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Azhar Usman
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Description Performed at RefleXions Night 2010Azhar Usman is a Chicago-based standup comedian.CNN called him “America’s Funniest Muslim,” though he finds the title a bit much. “Comedy is so subjective,” he protests, and Azhar Usman happens to know a thing or two about protest. He is a Chicago-based standup comedian and the co-founder of the wildly popular “Allah Made Me Funny—The Official Muslim Comedy Tour.” He produced a documentary-concert film based on the Tour, which was released in select U.S. movie theaters in late 2008, quickly becoming one of the top-20 highest grossing standup comedy concert films of all time. Formally trained as an attorney, Azhar has been touring as a full-time comedian since 2004 and has performed in over twenty countries, on five continents, in multiple languages (English, Urdu/Hindi, Spanish, and Arabic). A global comedic phenomenon in a cosmopolitan age, Azhar Usman considers himself a “Citizen of the World” (also the name of his television project under development).Azhar recently produced a concert/documentary project entitled “ALLAH MADE ME FUNNY–LIVE IN CONCERT,” which is a Kings-of-Comedy-style feature-length concert film. Additionally, he is star and creator of “TINKU’S WORLD,” a semi-scripted alternative web comedy show, and he is also developing a television show and a humor book project.He is the co-founder of “Allah Made Me Funny–The Official Muslim Comedy Tour,” and he has performed in over a dozen countries on five continents.Azhar and the Tour have been covered by over 100 major world media outlets.He has shared the stage with many of his favorite comedians including Dave Chappelle, Jim Gaffigan, Russell Peters, Todd Barry, and the late Mitch Hedberg.In addition, he is creator and star of his own Web sketch comedy show, Tinku’s World, which has been tapped by multiple broadband comedy channels for online distribution. He appeared in a sketch comedy role he invented (“Vijay the VJ”) for MTV Networks, and also as “Abu Zaid” in the comedy pilot “Taboogie” for Channel E4 in the UK. As “Vijay the VJ,” he interviewed numerous celebrities, including Snoop Dogg, Shakira, Carmen Electra, Anil Kapoor, Ice-T, Hulk Hogan, and many more. Azhar appears in the role of “Brother Hussein” in the highly anticipated indie film “MOOZ-lum” (director Qasim Basir, expected release 2010), alongside Hollywood legend Danny Glover, also starring Nia Long (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Are We There Yet?), Roger Guenveur Smith (American Gangster, Do The Right Thing), Evan Ross (ATL), and Summer Bishil (Towelhead). He executive produced the critically acclaimed short film “The Boundary” (director Julius Onah), starring Alexander Siddig (Star Trek, Kingdom of Heaven, Syriana) in 2008, which his production company, 9 Saints, LLC, licensed to HBO in 2009. Additionally, Azhar has been featured in numerous documentary films, including “Stand Up: Muslim-American Comics Come of Age” (director Glenn Baker) for PBS, “It’s My Country Too” (director Ruhi Hameed) for BBC, and “Me and the Mosque” (director Zarqa Nawaz) for CBC Canada. Finally, Azhar is developing a humor book project entitled Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Muslims but Were Afraid to Ask (No, Really Afraid!), which follows an FAQ format about Muslim culture and practices, with accurate yet light-hearted, humorous responses (expected in 2011).His unique brand of comedy is steadily finding a global audience as he has been profiled by The New York Times, ABC Nightline, Al-Jazeera English, ARY and GEO TV in Pakistan, ABC Australia, BBC, and numerous others. He has been interviewed on television by Sir David Frost, Keith Olbermann, Donny Deutsch, Mithat Bereket, and Riz Khan, among many others. In addition to performing at theater venues, comedy clubs, and university campuses all over the world, Azhar has performed at numerous governmental and policy-oriented conferences. Specifically, he was a performer and participant at the Muslim Dialogue initiative in Brussels, Belgium in November 2005, a performer and participant at the Brookings Institution’s US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar in February 2007, and he performed with Allah Made Me Funny at the United States Embassy in London in November 2007. He even performed a full hour of live standup at a private dinner party for former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in September 2006, in Dallas, Texas, and he toured India and Pakistan on a solo tour in November 2008. He has attended multiple conferences at the prestigious Wilton Park institute in England, both as attendee and performer. In late 2009, Georgetown University’s The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talaal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre of Jordan, named Azhar among “The 500 Most Influential Muslims” on the planet. Finally, Azhar is scheduled to appear as a featured debater on the Qatar-based BBC World programme “The Doha Debates” this year.Azhar toured the Middle East as the opening act for comedy superstar Russell Peters in December 2008, including a guest appearance at the Amman Comedy Festival in Jordan. He has also opened for some of his favorite standup comedians, including Dave Chappelle, Jim Gaffigan, and the late Mitch Hedberg. Additionally, he has shared the stage with some of his favorite musical acts, including Yusuf (f/k/a Cat Stevens), Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, Brother Ali, and Outlandish.Azhar Usman was born and raised in Chicago to immigrant Muslim parents from Bihar, India. Always interested in “waging peace through humor,” he regularly performs a Jewish-Muslim comedy show with comedian Rabbi Bob Alper called, “The Laugh in Peace Tour,” as well as a South Asian solidarity comedy show with fellow Indian comic Rajiv Satyal entitled “Make Chai Not War.”Azhar is an artist and an activist and continues to serve as a co-founding board member of The Nawawi Foundation, an Illinois non-profit dedicated to contemporary Islamic research (www.nawawi.org). He also serves as an Arts and Culture advisor to the Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN) in Chicago (www.imancentral.org). He holds degrees from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Minnesota Law School. Check him out online: www.azhar.com and www.allahmademefunny.com, or on Facebook (facebook.com/azharusmancomedy) or Twitter (@azharusman).