Iranian-American Comic Maz Jobrani Goes Solo
NEAL CONAN, host:
Maz Jobrani may very well be the face of Middle Eastern humor in America today. The Iranian-American gained attention as one of the founders of the "Axis of Evil" comedy tour, which took on the world in post-9/11. He's now on a solo tour called "Brown and Friendly," with humor that observes life outside of his ethnicity, but inside it, too.
Mr. MAZ JOBRANI (Comedian): The Persian email list, it exists. Last year, first private citizen ever to go into outer space, Iranian-American lady named, Anousheh Ansari.
(Soundbite of cheering and applause)
Mr. JOBRANI: That's right. Right. The Persians, they're clapping. They were on the email list.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. JOBRANI: My American friends don't even know this existed. I got the email. I got the email. This is it, man. This is it, man. We made it to outer space, man. We can't get through airport security.
(Soundbite of laughter, applause)
CONAN: We'd like to hear from our Iranian-American listeners today. What's it like to see your community lampooned from the inside? 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com. You can join the conversation on our website, as well. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Maz Jobrani joins us from our bureau in New York, and nice to have you with us today.
Mr. JOBRANI: Good to be here. Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And it looks like you've got a lot of fresh material.
Mr. JOBRANI: Yeah. You know, I think being an Iranian-American, you're never short of material. You know, it used to be during the Bush administration, you know, Bush provided a lot of material. And now, I've got Ahmadinejad on the other end providing me a lot of material. So I got a lot. I got a lot coming my way.
CONAN: Do you have to be careful about topical events, about how topical to be?
Mr. JOBRANI: Sometimes. You know, it depends. You know, I'm on tour all the time. So, you know, for example, like, you know, I've got a show tomorrow in Boston. So what I'll be doing is I'll be talking about some of the stuff going on in Libya and, you know, daily stuff. Now, maybe by next week, that'll change a little bit because of things that happened between now and then. But, you know, I guess the topical stuff is just - the shelf life is kind of short.
Mr. JOBRANI: You know, that's the only thing.
CONAN: Yeah. And you're working new material into the act all the time, and the show that that material was taken from was, I guess, what, two years old, that particular performance.
Mr. JOBRANI: Yeah. That particular thing right there was from a couple of years ago, the "Brown and Friendly" DVD and the special that came out. So, you know, like I said, you know, that, you know, that news was older. So I've kind of - I don't do that joke anymore. As a matter of fact, when I just heard it, I was like, oh, yeah. I remember that joke.
CONAN: Yeah. I could still work that in.
Mr. JOBRANI: Yeah, I could. (unintelligible)
CONAN: Well, I was interested because I was watching some of your "Axis of Evil" comedy tour routine and realized there were same joke in that - is in that. Do you still do the I married tech support joke?
Mr. JOBRANI: Yeah. The I married - you know, I did - I married an Indian woman, and so I used to joke about, you know, I married tech support. But that's actually evolved now. And, again, I'm always changing. So now my joke about being married to my wife, I say, you know, I say, I'm Iranian-American. She's Indian-American, not American Indian. And I go, the difference is, you know, Indian-American means they were in India. They decided to come to America, take the citizenship test, become American. American Indian means they were hanging out, some Europeans showed up. They were like, you're Indian. They go, what? And they're like, well, here's some cigarettes and casinos. Shut up. And that's how that went down.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Okay. Yeah, that is a new variant...
Mr. JOBRANI: Yeah.
CONAN: ...of the joke.
Mr. JOBRANI: Yeah.
CONAN: How do you decide when to cycle a new joke in, saying - and saying this is getting a little stale?
Mr. JOBRANI: You know, I feel - sometimes I feel - if I go back to a city, you know, more than once a year, which I tend not to - the good thing is, luckily, I've been able to perform all over the world. So I've been to the Middle East. I've been to Australia, Europe. So I get to, you know, take about a year to a year and a half to get back to a city. So if - but if for some reason I end up in a city, you know, more than once a year, I sometimes feel it from the audience, where I'm, like, oh, man. They've heard this.
