At first glance, Jeremy McLellan hardly seems like a candidate to open for a week dedicated to learning more about Islam. However, the self-identified white, male, Christian comedian from South Carolina opened Discover Islam Week with an hour-long stand-up routine followed by a question-and-answer period in McCormick Foundation Center on Tuesday night. More than 60 people attended.
His appearance and background may have initially given some audience members doubts, but his descriptions of eating biryani, a mixed rice dish popular in South Asia, and easy-going manner quickly gained laughs in the auditorium.
“I didn’t know anything about Jeremy McLellan before this event,” said McCormick sophomore Ayesha Rahman. “I was very pleasantly surprised; he was really funny, really tasteful, not offensive, but really funny – spot on with all his jokes.”
The evening started out with light barbs about biryani, as well as some discussion of McLellan’s home state and his experience working at a summer camp.
“I want my comedy to come from a place of knowledge,” McLellan said. “I don’t want it to come from a place of ignorance. If I don’t know about something I kind of feel weird doing a joke about it because I don’t think it will be very good. Not because I don't want to be insensitive, I just don’t know enough.”
McLellan also covered a series of current political issues from racism to police action, and of course, Donald Trump. He referenced his recent tour in the United Kingdom, and compared democracy to a more monarchical system.
“I’d rather have a king than a president, because think about it, if you get a bad king it doesn’t say anything bad about you as a people,” McLellan said. “If you get a bad president, it’s like ‘man, we are not good, our country is not a good thing.’”
During the question-and-answer period, McLellan fielded questions about his recent appearances and his biryani preferences. He dove a little deeper into his background after an audience member asked why he performed for majority-Muslim audiences.
“I started doing comedy about 4 years ago, and my comedy always centered around religion, immigration, foreign policy and civil liberties and things like that – things the Muslim community talks about quite a bit,” McLellan said. ”If I were to describe all the things I’m passionate about and if I were to describe my target demographic, I wouldn’t necessarily say Muslims, but…it would be a pretty accurate description of Muslims: in general being well-educated…very up on current political events.”
Rimsha Ganatra, co-president of the Muslim-cultural Students Association, said that McLellan was a “lighter” way to kick off Discover Islam Week while emphasizing some of the week’s values.
“It’s really cool because our theme for the week is ‘we the people,’ so it’s kind of showing that Muslims exist beyond just how we are perceived on the news and we are multifaceted human beings and we are multi faceted Americans,” Ganatra said. “We have a non-Muslim speaker because we wanted to show allyship and how you can support us without taking away our voice.”