Jeremy McLellan has been labeled an extremist and accused of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But the white Catholic comedian from South Carolina says he’s only an extremist when it comes to Biryani, his favorite dish.
In his stand-up act, McLellan uses sarcasm and comedy to explore the commonalities between Christians and Muslims.
“I think that there is so much that we have in common…Christians and Muslims,” said McLellan. “And there are so many practices that we both have that we aren’t necessarily aware of, like Lent. Lent is a period of 40 days, you know, Ramadan is a month. And it’s a period of fasting and alms-giving and all these things that are the same in both traditions. But the rules are different.”
McLellan finds it interesting to compare the religious rituals.
“Are we as strict as you? Like, who’s fasting more?” he said. “Sort of like a healthy competition.”
Besides a talent for making people laugh, McLellan likes to foster an environment of mutual respect and understanding between the two religions. He says misunderstanding is generally to blame for much of the religious intolerance today.
“You know right now, there seems to be a lot of tension between Christians and Muslims…” he said, “but I think now is the time when we can actually start to bridge those gaps and create dialogue and talk about our differences….talk about what we have in common and hopefully coexist.”
The use of comedy to bridge the religious divide isn’t a new phenomenon. Imam Talal Eid, a Muslim scholar, says interfaith humor goes back centuries — to the Prophet Muhammad.
“Humor is important in our life,” said Eid. “And he himself used his sense of humor when communicating with his companions…He used his sense of humor to cement his relationship with non-Muslims. So American-Muslims today and Muslims in general when they have interfaith relations, they have to do it with fun, not with too much seriousness. ”
McLellan is part of a new generation of young comedians who use humor to serve as ambassadors of faith.
And by combining those ancient methods of diplomacy with the well-timed joke, McLellan accomplishes what professional diplomats aspire to — resolving misunderstandings and creating friendly dialogue while making people laugh.