Dean Obeidallah

Dean Obeidallah

Dean Obeidallah is a former lawyer turned political comedian and commentator. Dean has appeared on numerous TV shows including CNN, Comedy Central's "Axis of Evil" Special, Current TV's "The Young Turks," ABC's "The View," MSNBC's "Up With Chris Hayes," NBC's "Rock Center," and ABC's "Nightline." Dean has written articles for CNN.comThe Huffington Post, BBC Radio and written jokes which have appeared on NBC's "Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update" segment and CBS' "The Late, Late Show." He is also co-director of the soon to be released "The Muslims Are Coming!" Twitter: @deanofcomedy

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Are You a Bigot if You Oppose Same Sex Marriage?

03 April 2013 Published in Blog

(CNN) -- If someone today argued for laws to legally bar interracial marriage that person would universally be labeled a bigot.

But in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriage, 73% of Americans still supported them. Did that mean that more than 70% of Americans at that time were bigots? No. But there certainly came a time that you were one if you continued advocating for such discriminatory laws.

Are we at that point yet with gay marriage? Is it fair to label a person a bigot simply for arguing that marriage should only be between a man and a woman?

That's the first issue we discussed in Episode 2 of the new weekly CNN Radio podcast "The Big Three," co-hosted by CNN opinion contributors Margaret Hoover, John Avlon and myself. Each week we look at three big issues making news. (For those catching up, our first episode is here.)

To listen to this episode of "The Big Three," click on the Soundcloud audio player on this page. Or you can find us on iTunes.

In the new episode, here are the three topics we chose to discuss/fight/yell/joke about:

1. Are you a bigot if you oppose gay marriage? Margaret Hoover raised the issue of whether we throw the word "bigot" around too quickly. She also posed the thought-provoking question: Would we would have called President Obama a bigot a year ago before he embraced marriage equality?

My response is "Yes" with an asterisk. The asterisk being that I won't yet call anyone who opposes marriage equality a bigot simply because they believe marriage should be between a man and woman. (If you demonize gays, than I will call you one now.) But in time, that label will be accurate for those who continue to advocate discrimination. John Avlon, being the centrist that he is, made a very fair point that this is a process and it will take time.

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How Obama has weaponized wit

28 March 2013 Published in Blog

(CNN) -- Barack Obama would make a great stand-up comic, not because he's the funniest president ever but because he uses jokes the same way many of us comedians do: As a weapon.

Traditionally, the (intentionally) funny lines by our presidents have had one thing in common: They were self-deprecating. Sure, some presidents have used jokes to take jabs at their opponents, but not to the extent of Obama.

During his tenure, he has increasingly unleashed biting comedic barbs against his critics and political adversaries. These jokes are intended to do more than simply entertain you. They have an agenda.

Obama's humor is often delivered the way a comedian dealing with a heckler would do it. He tries to undermine his opponents with it and get the crowd -- in this case the public -- on his side. I can assure you that having a crowd laugh at your critic/heckler is not only effective in dominating them, it's also very satisfying.

Let's look at some of the more typical self-deprecating jokes made by presidents at past White House Correspondents' Dinners, where press and president unleash their biting wits on one another. In 1988, Ronald Reagan joked about his advanced age by commenting that his staff had claimed that "preparing me for a press conference was like reinventing the wheel. Not true. I was around when the wheel was invented, and it was easier.


President Clinton, at the 2000 Correspondents' Dinner, mentioned that he was a fan of that night's comedian, Jay Leno: "Because, together, we give hope to gray-haired, chunky baby boomers everywhere."

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Stop talking about Chris Christie's Weight!

07 February 2013 Published in Blog

Have you heard the one about the fat Governor?  Of course you have. You can’t avoid him. Chris Christie is huge. (Horrible pun intended.)

The obsession with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s weight has become a national pastime.  Comedians (including myself), late night TV hosts and the Twittersphere love to talk and joke about Christie’s weight. It’s almost as easy as writing jokes about the despicable Donald Trump- who I believe if he was alive during the time of slavery would’ve been like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “Django Unchained.”

But here’s my question: Why are well-known news journalists now asking questions like: “Is Chris Christie too fat to be President? Can he really survive the stress of being President if he is that big?  Would he be the fattest President in American history?”

Do they really think they’re helping us determine if Christie would make a good president by fixating only on his weight?  Does Christie’s waist size or daily calorie intake somehow tell us what kind of President he will make?  Or maybe these journalists think we haven’t noticed Christie’s size and they are blowing the lid off the fat governor story?

