Comedian Amer Zahr explores Palestinian culture through standup

    Palestinian comedian Amer Zahr was invited by NU Divest to perform for students on Monday night. The event, “Celebrate Palestinian Steadfastness,” presented different aspects of Palestinian culture. It was a departure from the divestment campaign’s previous events, which have been educational and political in tone. 

    “It’s important to see and remind people that Palestinian culture existed before the occupation,” said Marcel Hanna, a Weinberg sophomore involved with planning the event through Northwestern’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). “This is a refreshing break from all the talks.”

    Weinberg sophomore and host of the event Ruba Assaf began with a few words about steadfastness. “The biggest testimonial of our steadfastness is all of us being here tonight despite the weather,” she said to the crowd of about 50 people. 

    The night’s event included a recitation of poem by the acclaimed Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwishperformed by Loyola senior Hadeel Barrami, as well as a poem titled "We Teach Life, Sir," performed by Weinberg senior Imtisal Khokher.

    Following the student performances, a brief fashion show presented different styles of Palestinian thobes, or traditional dresses with embroidered patterns, as well as a black and white patterned kuffiyeh, or scarf, which has come to represent Palestinian resistance. 

    Comedian Amer Zahr took the stage next. He jumped right in, asking the crowd to identify their backgrounds: Palestinian and Arab, South Asian, black – and he quickly identified a few white students in the audience. 

    Weinberg senior Jay Larson became the punch line for many of Zahr’s jokes.

    “I was not expecting to be the only white guy in the audience,” Larson said after the show. “I was probably turning red.” 

    Zahr’s comedy drew heavily from his experiences growing up as a Palestinian-American, and he blended the humorous situations he encountered with the deeper political implications present in Palestine. 

    “My parents were big time Palestine activists,” he said. “We Palestinians are professional protestors – we don’t care if it rhymes.”  

    Zahr also talked about a movie he worked on, called “We’re Not White,” which focuses on the fact that Arab-Americans often have to identify themselves as white on the U.S. Census.

    “According to the U.S. government, Jay, we are white.” Zahr said, as the audience laughed.

    Zahr joked that in the media, the first clarification often made in breaking news about an explosion or shooting is whether or not it was an act of terrorism. “I wish we were white. You just don’t have to explain anything,” he said.

    For Weinberg freshman Cynthia Cochran, the show was edgier than she might have expected from a college event. “It was a harder pill to swallow,” she said, “But it was worth it. It would have felt like pandering if he hadn’t [made those jokes].” 

    Larson said he enjoyed the shift in NU Divest’s events from serious to cultural. “It’s important to celebrate solidarity and strength in culture,” he said. “Palestine exists even if it has no borders.”  


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