Comedy duo suing MTA for scrapping their anti-Islamophobia subway ad campaign
by Dan Rivoli
What's so political about funny Muslims?
That's what a culturally conscious comedy duo is asking the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.
The First Amendment federal suit accuses the MTA of tanking the team's ad campaign right before their posters lampooning Islamophobia were due to hit subway stations April 28. A day later, the MTA banned political viewpoint ads.
To comedians Dean Obeidallah and Negin Farsad, the MTA showed no sense of humor in rejecting their jokes about Muslims' awesome frittata recipes or silly Muslim "facts."
"One of our posters says that grown up Muslims can do more push-ups than baby Muslims. I dare you to find the political nature of that ridiculous statement," Farsad said. "It's funny, it's comedic."
To promote their documentary, "Beware: The Muslims Are Coming," the pair landed a contract with the MTA to plant 144 posters in 140 subway stations for about a month.
The movie, now playing on major streaming services, tracks Obeidallah's and Farsad's exploits in helping Middle America understand Muslims through humor. The film features interviews with big-name comedians, including Jon Stewart and Janeane Garofalo.
The campaign to promote the film, produced by Vaguely Qualified Productions, cost $15,000, plus $4,000 to print the ads.
But subway riders never got the chance to laugh.
The MTA got out of the political ad game, burned after losing a lawsuit over its effort to keep a controversial ad from anti-Islamic firebrand Pamela Geller off buses.
The policy bans paid political messages regarding "disputed economic, political, moral, religious or social issues."
Obeidallah and Farsad's ads fell victim to the new policy. Their lawyer contends the posters are halal, even under the new rules.
"You can't dispute comedy and you can't dispute the underlying message, which is Muslims are human beings, some of whom have a sense of humor," said Glenn Katon of Muslim Advocates, a legal and educational group. "That's why we think the MTA got the decision so wrong."
Adam Lisberg, an MTA spokesman, said the agency had yet to be served.
In court documents tied to a separate challenge to the new policy, MTA real estate director Jeffrey Rosen said the documentary promos got spiked because they were a response to Geller's Islamophobic ads.
Obeidallah rejected that reason, saying anti-Muslim prejudice is a problem that's bigger than Geller.
"We didn't make the movie because of Pam Geller," he said. "We made the movie to tell our story."
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