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Comedian whose joke prompted 911 call performs in Florida club, crowd shows support  1 Month ago

Source:   USA Today  

The comedian whose joke about Middle Easterners prompted a man in Naples, Florida, to call 911 returned to the scene of the non-crime Wednesday night.

Ahmed Ahmed — interviewed by Collier County sheriff's deputies Mother's Day after a joke the night before — performed for about two hours in a packed Off The Hook Comedy Club, a 250-seat venue. 

Some gave him a standing ovation as he took the stage, and the audience cheered the Egypt-born comedian who grew up in Southern California.

"Thank you for your support," Ahmed said. "It's been quite a week."

For the past week, stories about Ahmed and the call have appeared in USA TODAY, the New York Times and on CNN, Fox News, TMZ and the BBC. Ahmed's performance May 11 at the club Saturday prompted a man who attended to call 911 the next day and complain about the comedian asking how many Middle Eastern people were attending.

Deputies arrived at the club May 12, which was Mother's Day, about 15 minutes before he was to perform. Ahmed said they were professional and polite, with one deputy telling him to "Just keep doing what you’re doing."

The caller to the 911 dispatcher also said Ahmed referenced forming a terrorist organization, which the comedian told the crowd Wednesday night never happened.

Ahmed during his set repeated lines he's used in media interviews: that terrorists don't say "Death to America!" and then take selfies with people and that they also don't wear skinny jeans and a T-shirt.

Ahmed's stand-up began with club owner Brien Spina playing the entire 911 call over the venue's audio system. The comedian then arrived onstage to cheers as he spent about 15 minutes discussing the call and his newfound fame.

"He might be here tonight because the criminal always comes back to the scene of the crime," he told the crowd, referring to the 911 caller.

The caller never stepped forward despite Ahmed for about 45 minutes mentioning onstage that he wanted to give him a "big American hug." Some believed the caller did attend but never identified himself during the show. 

When he asked how many Middle Easterners were in the crowd, a few clapped. Ahmed said jokingly: "I thought more people would come out to support me but clearly they're scared for their lives."

Spina said he hired extra security, noting he always does that when he sells more than 150 tickets for an act.

"I would like to have a really good representation of our fanbase at the show," Spina said beforehand. "I don't want people around the world to be hating on Naples."

Dee Paul of Naples said she wanted to attend Ahmed's show after reading and hearing news stories about the 911 call about his joke.

"It's crazy," said Paul, who is originally from Dallas and has lived in Naples for 17 years.

"It's a free country. If you can't take a joke, you shouldn't be here at the comedy club."

Midway through the show, Ahmed invited a man in the crowd onstage to describe a racy entertainment show performed in other countries.

The man, Tim Barrington, bounded onto the stage wearing a blue Donald Trump hat and T-shirt. Ahmed immediately put his arm around Barrington, who did the same. Ahmed urged the crowd to take photos with their phones, showing a Muslim and Trump supporter together.

Barrington, 53, said he's always wanted to see Ahmed perform and jumped at the chance to attend his show Wednesday.

"It was kind of a nice thing that he did come back," said Barrington, manager of a 7-Eleven.

"That is what it's all about, coming down here to laugh and have a good time."

Ahmed said he realizes his 15 minutes of fame may not last much longer but he's enjoyed the publicity. 

More importantly, though, he said the 911 call has sparked a global dialogue about racism, and Islamophobia in particular.

"I think we accomplished what we needed to," Ahmed said near the end of his set.

Spina said he's happy the night was a success, with so many turning out to show support for the comedian.

"We never censor anybody," Spina said. "We never have and we never will. There's an audience for everybody."

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