Actor and comedian Ahmed Ahmed stepped on a makeshift stage under a white tent clutching a microphone. He looked out at his audience, mostly Muslim families from across the Bay Area and Silicon Valley who were sitting expectantly on rows of folding chairs.
"This is a very Muslim comedy show because we're doing comedy under a tent," said Egyptian-born Ahmed, who has performed nationwide and in Middle Eastern countries for more than a decade. "And we are starting on time. If Egyptians were putting on this thing, we'd be starting ... tomorrow!"
Ahmed, of Axis of Evil Comedy Tour fame, and the other two prominent comedians in Saturday's lineup -- Ramy Youssef and Reginald Moss aka Preacher Moss -- delighted audiences looking for relief from politically charged times and everyday challenges.
The comics performed at the fifth annual Halal Fest in Fremont last weekend, which featured a variety of food trucks offering dishes prepared according to Islamic guidelines.
Youssef, 26, said this was a "special" performance because he is often the only Muslim at the bars and other venues where he performs his stand-up. Helping to dispel stereotypes is just part of his gig.
"A lot of people think that Muslims don't laugh, that they are not willing to take a joke," said Youssef, chuckling. "For some it may be true. But for the most part I think we are a group of people who do love to laugh. It’s a big part of our culture."
During Saturday's performance, Youssef and the other comics touched on their personal experiences dealing with policies that have caused tension and anxiety in Muslim communities throughout the U.S., such as President Trump's travel ban.
Youssef told the audience he was "super upset" the day the travel ban happened, but that personally he had a really good day. That's when he was cast for a Taco Bell commercial for fried chicken shell tacos, he said.
"And so I'm watching TV and this guy says, 'This is a terrible day for all Muslims,' and I was like, 'Well, not all. ... It's making my dreams come true," said Youssef to laughter.
Then he joked about the taco itself: “The way that it’s fried it’s going to kill more Americans than any refugee could.”
Ahmed, 44, tackled what it's like to be stopped frequently at airports, and to be thrown in what he called the "brown room" at LAX and JFK, where he said authorities "detain Arabs and Muslims."
"There was a white guy with a tan in the brown room," said Ahmed, who grew up in Southern California. "I walk by and I was like, 'Are you even supposed to be in here?' He was like, ‘I don’t know man, I was in the sun for too long.' "
Ahmed said one of his goals as a comedian -- particularly while performing in front of diverse audiences -- is to humanize Muslims while making people of all backgrounds laugh.
"I just like to normalize us," he said. "Cultural diversity is the best. Without cross-cultural understandings and handshakes, we live in a very divided world.'
Zainab Burney came from San Ramon to see the show. She said she's been worried over political news recently, but seeing the comedians live on stage helped her feel more positive, she said.
“It helps lighten the mood and bring everybody together as a community," said Burney, a mom of three. "If you can’t laugh, you can’t enjoy life, especially in these tumultuous times."
This was the first year the Halal Fest offered a comedy lineup, said organizer Irfan Rydhan, adding that the festival's popularity has been growing among Muslims and the general public.
"We want to show another side of Muslims that people don’t see in the news media, and we've been getting a lot of interest," said Rydhan, a San Jose native with a day job in construction management. "We want to show that, 'Hey, we are part of American society. We have fun, too.' ”