Mr. JOBRANI: You know? And part of it might be even in your own head. You might be, like, in your own head, going, oh, man, I did this. So what I do is, a lot of times, is - I go, okay. What material am I doing now? And from the last time I was here, what's happened that might be newer material?
So, for example, I just had a daughter, and I'm doing material about having a new baby girl. So, you know, next week when I'm in D.C., I know that I've not -I haven't done that so I'll know that that's new material. The same thing with - I do a whole bit about - I did a seven-country tour of the Middle East last year. I haven't been to D.C. now for almost two years, so I know that that's new material for the D.C. show. It's like, okay, that's new. So that's kind of how I judge it.
CONAN: We're talking with Maz Jobrani, the founding - a founding member of the Axis of Evil comedy tour, now on a new solo tour, "Brown and Friendly."
We'd like to hear from our Iranian-American listeners today. What is it like to see your community lampooned from the inside? 800-989-8255. Email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
And we'll start with Mojie(ph), Mojie with us from Tucson.
MOJIE (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I want to say shalom to Maz or Maziar. And I am delighted that you do what you're doing, in part because what you do by quote-unquote "lampooning" the community from the inside, you help the community come out of invisibility and to come out of the clam of fear that it has got into because of the larger prejudice that exists in the, you know, larger - especially American community.
So that the - you know, the people from outside the community get educated about what the community is like even though you joke about it, even though you use stereotypes, but you make fun of the stereotypes. And that's wonderful in terms of creating dialogue.
Mr. JOBRANI: Thanks, Mojie. I appreciate that. First of all, shalom to you as well and also Happy Nowruz. It's Persian New Year next week, so I think I'm going to start...
MOJIE: Happy Nowruz to you.
Mr. JOBRANI: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
CONAN: All right. Mojie, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.
MOJIE: Thank you.
CONAN: Given that, I don't know if you are following the news today, Maz Jobrani, but are you going to be working the Peter King hearings up on Capitol Hill into your act?
Mr. JOBRANI: You know what? I got to see - you know, I've been following that a little bit. You know, I haven't found the jokes in it yet. You know, I feel -right now it feels like - even though the stuff that's going on in Libya is really atrocious, it feels like Moammar Gadhafi provides, you know, material, you know, kind of - he's the one out in the lead with material providing.
You know, I was saying that - you know, the most recent things I've been saying is that he sounds so crazy now. You know, he's so crazy, he makes Ahmadinejad sound sane. And then I was talking about how - I don't if - I mean he came out and he said recently said that Americans were providing drugs to the protesters, then America froze his assets. And he said, no, no, I meant al-Qaida, not America. You misunderstood me. It's al-Qaida. Please unfreeze my assets.
CONAN: Interesting. There's another situation going on in the country today, with gasoline prices now on a national average up over $3.50 a gallon. This is one of your bits. I think this is from the Axis of Evil. You might want to reconsider this one, recycle this.
(Soundbite of "Axis of Evil" tour recording)
Mr. JOBRANI: People think just because I'm from the Middle East I'm an expert on the Middle East. So, like, I got a friend, like, any time the gas prices go up, he'll always ask my opinion about it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. JOBRANI: He'll always point at me. Hey, Maz. Hey, Maz. In your opinion, what's going on with this gas thing? What's going to happen? What's going on? Fifty words or less, break it down, would you? You're my Middle Eastern friend. Like, dude, I don't work at OPEC. I don't know. I pay the same price as you, you know? Like, I don't know, like, the discount pump at the gas station.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. JOBRANI: I don't walk in, like, hi, Jose. Discount pump (unintelligible)
(Soundbite of applause)
CONAN: Maz Jobrani from - I think that was from the "Axis of Evil" tour. Am I right about that?
Mr. JOBRANI: That was from "Axis of Evil." And, you know, it just goes to show you ,the more things change, the more things stay the same.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. JOBRANI: I don't need to write anything. I just recycle.
CONAN: You recycle the material. You work up enough material, you can keep doing that forever, just like Rodney Dangerfield.
Mr. JOBRANI: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. Just - you know, it is cyclical. It's funny. I actually went back and I looked at - I love to look at old magazines. I was flipping through a magazine from, like, 1979 or something, and it was very similar, like, it was, you know - at the time it was, I guess, Egypt and Israel were - just come to the peace, you know...
