Comedian Ahmed Ahmed was performing in Naples, Florida, last weekend when he poked fun at negative stereotypes about Middle Eastern people.
“Clap if you’re from the Middle East,” Ahmed said. “All right. We got a handful of us in here, nice. But, hey, it only takes one of us …”
He waited a beat, as the audience roared, “… to tell the joke,” he finished.
One man in the crowd apparently took Ahmed’s set more seriously, calling the local sheriff’s department the next day to lodge an anonymous complaint that the comedian had seemed to support terrorism.
Deputies arrived at the club that day and talked to Ahmed, quickly realizing that the complaint was without merit.
Ahmed, who is Egyptian American, said Thursday that he believed the call was rooted in racism, but that he forgave the man and was glad that the episode had shined a light on Islamophobia.
“It was kind of bizarre,” Ahmed said. “No one saw it coming. I do want to thank him. He gave me more press than I ever got.”
Ahmed, who is based in Malaysia, also confirmed that he was willing to give the anonymous caller two free tickets to his next show in Naples, on Wednesday. He also offered the man a “jolly American hug.”
The comedian said he had told the same joke at least a thousand times around the world and described it as “silly, sarcastic banter.”
Ahmed, according to his website, was born in Helwan, Egypt, and his family immigrated to the United States when he was 1 month old. He has had roles in several TV shows and movies, but he is perhaps best known for his role in the short-lived series “Sullivan & Son.”
The anonymous call was made Sunday, a day after the show, to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office’s administration line. The caller claimed that Ahmed had joked about taking Middle-Eastern people from the audience and creating a terrorist cell, and worried that Ahmed would repeat the joke at a coming show.
Ahmed said that he did not use that language, and a partial video of his set released by the comedy club, Off The Hook, did not include such a joke.
“There was a comedian, his name is Ahmed Ahmed and he’s Middle Eastern,” the caller told the authorities in audio obtained by the New York Times. “The first thing he said when he got on the stage was, ‘OK, how many Middle-Eastern people do we have here?’ And a whole bunch of people raised their hand … He said, ‘Where are you from?’ I’m from Iraq, I’m from Iran. I’m from Pakistan. I’m from here, I’m from there. He said, ‘That’s great.’ He said, ‘We could organize our own little terrorist organization.’”
The man, who said he wanted to remain anonymous, explained his reason for calling.
“I don’t think that was right,” the man said. “It really bothered me. And I yelled, ‘Yeah, and the paddywagon is going to be outside to get all of you.’”
The caller added that after the joke, he looked at his wife and “felt very uncomfortable.”
The sheriff’s office employee offered to send a deputy to address the concern.
Two deputies arrived at the club later that day, and Ahmed filmed his interaction with them.
“You can’t write this,” Ahmed said, looking into the camera. “This is like, really happening. In my career. In my life. But these guys are great.”
One deputy advised Ahmed to stay the course.
“Don’t change your set,” he said. “Don’t change a joke. Just go through with it.”
Ahmed then invited the officers to that evening’s show, which they declined.