BOSTON (CBS) – You’ve heard the old line thrown by dozens of Borscht Belt era comics. “I killed in… (Insert any old town here – Dayton, Perth Amboy, Roanoke, etc)”. The other tried and true line is uttered when a bit falls flat. It goes something like “Geez, did I die in Cleveland!” Welcome to the lingo of fools. I say it’s an honorable profession, not often appreciated or respected. God bless them who choose to make us laugh.
“Killing” a crowd or winning over intoxicated fellow citizens is no easy task. Standup comedy is in my humble estimation (and I’ve done my share of it) the most challenging, unprotected and fear-inducing of art forms. You head into battle lightly armed with a microphone, bottled water, a wooden stool if you’re lucky, and jokes you’ve slaved over or paid dearly for, laugh lines that you prey will allow you to curry favor with a room full of strangers. The consequences of failure are dire although not physically threatening. Usually. Rejection by said strangers involves them either sitting on their hands or heckling from their tables in the anonymous darkness of a club. Not easy work being a standup, but in most cases you will live (following a likely hangover) to fight another day.
The same doesn’t hold true for comics in other lands. Take Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. There, a 43-year-old radio and TV comedian named Abdi Jeylani Malaq didn’t exactly “slay” his crowd, nor will he get the chance to load up on surefire one-liners ever again. Instead, members of his “audience” (unlikely card-carrying fan club members) blew his brains out. Two fanatical Islamic militants took serious umbrage with the fact that Malaq mocked their brand of religion that brainwashes children and kills civilians. So the irate hecklers responded in the only way they know—by blowing away the jester with AK-47’s outside his home. Tragedy beats the stuffing out of comedy in a land with so very little to laugh about, where religious zealots who don’t find anything funny, let their entertainers know how they feel in a most direct way-removing them from the planet. Somalia is one of many nations held in the vice grip of fanaticism. Decent people are routinely subjected to humiliation, torture and death for that which we take for granted—free thought and heaven forbid a bit of a laugh at those who hold the power.
International condemnation was scant, any outrage momentary.
Abdi Jeylani Malaq was quickly forgotten by most, just another victim in an endless parade of innocents. As far as I’m concerned, Malaq is a martyr for his people and certainly a hero for striving for freedoms that we hold so dear.
The hope is that you’ll remember the sacrifice of Somalia’s former top comedian the next time you read about a protest in this country with groups wanting to destroy an entertainer’s career because something said was offensive. The world has a ton of problems. Not laughing at ourselves may be one of the worst of them. Here’s to the jokesters, risking more than jeers to get us to laugh.