Over 500 students and community members gathered Wednesday night to promote peace through humor. Highlander Union Building room 302 was abuzz with excitement as ushers escorted guests to their seats and student organizers began the show. UCR students Shadi Matar, Nora Diav, Danny Leserman and Tina Ayun kicked off the night with light jokes and life lessons. Each of them briefly mentioned their background and went on to remind everyone the importance of celebrating each other for our differences. The event aimed to unite students through the experience of laughter.
Following the student speakers, comedian Reverend Susan Sparks took the stage. As an ex-trail lawyer-turned stand-up comedian Baptist minister, Sparks served as the night’s MC and warmed up the crowd with her Southern humor. She told jokes of her tough transition from the South to New York and of her life growing up as a Southern Baptist. Sparks ended on a reminder that in the end we are all humans—we all laugh and “get caught up in stuff.”
Next up was Rabbi Bob Alper, a seasoned stand-up comedian. Alper has been a professional comedian for the last 25 years and has even made appearances on XM and Sirius satellite radio, Good Morning America, Showtime, BBC, CNN and Extra. Like Susan, Alper’s material tastefully played off stereotypes. He poked fun at family members, household pets and Jewish dating ads.
Last on the stage was Riverside native, Ahmed Ahmed. Born in Helwan, Egypt, Ahmed moved to Riverside with his family when he was just a baby. He joked that his father chose Riverside above all other cities because it reminded him of home. At age 19, Ahmed moved to Los Angeles to launch his career as a comedian, and since then has been seen in films and television shows such as “Iron Man,” “Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and more. In 2010 Ahmed released “Just Like Us,” a documentary that followed Ahmed and other critically acclaimed international stand-up comedians in the Middle East. The film debunks the common misconception that Arabs have no sense of humor and celebrates culture through comedy.
Ahmed joked about dating experiences, Facebook and his first prostate exam, and the crowd roared with laughter in response. Joining Ahmed on the stage was his father and niece. After telling a joke and balancing his cane on his head, it was evident that Ahmed inherited his funny bone from his father.
Before the night’s end, the trio joined the stage and played off of each other’s energy and jokes. After a short Q and A, the three comedians performed their rendition of an Irish jig. The lively music and carefree atmosphere was the perfect ending to a successful night. The crowd left with lingering smiles and it became clear that laughter is a universal language.
The event taught audience members that no matter ones background, religion, or sex, in the end we are all people. With a healthy sense of humor we can all unite to appreciate each other’s differences and recognize the beauty in our similarities. Like Sparks says, “If you can laugh at yourself, then you can forgive yourself. And if you can forgive yourself, you can forgive others.” Laughter can help to heal and mend wounded hearts that have endured derogative slurs. And considering UCR is one of the most diverse campuses in the country, it was refreshing to see the truth in the comedians statements: everyone can join peacefully through humor.