And the really clever journalists – aware they are talking about the most superficial aspect of a politician – try to frame the issue under the guise of caring for Christie’s health. Do these journalists actually believe Christie isn’t aware that his weight is a health risk? Well, this recent statement by Christie should put this issue to rest for good: "My doctor continues to warn me that my luck is going to run out relatively soon, so believe me it’s something I’m very conscious of.”

I have a suggestion for the members of the news media: If you really want to help us determine if Christie would one day be a good President, stop focusing on his weight and instead focus on his record as Governor of New Jersey.  Lets hear about the policies he has enacted, not the donuts he has eaten.

To be honest, during the news media’s discussion of: “Is Christie too fat to be President?” have you heard even one word about his record as Governor? I haven’t.

At least balance out the fat with some meat. Tell us about the good and bad of Christie’s tenure as Governor of my home State.

For example, New Jersey currently has a 9.6% unemployment rate. This is not only well over the national unemployment rate of 7.9 percent, but it’s actually the 4th highest in the nation only behind California, Rhode Island and Nevada.  Why not ask the Governor about this issue?

And can you stop asking Christie about his weight long enough to inquire as to why he twice vetoed legislation that would have kept New Jersey as part of a nine state program designed to collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

How about asking Christie why he recently vetoed an increase in the minimum wage for New Jersey workers? Or why in 2012 he vetoed a law that would have enacted marriage equality?  Or why he killed a major public works project –which would have been funded primarily by the federal government - to build a rail tunnel that the independent General Accounting Office found would have reduced commuting time for New Jersey residents heading to New York City and would have also created thousands of jobs.

And also lets hear about Christie’s achievements, such as the law he signed placing a 2% cap on municipal tax growth. The result was New Jersey property taxes rose in 2012 on average of  only 1.4%- the lowest in two decades.

And obviously Christie deserves accolades for not only his leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, but also for standing up to the Republicans in the House and pushing them into passing a Sandy relief package for New Jersey residents in need.

Of course, the problem with talking policy is that it’s boring. Policy discussions don’t get ratings or sell newspapers.  But talking about Christie’s weight is easy. It ‘s like the political version of the reality show, “The Biggest Loser.”

Hopefully Chirstie will lose weight for the sake of his own health. But that’s between him and his family.  However, the decisions Christie made as Governor impacts millions of people.

How about we make the news journalists an offer: You leave talking about Christie’s weight to us comedians, late night show hosts and people on social media. We have that covered.

Instead, why don’t you focus on Christie’s record as Governor. Deal?

Donald Trump's War on Comedy

04 February 2013 Published in Blog

Just when you thought Donald Trump couldn’t possibly slither to a lower level, he has done it. The paradoxically thin-skinned, yet leather-faced Trump announced Monday that he’s going to sue comedian Bill Maher for $5 million dollars in essence because of a joke Maher told mocking The Donald.

What led to Trump getting his hair all in a wad? It all started in January when Bill Maher was on “The Tonight Show” and joked that Trump was the, “spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan.” Maher’s reasoning was that the only thing in nature that has the same orange-ish color hair as Trump is an orangutan, hence, Trump must be part orangutan. A split screen of Trump and orangutan did reveal an uncanny resemblance.

Maher, to the delight of “The Tonight Show” audience, then offered to donate $5 million dollars to charity if Trump produced his birth certificate. (This $5 million number was the same amount Trump had offered in October to donate to charity if President Obama would produce his passport and college records.)

Maher even suggested some appropriate charities that Trump could donate the millions to such as, “The Hair Club for Men or the Institute for incorrigible douche baggery.” (Pretty sure Lance Armstrong is also in that Institute.)

Trump, instead of simply ignoring this joke like all other billionaires would, actually responded by producing his birth certificate to prove that he was 100% human. (Call me a “Trumper,” but I’m still not buying it’s a real birth certificate.)

Trump then demanded Maher pay up on the “offer.” Since Maher has refused to pay, Trump is now filing a lawsuit versus Maher for $5 million dollars.

Who except a publicity craving, megalomaniac could think Maher’s joke was a valid offer to pay $5 million dollars?! I’m a former lawyer, I can tell you it’s highly unlikely that any judge would find that Maher’s joke was intended by him to be a binding offer to enter into a contract with Trump. When you look at the context of the “offer” and the place it was told- “The Tonight Show”- most rational people would understand it was a joke.

Obviously, Donald Trump’s goal here- as with most things - is to attract press. He’s like a vampire who needs publicity instead of blood to survive. (Clearly his hair has been dead for years.) If we collectively ignored Trump, he might actually wither away like a vampire exposed to sunlight. And, to be honest, I would usually encourage us all to just that.