Mr. JOBRANI: ...peace accords. But there was conflict there. There was some oil price problems. It felt like I could have just changed the date on the cover of the magazine. It feels like it's just cyclical. It keeps happening.
CONAN: Let's go to our faithful caller from Tehran. Amir is with us.
AMIR (Caller): Hi, Neal. And Happy Nowruz to your guest over there.
Mr. JOBRANI: Hi. Happy Nowruz to you too.
AMIR: Well, first of all, let me say that we Iranians on this side of the pond or on this side of the ocean, actually, are truly proud of your achievement on what you're doing over there.
I know this is NPR and you're not supposed to talk about file sharing, but many Iranians have downloaded your DVD and have listened to your fabulous comments. And it is a great achievement for an Iranian over there.
CONAN: His lawyers will be in touch with you soon, Amir.
Mr. JOBRANI: Absolutely. No, I appreciate that. You know, it's funny. This reminds me - when we did the "Axis of Evil" comedy tour, we went to Jordan to do some shows. And when we landed, the Jordanian promoter was saying, you know, we've seen all your stuff. It's fantastic. And I said, oh, how'd you see it? He goes, well, on the DVD. I said, oh, I didn't know we had a DVD distribution deal in Jordan. He goes, no, no, one person brought it. Everybody saw it. So it feels like it's pretty common in the Middle East now.
CONAN: Do people there in Tehran, Amir, trade back and forth - well, not only file shares but burn DVDs and exchange them?
AMIR: Yeah, sure. And many people have even managed to translate DVD. And different versions of the translations are just circulating around here. That is so exciting.
CONAN: Well, Amir, as always, thanks very much for the phone call. We appreciate it.
AMIR: Oh, I still have just one final question, if I may ask it.
CONAN: Go ahead.
AMIR: This is for Maz, of course: How is it that the name of our country is pronounced so differently? For example, we have a country in the Middle East and it gets pronounced as Iran, Iran, Iran and some say Iranian, Iranian. Have you ever managed to poke fun of this?
Mr. JOBRANI: Yeah, you know, I made fun - I used to do a joke about how when I was in the fourth grade and the hostage situation happened, there was a sixth grader who welcomed me to America by calling me an F-ing Iranian. And my response to him was, like, first of all, dude, it's not Iranian, it's Iranian. And secondly, you're bigger than me, so it's whatever you want it to be. And then I go on.
And actually, in the joke I talk about how - what the guy never took into consideration was that one day I grew up and get to perform all over the world and I could tell them, ladies and gentlemen, and then I say his name, Jim so-and-so is a jerk, or whatever - I reveal his name. So I kind of bring up the Iranian-Iranian thing. 'Cause it's kind of like - Iranians in America, at least, it's kind of like someone's scratching their nails on a chalk board when they say Iranian. It's just - it's almost - I don't know - it's an insult to me.
CONAN: Amir, thanks again.
AMIR: It's a pleasure. And hope to see your shows in Iran, preferably in Persian.
Mr. JOBRANI: Yes, I will work my way out there as soon as I know that they're not going to, you know, arrest me and throw me in jail as soon as I arrive.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: We're talking with Maz Jobrani, who's on tour, "Brown and Friendly." He's at our New York bureau. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's go next to Farouk(ph), and Farouk is with us from Riyadh.
FAROUK (Caller): Hi, Neal. Hi, Maz.
CONAN: Hi, Farouk.
Mr. JOBRANI: Hi, Farouk.
FAROUK: First of all, I'd like to say I'm a big fan of both of you. I listen to, you know, Neal all the time. And I have the fortune of seeing one of you -Maz's shows in Riyadh when he was over here last year.
Mr. JOBRANI: Yeah, did you see the one that was out by the animal preserve, out in the middle of the desert?
FAROUK: Yeah, exactly. The one where it was all windy and it almost rained and, you know, it was like a hike and a trek to get there.
Mr. JOBRANI: Yeah, you know, somebody told me it had not rained in a while, and then I go out there and it starts raining. I felt like the rainmaker.
FAROUK: There you go. There you have it.
CONAN: You could make a living doing that in Saudi Arabia.
