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Preacher Moss

Preacher Moss

1967—

Comic, writer, lecturer

Bryant Moss began practicing the art of satire at the age of seven, when he earned the nickname "Preacher" for his hilarious imitations of the pastor at his family's church. He maintained his interest in comedy and performing during his college years and his career as a special education teacher by developing a standup act and writing jokes for several respected comics. However, Moss wanted to do more than tell jokes; he wanted to create comedy that would educate and inspire his audiences, while making them laugh. A devout Muslim, Moss wanted to bring the Islamic principles of social justice, unity, and spiritual development into his work. He began to develop comedy shows that had a serious purpose—to increase understanding among people. First in his progressive comic lecture series, "End of Racism," then in the "Allah Made Me Funny" Muslim comedy tour, Moss has worked to build bridges of laughter across the fear and misunderstandings that divide people of different cultures.

Moss was born in 1967 in Washington, D.C., where his father worked as a training officer for the National Institutes of Health. His first lessons in social activism came from his parents who worked in the civil rights movement, his father as a member of the radical black power group, Black Panthers, and his mother, who had joined the movement after meeting Martin Luther King, Jr., when she was a teenager. They raised their son in the Christian faith in a Maryland suburb of the city and sent him to a local military academy for his schooling.

Began Performing Standup in College

Moss' gift for mimicry and humor became apparent at an early age, when friends at church encouraged him to do impressions of the minister. They dubbed him, first "Reverend Spitty Mouth," then "Preacher Moss," a nickname that Moss would adopt for his standup career.

Having been raised under the eye of strict parents, Moss decided to go away from home to college. He enrolled in Marquette University, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, college that had been founded by the Jesuit order of Catholic priests. Milwaukee has a large majority of white citizens, and very few African Americans attended Marquette during the mid-1980s when Moss entered the college. Coming from the Washington, D.C., area, where a majority of the urban population was black, Moss experienced culture shock and isolation. True to his progressive upbringing, he worked with local groups to protest the policy of extreme racial segregation, called apartheid, in South Africa, while his own college had substantial investments in the racist white regime there.

Moss did not feel that he fit in at Marquette, or, indeed, in Milwaukee in general. As he had done as a child, he turned to comedy to express himself. Along with the journalism that he had come to Marquette to study, he began to take classes in comedy and to write and perform standup routines at a local comedy club. The comic stage allowed him to express his discomfort and soften his anger with humor.

Converted to Islam

While at Marquette, Moss also began to study Islam. He was first drawn to the subject by curiosity, but, as he learned more about the ancient religion, he began to feel a connection with Islam that he had not felt with Christianity. There had been Muslims in the United States for many centuries, some traveling with the very earliest Spanish explorers of the continent, others coming from Africa as slaves. During the 1920s and 1930s, some African Americans began to feel a special connection with Islam as a religion that did not devalue black identity, as Christianity so often seemed to do. In the early 1930s, a black Muslim mystic named Wallace Ford, who had taken the Muslim name Fard Muhammad, founded the Nation of Islam, an organization that sought to spread both principles of Islam and black nationalism among African Americans. Since then a number of African American Islamic groups have emerged. Because one of the basic beliefs of Islam is equality among races, many black Muslims practice their religion in multi-racial congregations.

In 1988, at the age of 20, Preacher Moss converted to Islam. He was concerned that his Christian parents would be upset by his conversion, so he broke the news gradually during his visits home, leaving his Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, or the rug he used for daily prayers where his parents would see them. They finally accepted his choice.

Moss graduated from Marquette University in 1988 with a degree in journalism. However, he did not work as a journalist, but instead took a job teaching emotionally disturbed children in Milwaukee, while continuing to do standup comedy. In 1994, Moss was the opening act for a comic named Darrell Hammond, who would later become a regular on the NBC classic comedy show Saturday Night Live. Hammond recognized Moss' talent and the two formed a lasting friendship. Hammond encouraged Moss in his comic career and hired him as a writer. Seeking to develop his comedy skills, Moss moved to Los Angeles. There, he continued to teach special education classes and worked as a writer for many well-known comics, including Damon Wayans and George Lopez. Although Moss achieved many successes as a writer, he was not satisfied. He wanted his work to mean more than laughs; he wanted his comedy to make changes in the world.

Created His Own Progressive Comedy Shows

While working for the innovative comedian Damon Wayans, Moss had learned that to create real comic art, it was important to communicate ideas, not merely tell jokes. He began to write his own show, a combination of comedy and instruction that he titled "End of Racism." Beginning in 2000, Preacher Moss toured hundreds of college campuses performing, teaching, and discussing poverty, racism, and civil rights. As Moss himself describes the show on his website, "‘End of Racism’ creates a rare atmosphere where people can address serious issues, release some anxieties, and have a dialogue of inclusion."