But to me, Trump has a more sinister goal with this lawsuit: To send a message that if you tell jokes about The Donald that he doesn’t like, he may sue you. Like a dictator in a third world country, his majesty Donald Trump tells us all that if we mock him, we will be punished. 

Look, if you are a public figure who has thrust yourself into the spotlight like the publicity whore Trump has, you will be the subject of jokes. That comes with the territory. But Trump hates being mocked. Think back to the White House Correspondent’s Dinner in 2011 when SNL’s Seth Meyers crushed Trump in a sea of ridiculing jokes. Trump should have simply laughed and tipped his hair to Seth.

Instead, Trump didn't crack a smile.  As the audience laughed at Trump, he increasingly looked angry. The Donald later lashed out at Seth mocking his delivery of jokes. Trump even called Seth a “stutterer.” Not sure where he heard Seth stutter – maybe there’s an echo in Trump’s empty head.

The media should not dismiss this lawsuit by Trump as simply another pathetic and desperate attempt at publicity. It’s more dangerous than that. It’s an attack on comedy. It’s an attack on freedom of expression.

My hope is that comedians, and non-comedians alike, will not back down to Trump. Instead, I propose that we make it a daily ritual to mock Trump on Twitter. In fact lets have a “Ridicule Trump Day” later this week on Twitter-Trump’s Twitter handle is @realDonaldTrump.

We shouldn't cower from this orange haired, leather faced billionaire bully. Instead we should respond in the very way he hates most: By mocking him. He can’t sue all of us! (Right?)

Presidents should not swear in on a Bible

23 January 2013 Published in Blog

(CNN) -- U.S. presidents should not be sworn into office with their hand on a Bible.

At Monday's inauguration of his second term, President Barack Obama will raise his right hand and place his left on not one, but two Bibles: One owned by Abraham Lincoln and the other by Martin Luther King Jr.

The Constitution requires he give this oath of office: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

You might recall that at his 2009 inauguration, President-elect Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts played some kind of "mad libs" with this oath during the swearing-in ceremony, muddling it so badly that they had to redo it a few days later. But why does the president swear on a Bible? Why doesn't he place his hand on the U.S. Constitution -- the very document he's promising to "preserve, protect and defend"?

The Constitution does not require that the president take the oath of office by swearing on a Bible. That would have been a very simple requirement for the constitutional drafters to include. To the contrary, the Founders wanted to ensure that Americans of any faith -- or no faith -- could hold federal office.

They set it forth plainly in Article VI: "... No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

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Give Brent Musburger a Break

10 January 2013 Published in Blog

(CNN) What's the age at which older men are no longer allowed to compliment women in their 20s on being beautiful? Is there an age when such compliments go from nice to creepy? And is there a similar rule that bars older women from calling younger men "handsome"?

We ask because of the uproar that erupted this week when 73-year-old ESPN sportscaster Brent Musburger made a slew of comments -- on air -- about the beauty of 23-year-old Katherine Webb, the reigning Miss Alabama. He did this during Monday's national championship college football game between Alabama and Notre Dame; Webb is dating Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron and was in the stands for the game.

Here's what he said when the cameras focused on Webb during the broadcast: " see that lovely lady there? She does go to Auburn, I'll admit that, but she's also Miss Alabama, and that's A.J. McCarron's girlfriend. Wow, I'm telling ya, you quarterbacks, you get all the good-looking women. What a beautiful woman! Whoa! So if you're a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around the backyard with pops."

And boom! Cue the controversy. People attacked Musburger as "creepy," for ogling her too much, for being a "dirty old man," for being sexist, inappropriate, and more. One publication even went so far as to claim that Musburger's comments are "evidence" of "a culture of domestic violence and sexual assault in football."

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NRA: Guns Don’t Kill People, Video Games Do

22 December 2012 Published in Blog

The charade of Friday’s NRA press conference was best summed up by one of the last lines uttered at it by NRA President David Keene: “…this is the beginning of a serious conversation-We won’t be taking questions today.”

Of course, neither Keene nor NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre would be taking questions. This “press conference” was not the beginning of any conversation–it was a lecture.

They were there to enlighten us. They were there to make sure that we all understood that: "It’s not guns that kill people, it’s video games." It’s movies. It’s the media. It’s “monsters.” It’s a society that worships celebrities and money. It's greedy corporate executives and shareholders. It’s foreign aid to other countries. (These were all actually referenced by Wayne LaPierre during his rambling speech.)

