Palestinian comedian entertains HLG boosters
By Brian Koonce
HANNIBAL – A Palestinian comedian walks into a Baptist college … no, it isn’t the setup to a lame joke. It was the scene for the recent annual Booster Banquet at Hannibal-LaGrange College (HLG), headlined by Israeli-born comedian, Nazareth.
“I am from the Middle East,” he joked, “but ever since Sept. 11, I feel so Mexican. I flew in this afternoon from California and I almost missed my connecting flight because I can’t run through the airport anymore. People will tackle me.”
Nazareth Rizkallah – yes, “Nazareth” is his real name – was born in that city and lived part of his life in Kuwait before his parents sent him to Toledo, Ohio, in 1984 to get an education. A few years later, he showed up at a California comedy club for open-mic night and performed for a crowd of nine drunks. They laughed, however, and Nazareth was hooked. From there he did his act at clubs across the country, has been featured on Comedy Central and has been the opening act for the tours of the Temptations and the Righteous Brothers. Nazareth became a U.S. citizen in 1993 and he and his wife, Maha, and their three young children live in Southern California.
“My first taste of American culture was going to zoo in Toledo,” he said. “I paid $20 to see an elephant, a bull, a camel and a donkey. Where I come from, that’s a car dealership. But we do live in the greatest nation on Earth. Where else could you take French toast, and English muffin and Canadian bacon and call it ‘the All-American breakfast?’”
But as much as he loves being an American, Nazareth is most proud of being a child of God. He accepted Christ in 1992 and he and his family are members of a Baptist church in California and he is the president of the Christian Comedy Association.
“After spending eight years in this country, I thought I was free,” he said. “I was into drugs, alcohol, immorality, you name it. One night I said, ‘God, if you’re the God those boring Christians say that you are, please make me like them because they are free and have a joy I don’t have.’ I accepted Christ as my savior that night.”
His first concern as a new Christian? Finding a godly wife.
“I told God that if He want me to be married, I wouldn’t even date and would wait for Him to send me a wife. I didn’t know how to meet a Christian, godly woman. What kind of pick-up line would I use? ‘I agape you, you weaker vessel’?
“So I went to the Lord as said I wanted a beautiful wife, with a rich father, who had memorized the entire Bible. And I waited. When Valentine’s Day came and I didn’t have a date, I decided it would be OK if she didn’t have a rich father, just being beautiful and knowing the New Testament would be fine with me. Then I decided she didn’t have to be beautiful, just OK-looking and know the Book of John.”
It turns out God didn’t have a wife for Nazareth in his new country. Then, during a visit back in the Holy land, his was driving with his cousin, his fiancé, and her sister.
“He looked at me and said, ‘You have this look of joy in your eye, what’s going on?’ I told him that I had Jesus Christ in my life.” His fiancé’s sister looked up and said “me too.” I said, “Would you like to marry me?” “Let me pray and fast for three days and I’ll get back to you.” Three days later, she came back and said, “I’m starving, let’s do it!”