Moss had been performing "End of Racism" for four years when he got an idea for another kind of progressive comedy experience. That show had addressed one kind of prejudice, but as a Muslim, he was aware of another kind of prejudice that was spreading rapidly throughout the non-Islamic communities in the United States. Political events, such as the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001, coupled with ignorance about Islam, had resulted in widespread fear and intolerance. Many people in America did not know anyone personally who practiced the religion, and they had many misconceptions about who Muslims are and what they believe. Moss thought, what better medium than comedy to combat this fear and prejudice?

At a Glance …

Born Bryant Reginald Moss in 1967 in Washington, DC; married Yasmin, 2003. Education: Marquette University, BA, journalism, 1988. Religion: Islam.

Career: Special education teacher, 1988-96; standup comic and comedy writer, 1988-.

Awards: Muslim Public Affairs Council, Media Award, 2005.

In May 2004, Moss and two other Muslim comics, Azeem and Azhar Usman, launched what they termed the "official Muslim comedy tour." Titled "Allah Made Me Funny," the show not only offered non-Muslims a chance to get to know a little about Islamic culture, but it provided a place where Muslims could gather to share humor about their own lives and experiences. Early in his comedy career, Moss had toured with Latino comic George Lopez and was impressed with the family feeling of connection that Lopez shared with his largely Latino audiences. Moss wanted to create that atmosphere of shared joy and struggle for Muslim audiences.

In planning the show, Moss consulted Islamic religious leaders who confirmed that laughter was permitted and even approved by the Prophet Mohammed, a major figure in the Islamic religion. According to Moss, the hadith—the collection of writings that teach about the Prophet's words and actions—includes chapters titled, "The Book of When the Prophet Laughed," and "The Time the Prophet Joked." Moss and the other comics on the tour made sure that their jokes were respectful and did not include sexual references or profanity. To ensure that Muslims would be comfortable attending the show, the comics requested that comedy clubs not serve alcohol or pork or allow smoking during performances. Though some non-Muslim patrons complained about this or condemned the idea of Islamic comedy altogether, many came and enjoyed the show.

In fact, "Allah Made Me Funny" was immediately popular, surprising even its creators. Muslim audiences enjoyed the chance to share "in-jokes" about their culture, and many non-Muslims were happy for the chance to see Muslim people telling the stories of their lives with warmth and humor. "Allah Made Me Funny" toured 30 U.S. cities during its first year, and went on to amuse audiences in Canada, Europe, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Middle East. Wherever the show is performed local Muslim comics frequently join the show's originators onstage. London's newspaper, the Independent on Sunday quoted Moss' description of the show, "The idea is to provide a venue whereby Muslims and non-Muslims can feel safe, relevant, and inclusive…where humour [can] bridge gaps of bias, intolerance, and other social ills."

In 2003, Moss married Yasmin, an Indian Muslim living in Toronto, Canada. When not on tour, he lives in Long Beach, California, and visits his mother's home in Washington, D.C., frequently.

Sources

Periodicals

Independent on Sunday, Apr 1, 2007.

India-West (San Leandro, CA), January 27, 2006, p. C1.

Los Angeles Times, December 12, 2004, p. I10.

Recorder (Indianapolis, IN), May 6, 2005, p. C3.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA), October 1, 2005, p. C1.

Seattle Times (Seattle, WA) April 14, 2004, p. H29.

The Toronto Star, May 16, 2004, p. 15.

Weekend All Things Considered (Washington, D.C.) August 14, 2005, p. 1.

On-line

Allah Made Me Funny,www.allahmademefunny.com/comics.html (September 5, 2007).

"Comedy of the ‘Allah Tour’ Has Muslims Laughing," Beliefnet,www.beliefnet.com/story/169/story_16969.html (September 5, 2007).

"Poking Fun, In Good Faith: Muslim Comics Laugh In the Face of Intolerance," Washington Post.com, www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A39975-2004Apr24&notFound=true (September 5, 2007).

"Poor Righteous Preacher," Muslim Round Table Television,www.p0wned.net/mrt/news/article-preacher.htm (September 5, 2007).

Preacher Moss,www.preachermoss.com/ (September 5, 2007).

"Clean Jokes and an Attempt to Foster Understanding," The State.com: South Carolina's Homepage,www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/entertainment/9502751.htm (September 5, 2007).

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