For Muslim-American comedians Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah, humor is the olive branch they believe can mitigate Islamophobia, a theory they put to the test in their documentary The Muslims Are Coming!, which chronicles a comedy tour they organized throughout the Bible Belt. But despite their supposedly good intentions, Farsad and Obeidallah broach the doc’s central subject with crass and offensive standup routines that wouldn’t be out of place on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. The more frustrating of the pair is Farsad, whose nightly barrage of sexist, racist, self-depreciating jokes forces us to forget her occasional moments of comedic panache. Underneath her cheap, boorish humor lies a talented, cerebral comedian, but she plays it safe here, choosing to filter her comments on Islamophobia through easier, less provocative talking points, such as her stereotypical Iranian family.
By film’s end, it’s inconclusive just how important a role Islamophobia plays in Farsad and Obeidallah’s experiences as U.S. citizens. Though their upbringing is a perpetual punchline on stage, we never get a sense for whether their motive behind the tour is personal or purely altruistic. Farsad and Obeidallah spend much of their non-standup time talking to local people in each city to emphasize the discriminatory nature that most Americans possess, yet we never learn the extent to which they’ve experienced that bigotry firsthand. In one scene that sums up the movie well, a Florida antique shop owner asks Farsad and Obeidallah to reflect on 9/11 after finding out they’re Muslims, unleashing the brazen comedian in Farsad. “Sincerely, is there any other way you can view 9/11 outside of abject horror,” she snorts, visibly irked by such an inquiry. “Obviously we thought 9/11 sucked.” While rooted in deep ignorance, it’s an honest question that warranted an honest answer. But in The Muslims Are Coming!, a film that wastes a fascinating premise on its main characters’ obsession with reducing everything to a joke, the attempted humor is neither ground- nor barrier-breaking.