The one thing that Wayne LaPierre apparently doesn’t believe is responsible in any way for the shooting deaths are guns. Not the guns used in the Newtown shooting that took the lives of 20 young children and 6 adults. Not the guns used in July to kill 12 and wound 58 in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. Not the guns used to kill six people at a Sikh Temple in August. And not the guns used to kill 94 more people in the US since the Newtown shooting. Yes, 94 more people have been murdered by gun violence since December 14. (And that number will likely be higher by the time you read this.)

Instead, LaPierre claimed that violence in movies and in video games like “Grand Theft Auto” contributed to gun violence. Yet he offered no explanation for why people who live in other countries where they watch the very same movies and play the very same video games as we do, have remarkably lower numbers of people killed by guns. For example, “Grand Theft Auto” broke UK sales records for fastest selling video game with over 600,000 units sold in its first day. However, in the UK, only 51 people were killed by guns in 2011. In contrast, in the US, 8,583 people were murdered by guns in 2011.

The real difference between the US and UK isn’t that they are watching different movies or playing different video games. It's guns. We have close to 300 million guns legally owned while the UK has only approximately 1.8 million guns.

What the NRA leadership should have said – and what I know from twitter some NRA members expected they would say – is that the NRA was going to embrace sensible “human safety” laws. (To me, we should stop using the term “gun control”–I’m not concerned with controlling people’s guns, I’m concerned with saving lives.)

At the very least the NRA should have called for a few common sense changes to our laws. The first and most obvious being to close the “gun show loophole.” Our current federal law only requires background checks to determine if the purported gun buyer has a criminal record or history of mental illness if the gun is sold by a licensed firearm dealer.

However, when guns are sold by non licensed dealers, which occurs at many gun shows, no background check is required. How often does this loophole apply? Shockingly, approximately 40% of guns sold fall into the "gun show loophole." How many guns are we talking about? Estimates are that literally hundreds  of thousands of guns are sold each year to people not subject to a criminal and mental background check.

Only 19% of Americans polled want to keep the law that way. The problem is that the NRA leadership is part of this 19% and has lobbied to keep the gun show loophole intact.

How can any organization that truly cares about saving the lives of Americans ever oppose a law to ensure that the mentally ill and criminals are prohibited from buying firearms?

So what did the NRA call for at its press event? More guns. LaPierre proposed that every school in America should have an armed guard. There are roughly 100,000 public schools meaning a boon in gun sales to arm these new guards.

But here’s a glaring problem with the NRA’s proposal. At the horrific Columbine High School shooting in 1999 that left 15 dead and 23 wounded, there was an armed guard. A 15-year veteran of the Sheriff’s office was on the location. While he exchanged gunshots with one of the two shooters, he was unable to stop the shooting. How could the NRA leadership not be aware of this fact? And does this mean that every school would need two armed guards?

Will the NRA next suggest we have armed guards at every movie theater, shopping mall, Sikh temple, workplace, church – or any of the other location where mass shootings have recently occurred?

Clearly, the NRA leadership is not prepared to have an honest conversation on the issues about the role that GUNS play in the deaths of Americans. The one bright spot is that the rank and file members of the NRA disagree with the NRA elite on a growing number of issues, including 69% who favor closing gun show loophole.

The NRA leadership is at a crossroads. It can either begin to embrace policies that will save American’s lives or find the NRA marginalized to the fringes of American society. Which path will they choose? While I know that NRA leaders LaPierre and Keene aren’t taking questions right now, they may want to consider this one.

Stephen Colbert for US Senate! (Seriously)

12 December 2012 Published in Blog

The people of South Carolina have spoken: They want Stephen Colbert as their next US Senator. And yes, that Stephen Colbert from Comedy Central. And no, I’m not joking.

A new poll released Monday found that South Carolina voters favor Stephen Colbert to fill the soon to be vacated US Senate seat of Jim DeMint. Colbert came in first chosen by 20% of those polled followed by South Carolina Representatives Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy.

And Colbert apparently has some interest in the Senate seat as he announced in typical Colbert fashion on his show “The Colbert Report” this week: “My network contract prohibits me from taking on another full-time job. So, the Senate would be perfect.”

All joking aside, Stephen Colbert would likely be a great US Senator. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley seriously should not rule out appointing Colbert to fill DeMint’s seat simply because he’s a comedian.

Lets not forget that Al Franken was elected to the US Senate in 2009 after his years of being a comedy writer and cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” So how has Franken fared in his time in the US Senate? A recent poll shows that 52% of people in Franken’s home State of Minnesota approve of his work. Contrast that with generic approval polls of Congress which show that the institution is slightly more popular than syphilis.

