Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Mike Batayeh, an Arab Rodney Dangerfield keeps them laughing at the Levantine Center
Mike Batayeh. He reminds me of an Arab Rodney Dangerfield. He gets no respect--especially in airports.
He had the audience at the Levantine Cultural Center rollicking with laughter as he described the unspeakable horrors he had to endure in his travels through LAX. After a veritable cascade of disasters he finally arrived at the ultimate denoument of his ill fated journey through the airport--a full strip search--which much to his surprise--he rather seemed to enjoy.
Mike grew up in Southwest Detroit, in a mainly Latino neighborhood, sprinkled with some other cultures.
"We had a few Arabs, Poles, Puerto Ricans and some Asians. It was like a box of Skittles. Very diverse."
When asked if he was funny as a child, Mike explains, "I was always doing impressions and performing on stage at weddings and playing tabia (Arabic drums).
But I listened to George Carlin's Class Clown record that one of my sisters had and I was in the third grade and I knew I wanted to do comedy and acting from then on."
So does Mike have any funny childhood stories to tell?
"I do remember one funny story. I have six sisters and I'm the youngest and my mom had company over and the movie "Flashdance" was out. So needless to say, there were many feminine hygiene products around the house. I didn't know what they were for exactly, so I took the adhesive off of one (sanitary pad), and put it on my forehead and then I put more pads on either wrist and ran out running in place and singing "She's a maniac, a maniac on the dance floor and she dances like she never danced before."
My mom was mortified. But it gotta laugh from the guests...and a shoe thrown at me when they left. That was her weapon of choice (by most Middle Eastern mothers).
Mike is Jordanian and since he was born in the U.S., he prefers to be called American Arab. "I like that...American Arab."
As a comedian, Bateyah has traveled the states and abroad. He has performed in many notable comedy clubs , including the Comedy Store, the Improv, and the Laugh Factory among others. He went to Jordan for the very first annual Amman Stand Up Comedy Festival and was invited to perform at the festival the following year. He also went to Beirut, Egypt, and Nazareth for the region's first ever live comedy show from a western performer. Batayeh has watched his fan base grow to include a cross cultural demographic and continues to entertain people from all walks of life through his unique brand of humor.
When asked if he thinks Arabs are still stereotyped in Hollywood he agrees. "Yes. I think there are stereotypes in Hollywood but there are times when non stereotypical roles are creeping through. That's why its up to the people being stereotyped to make their own movies and get it out there.
"I'm in a film making it's way in the festivals (at the Toronto Film Festival and Dubai Film Festival) called "Detroit Unleaded." Mostly Arab-American cast and crew and director. But it doesn't deal with terrorism or any typical Hollywood misconception of us. It's a romantic comedy. You can see the trailer online for a better idea. It will be distributed soon."
One of the jokes in Mike's show is racism in Hollywood.
"I saw a movie with a terrorist that had an Indian accent. But Indians are too nice to be hijackers. (Indian accent): "Everybody reach for the sky this is a hijacking." No? O.K. maybe later after the beverage service. I'll be back and we will try again. Enjoy your peanuts."