Hood Qa’Im-maqami


Hood Qa’Im-maqami, 33, was on his way to his day job on Sept. 11, at Lehman Bros. on the 40th floor of the north tower. That day’s devastation shook up his night job as well: He was one of the nation’s few active Middle Eastern comedians, mocking stereotypes by playing Hood the Terrorist, complete with a belt of fake explosives. One club canceled

his appearances after the attacks,

and even when he did perform,

he took the stage without his favorite prop. The native of Iran, who grew up in Encino and studied economic development at Harvard and MIT, still has

his day job a year later--except that the Lehman offices now are in New Jersey. And his comedy act? Whereas he used to wear


a gray T-shirt with faint lettering saying “Sandmonkey,” his

stage uniform now has a new message: “It Wasn’t Me.” But the explosive belt is back.


“There’s a true story I use now in my act. I was at the grocery store on July 4 of this year. With all the increased tension, people thinking something’s going to happen. I was looking for a steak, and a white guy I’ve never met says, ‘Happy Fourth of July--how long you been in this country?’ The true ending is, I didn’t want to be confrontational but wanted to teach him something about diversity, so I lied and said I was born here. He said--and I’m not making this up--’Good, that’s the way it should be.’

In the act now, I talk about what I might have said: ‘How long? Seven weeks. I’m here from Iraq--for flight school. Some parts boring--like landing.’ But I tell the audience I chickened out and that I actually lied to him, ‘You know, dude, I’m a Latino.’ And just to make the point I went and stole his car. And the audience buys it. I get nervous laughter.

I do this new joke about profiling and how I’ve gotten comfortable with it. If I get on a plane and I see an Arab man on the plane, that doesn’t scare me. But if there’s five Arab men and they’re all winking at each other then I’m thinkin’: gay Arabs.

Since Sept. 11, there’s a small group of three or four Middle Eastern comics coming out of the woodwork, trying to play off what happened. I joke about it onstage. A guy out in L.A. put together a show with a Jewish comic, playing up how difficult it’s been. So I joke about doing benefits where it’s an Arab and a Jew. I say, ‘Other people look at me performing at a synagogue as not really doing any good in the world. I look at it as ... reconnaissance.’

As much as there is an agenda to this, it’s to humanize us. But there’s no active proselytizing in the act, no active message of, ‘We’re humans, treat us the same.’ That would be like, ‘Let’s all snuggle up with kittens.’ I don’t do anything onstage that doesn’t have a punch line.”


As told to Paul Lieberman