BOCA RATON – On stage, comic Ahmed Ahmed isn’t looking for a fight.
He’s also not about to back away from one – especially when he feels cancel culture rushing the stage.
“Tonight really represented how we are not even close to being finished with the cancel culture – the woke audience,” Ahmed said. “And it’s too bad.”
A 30-year veteran of stand-up comedy, Ahmed exercised his vocal pugilism during Thursday’s show at the Biergarten, triggered by an audience member he had, mysteriously and unintentionally, somehow triggered.
“I’m in my 50s now, so I’m in a place where I’m like, You know what? I’m going to address it,” Ahmed said. “I’m going to be called confrontational. Controversial, hard hitting, that’s who I am.”
Florida audiences haven’t exactly been kind on Ahmed.
Following a show two years ago in Naples, an audience member called 9-1-1 to report Ahmed as a potential terrorist for a joke he made on stage. Police investigated but, no charges were filed.
On Thursday Ahmed opened his set by referencing those bizarre events.
Later in the set, one middle aged woman in the crowd began arguing with Ahmed, referencing what she heard – actually, what she thought she heard – in the opening moments of the show.
She told Ahmed he shouldn’t joke about 9/11.
“I never said those words,” Ahmed said. “I said someone called 9-1-1 on me over a joke. This woman just wanted to hear what she wanted to hear.”
Even when Ahmed pointed out that he never said anything about the Sept. 11 terror attacks, she persisted in arguing.
“All she heard was 9/11, terrorist,” Ahmed said. “They are not listening to the underlying message.”
Ahmed spent about five minutes humorously scolding the women and her table mates. During that period, the rest of the audience started to rally behind Ahmed.
At one point a man in the back yelled to the woman to “Let it go. It’s just comedy.”
Interruptions of this sort are rare at the twice-monthly Biergarten shows, but something must have been in the bratwursts on Thursday.
The misheard 9-1-1 argument marked Ahmed’s second clash with an audience member that night. The proved more traditional.
A woman near the bar grew increasingly loud throughout the night, to the point where she inserted herself into the sets of some earlier comics.
When she grew miffed by Ahmed’s joke about women potentially paying for dinner dates, Ahmed shot back at her. The woman ultimately left the bar as Ahmed serenaded her with “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”
Most audience members added their voices to the sendoff.
“The whole audience chimed in because, you know what? We live in a pack-of-wolves society, so people will jump on board depending on who’s winning,” Ahmed said. “I won that conversation.”
A full hour after the show with the bar nearly empty, Ahmed sat at a table with fellow comics Dougie Almeida, Nadeem Awad, Blake Bartee and a reporter rehashing the night’s events and the current state of cancel culture.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘crusader,’ but I definitely speak truth to power,” Ahmed said. “I think most comics do.”
Nadeem Awad, who, along with Ahmed and show producer David Sadman, was one of three comics of Arabic descent on Thursday’s show, isn’t controversial and doesn’t usually engage with cancel-minded hecklers during his shows.
Sometimes ignoring those hecklers, though, doesn’t keep them from attempting to make their point even after the show has ended.
“I’ve had people waiting for me after the show to tell me things,” Awad said. “Usually older people, and they are like, ‘You don’t understand the history of Arabs.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I do.’”
Neither Ahmed nor Awad interpreted Thursday’s night’s heckling as being anti-Muslim.
It was simply another example of a culture that feels increasingly emboldened to tell comics what can and can’t be discussed on stage.
“Here’s the thing with comics bro, we’re important but we’re not,” Ahmed said. “We’re not sending people up to space. There’s no brain surgery going on. We’re not MIT scientists. We’re really not doing that much. What we are as comics, we’re bringing laughter to the world, which is a super important component to self healing.”