clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

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.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.