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An American Muslim comedian on being typecast as a terrorist — and being mistaken for one

If you turn on your TV, his face might well pop up in late-night fare like Steel Sharks, Executive Decision, and Roseanne. His lines are almost always the same — "Death to America!" "I will kill you, American scum!" For years, Ahmed Ahmed played the terrorist.

Until he decided to stop.

When he rejected bad-guy roles, his phone stopped ringing — there were no other casting calls for him. "There were just no parts for a guy like me," says Ahmed, who considers himself to be "as American as you can get." So he started waiting tables at a lousy restaurant, where he was forced to sharpen his wit in order to get tips. "That's when I started thinking about becoming a comedian."

Eventually Ahmed realized that the only way he could change his professional life — and maybe change how Americans actually perceive Arabs and more broadly, Muslims — was to write his own lines. Watch this episode of The Secret Life of Muslims to see how Ahmed goes from cracking heads … to cracking jokes.

Editors note: This is the first in a series of videos called "The Secret Life of Muslims," by director Joshua Seftel. We'll be releasing more over the coming weeks.