And sure, Colbert has made some seemingly outlandish comments. But for the most part his quips are lined with political insight. We learn about the issue while laughing. Why does politics have to be so painfully boring when a little humor can make it more accessible and understandable to all?

Here are just a few of Colbert’s past comments that are both funny and poignant:

-"Contraception leads to more babies being born out of wedlock, the exact same way that fire extinguishers cause fires.”

-"If we raise taxes on corporations, what incentive will they have to make money other than the fact that it's the sole reason they exist."

-"I've long been against illegal aliens, partly because they distract us from an even bigger threat: real aliens."

And one of his best: "If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it."

Now contrast Colbert’s above statements with ones made by earlier this year by non-comedian, “professional” politicians who were the Republican Party’s actual nominees for US Senate. Congressman Todd Akin, the GOP’s Senate candidate in Missouri, offered these views on “legitimate rape” of women during this year’s campaign: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

And then came Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdoch’s comments in October: "…even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen."

If these aren’t enough to make you appreciate a Senator Colbert, then just check out some of the comments made by current South Carolina Senator DeMint. His statements often sound as outrageous as Colbert’s but they are far worse-DeMint is being serious.

Here are just a few of DeMint’s “gems”: “If a person wants to be publicly gay, they should not be teaching in the public schools.” DeMint, a national leader of The Tea Party movement, also publicly opposed allowing unwed pregnant women from teaching in public schools. 

And recently DeMint called the Obama administration the most “anti-American administration in my lifetime,” and warned that he doesn’t believe America can survive as a nation if Obama won a second term.

All of a sudden Colbert’s comments are the sane, responsible ones. Indeed, Colbert’s moderate views on many issues and his preaching for sanity in Washington, D.C. are exactly what this nation needs.

Plus, on the fun side, there’s a chance that if Colbert was appointed to the Senate he would bring some of his trademark segments with him. People would finally watch C-Span coverage of the Senate just to see if Colbert began his speeches on the Senate floor with the sounds of a screeching eagle. Or to see Colbert do his, "tip of the hat, wag of the finger" segment to the face of the Senator he was calling out.

The biggest drawback for Colbert becoming a Senator is that it’s actually a step down. And I’m not kidding. Sure, as a Senator he can vote on legislation but as the host of a TV show he has the ability to reach a national audience on a nightly basis. Most Senators can only dream of being as well known or influential on public opinion as Colbert.

America sorely needs a Senator who is not afraid to speak the truth – or at least gives us the “truthiness.” And who is better at that then a comedian? In the words of Colbert: “Sometimes it takes a crazy person to see the truth. If so, I'm a freaking lunatic.”

Don't Name Your Kid Siri

02 December 2012 Published in Blog

Siri, Mars, Mac and Luna. I'm not talking Apple products or planetary terms. These are baby names. And not just any baby names but ones that have jumped in popularity in 2012, according to Baby's just released list.

Baby Siri? Seriously, who would name their bundle of joy after a frustrating Apple product that hardly ever works? And speaking of Apple (see daughter of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin,) that name moved up a whopping 585 places on the list of names for girls born in 2012. So there could conceivably be a family out there with a daughter named Apple and a son named Siri. (Hope that entitles the family to a discount on an iMac.)

There was a time when bizarre baby naming was something only celebrities did to their kids (as if being the child of a celebrity wasn't challenging enough). There's Beyonce and Jay Z's Blue Ivy, Penn Jillette's son, Moxie Crimefighter, Bono's daughter Memphis Eve, actor Jason Lee's son Pilot Inspektor, and the list goes on and on.

But now this "condition" is apparently spreading to the rest of us. In addition to the offbeat names above, 2011 saw babies sporting such names as: Moo, Draper, Graceland and Tequila.

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Vote Damn It!

05 November 2012 Published in Blog

You'd better vote! I really want to channel my inner Samuel L. Jackson and use some truly descriptive words to convey my feelings and "strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger," but instead, I will do my best to take "the path of the righteous man."

Why vote? What does it matter? Politicians are all the same. I don't like any of them.

We have all heard these reasons from those who don't vote. In the midterm election of 2010, only about 41% of those eligible to vote actually voted. We have one of the lowest voter turnout rates among the wealthy countries in the world. Even North Korea had a voter turnout of 54% in 2012. When we are losing in voter turnout to a country that isn't even considered a democracy, you know something is really screwed up.

I don't want to give you clichéd arguments on why you should vote. We all know them. It's your civic duty as a citizen. Others have sacrificed so that you can vote. There are people in the world literally dying for the right to vote.

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