By Megan Petersen '15, Copy Editor StandUp for Peace: The Two Comedian Solution to Middle East Peace, a comedy show whose purpose is to encourage dialogue about peace and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through coexistence and humor, came to Claremont McKenna’s McKenna Auditorium on March 22.
StandUp for Peace is a two-man show, featuring Scott Blakeman, a Jewish comedian and news pundit, and Aron Kater, a Palestinian American comedian whose best-known work is performing as one of the Middle Eastern comedic threesome Axis of Evil. Blakeman and Kater start the show together, perform separately, and reunite at the end to talk more seriously about the conflict and solutions to it.
The Standup for Peace event, sponsored by the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and Hillel, the 5C Jewish organization, has been in the works since the beginning of the semester. “MSA initiated the event, and then asked us for [co-sponsorship]. Said president of Hillel Ariel Katz (CMC ’13), “I know we, Hillel, have been trying to bring in StandUp for Peace for the past few years, so it was great that MSA contacted us,” Katz was also pleased with the attendance, with students from UC Riverside and UC San Bernardino turning out along with students from Claremont. “Both Aron [Kater] and Scott [Blakeman], the comedians, are incredibly nice and easygoing,” Katz added. “The fact that they dedicate a large part of their career to promoting peace and dialogue is really admirable.”
“We were inspired by the multi-faiths that we have in the Claremont Colleges, and humor is a great way to bring everyone together especially with such an intense topic like the Palestinian- Israeli conflict,” said Elham “Ellie” Yusuf-Ali of MSA.
Aside from some issues with the microphones, the event ran fairly smoothly. Kater read some pre- written jokes from a little notebook, plus performed some dialogues with Middle Eastern relatives.
“So we’ve got the Sunnis, and the Shi’as,” said Kater. “We’re gonna put them together, and make sushi.” Kater also poked fun at a conversation with his extremely anti-Israel cousin: “So I asked him, ‘Man, what would you do if peace just suddenly happened?’
‘Like if the conflict was just...over. What would you do with your time if there was just no more conflict?’
‘...We will resist!’”
Blakeman mostly monologued, with the peanut gallery occasionally breaking in. When Blakeman asked (rhetorically, of course) what the difference between an Arab and Hebrew wedding was, a member of the audience piped up, “Circumcision?”
After each of their acts, Blakeman and Kater came together on stage for closing thoughts and a Q&A.
“You keep bringing up that there are simple solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but what are they, and why haven’t they been suggested?” asked one audience member.
“They have been [suggested],” said Kater, asserting that peace talks haven’t been taken seriously enough and that both sides have broken promises.
Kater also responded to a question about his experiences performing comedy in the Middle East with Axis of Evil, saying that aside from avoiding jokes about Islam or local government, much of his material remained the same from when he performed in the states. Blakeman also talked about the positive responses StandUp for Peace has received performing at different colleges around the country.
At times, however, the jokes trickled into bordering-on-offensive territory, with the audience hesitating to laugh.
Eva Valenti (’12), a member of 5C Stand-Up Comedy, asserted that caution need be exercised. Though Valenti didn’t attend the event, she still shared her comedic expertise with The Scripps Voice.
“In general, I think comedy is a great medium for tackling serious issues because it’s disarming (and lord knows disarmament is pretty critical to Middle East peace)... The FUNNIEST topics are often FUNNY because they’re shocking,” Valenti said in an e-mail to the Scripps Voice. “That’s why racist, sexist, etc. jokes are so common—broaching non-PC topics shakes people up and makes them laugh.”
It’s not so simple, though. “Comedy works best as a tool for social change when it’s subtle and tasteful. People remember jokes forever, so we want to be careful about what jokes we tell,” Valenti worte. “People repeat what they hear comedians say. ... A racist person who hears a racist joke doesn’t hear a joke—they hear a fact. I cannot emphasize this enough.”
It is important to note, however, that the existence of a group like StandUp for Peace and the collaboration of MSA and Hillel sponsoring the event are both steps in the right direction, toward creating more dialogue nationwide as well as at the 5Cs.