with the title “As Much As You Want” emblazoned above us for comedic effect, which I’m certain was lost on the agents.
“It’s comedy”, I assured them. “I would rape him back. Haha! Comedy!”
“Comedy?” one of them asked.
“Yes… jokes? I’m a comedian. I tell jokes, make people laugh.”
He examined the cover photo, not laughing, and asked “Comedy?”
“Yeah”, I answered, sheepishly.
Thankfully they let me go, I stuffed my merch back into my suitcase and I was on my way.
I walked out of baggage claim, scanning the crowd for someone holding a sign with my name. Alas, I didn’t see anyone. I saw one that said “Donna Concrete” but no “Ted Alexandro”. After about fifteen minutes I texted my contact to see what was up. After another forty minutes I was prepared to try to pass myself off as Donna Concrete.
I was told that someone would be there to pick me up. I knew
nothing beyond that, which looking back was not the best arrangement. I’ve had that happen before, though. When you travel as much as I do, snafus come up frequently and you learn to roll with it and not overreact. That said, it’s a strange feeling being in an airport, feeling conspicuously foreign and not knowing where your ride is or where you’re going. A Carribou Coffee provided an unexpectedly familiar place to kill some time.
Finally my ride, Hassan, arrived, apologized for the mix up and graciously loaded me into his S.U.V. His english was limited so when I made small talk about the weather being hot he turned up the A.C., which was unnecessary because the temperature was fine in the car. But you can’t really say “Turn it back down” after you’ve said the word “hot” to someone who misunderstood and was simply trying to accomodate you.
We drove in silence for a few minutes until he turned on the radio. To my surprise, Biggie Smalls unmistakeable voice came over the speakers “B-i-g, P-o-p-p-a!” I had to laugh as Brooklyn’s own serenaded me in Kuwait.
As we drove I looked up and spotted the moon, big and bright and about three quarters full. Just a few days ago I stood on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria gazing at the moon through the telescope of a local dude who sets up a few nights a week and lets passersby check out the moon. He simply asks, in a very Queens accent, “Wanna check out da moon?” He’s real knowledgable and spews facts about the solar system, for no other reason than he loves space and astronomy.
Anyway, this Easter Sunday, as I sat in the front seat of an S.U.V. in Kuwait listening to Biggie with a guy named Hassan and looking up at the moon, I thought of that guy on Ditmars Boulevard and of how small the world can seem sometimes.

Find One Hundred Ways

My maternal grandmother, Roo Roo, turned one hundred years old yesterday. Her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and friends gathered at the nursing home where she lives to celebrate her centennial.
Roo Roo, always one to rise to the occasion, looked resplendent in lilac as she walked into the dining hall flanked by two of her grandchildren. More often than not Roo uses a wheelchair to get around now, but for her grand entrance on her one hundreth birthday, she insisted on walking into the room.
The entire day was a celebration of Roo Roo and the love that she has brought into the world. She is truly beloved and rightly so, she has loved so many, so well for so long.
My mother has assumed much of the responsibilty for Roo’s care in recent years, making sure to visit her regularly and let her know that she is loved. As Roo’s mental health has waned a bit it has been draining for my mother at times, but she has continued to dedicate herself to her mother’s care with a beautiful spirit of generosity and joy, never complaining.
During the celebration yesterday there was a moment that impacted me deeply. The party was deejayed by a Phil Spector looking guy with cowboy boots and a matching belt; a real character. He had a karaoke machine and sang everything from Hank Williams to Neil Diamond.  He was basically background music for the affair and, other than the children, nobody was really dancing.
At one point Phil started singing and my parents got up to dance a lindy. Nobody else was on the floor but them; they were in their own little world, relishing one anothers’ company. I remember they had taken dance classes together years ago and now they were getting their money’s worth for every one of those lessons.
My mom’s face was exuberant, smiling ear to ear, and my dad looked cool and determined, remembering the steps and excitedly keeping it together. Their dance was a celebration of their love and their marriage of forty-three years. It was also a lesson for me that love is a decision. Just like my mother’s decision to visit Roo every week, getting out there on the dance floor as Phil Spector sang was a decision, a conscious effort to embrace the moment, cherish one another and cut loose with an exuberance that says “Yes!” to one another and to life.
Celebrating my Roo Roo’s one hundreth birthday was a day I will always remember. Doing so with the ones I love, who have demonstrated real love through good and bad times, reminds me of life’s preciousness and the opportunity that each moment presents to say “Yes! I love you!”
‘Deed I do.