(Soundbite of laughter)
FAROUK: (Unintelligible) We had a great time, you know, and we look forward to having you down here again, man. It was good fun.
Mr. JOBRANI: I hope so, man. That was fun. You know, we did the show. There was - there's an animal preserve that I guess one of the princes owns that's supposed to be - the property that we were doing it on was supposed to be like the size of Bahrain or something, some ridiculous huge place. And they told me while I was doing my show there was lions just a couple hundred feet away. I guess they were sleeping, thank God. So...
FAROUK: Yeah, there were a couple of them. There were a couple them. We actually went and threw some well, we had a look at them.
Mr. JOBRANI: You threw okay, okay. I didn't throw anything just, so people know. Animal lovers, Maz did nothing.
FAROUK: Thank you for taking my comments.
CONAN: And Farouk, thanks for listening and thanks very much for the call.
FAROUK: Thank you, sir.
CONAN: We wanted to play another cut. This is - you talked about that routine you said about what it was like for you just after you moved to the country. And this is, I think, well (unintelligible) I think this is a universal immigrant experience about trying to blend in.
(Soundbite of recording)
Mr. JOBRANI: I was six years old, and when you first come to this country, you try and blend in as much as you can. So I would do whatever it took to blend in. I would play baseball. I would eat apple pie. I would eat apple pie while playing baseball - whatever it took.
And things will be going great. I'll be at the playground, playing with my friends - Sam, Brett, Jessie. Life is good. Sure, my name is Maz, but they don't know where that's from. They don't know, right? Everything is cool, until my dad would come by to pick me up.
And he would show up in his Mercedes Benz, which is standard Persian-issue car, and he would have the car filled with the entire family. For some reason we can't go anywhere with two of us. There's got to be like 50 of us in the car.
I don't know why, any time you see a car filled with people, it's either Middle Easterners or Mexicans. It's one of those two. Even for short trips, my dad would be like, okay, everybody in the car. We're going two blocks to pick up Maz. Get grandmother in there, get grandma, everybody. Get the rooster. Put the rooster in the car. Put the rooster.
CONAN: And Maz, I think your - that particular special was dedicated to your dad.
Mr. JOBRANI: Yeah. My father actually passed away, you know, just around that same time. So, yeah, I dedicated that to him. And, you know, he was an amazing person. You know, when I think about my sense of humor now a lot of times, I think a lot of it came from him.
And if nothing else, you know, I owe him bringing us to America. I mean, you know, we came late '78 and a lot of people chose to stay or they couldn't get out. And my father really gave me and my family and my brothers and sister really an opportunity, so - to come to America. And, you know, I wouldn't be a comedian now if I were in Iran. I'm pretty sure.
CONAN: Where do you go from here? I know to Boston for that show, but after this?
Mr. JOBRANI: I got - I'm going to be at the Warner in D.C. next Saturday night. I'm really looking forward to that. It's a beautiful theater. And then from there, I'm all over the place, you know, I'm going be in Vegas...
CONAN: I actually meant where do you hope to go in your career?
Mr. JOBRANI: Oh, I - sorry about that. You ask a comedian - you ask a comedian where you're going, you're like, well, I'll be Wichitaw on Friday...
CONAN: Got to plug the show. Got to plug the show.
Mr. JOBRANI: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, you know, it's in the blood. No, in the career, you know, I'm actually trying, Neal, I'm trying to pitch a TV show. It's hard, you know, a TV show based on an Iranian American.
So I'm really going to try make webisodes based on it. And it's kind of like I'm calling it "My Two Worlds," where - and this had happened - like in the Middle East I'm very well-known, whenever I do shows out there, so I feel like I'm a - like a rock star out there.
And then you come to Los Angeles and, you know, you got to sit, you know, and audition for a Burger King commercial or something. So I'm trying to do kind of a thing like that to kind of show the two worlds.
CONAN: Well, good luck with that. Maz Jobrani, we appreciate your time today.
Mr. JOBRANI: Thanks for having me, Neal. I really appreciate it.
CONAN: Maz JOBRANI is on his "Brown and Friendly" tour, with us from our bureau in New York. Tomorrow, TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. Joe Palca is hosting this week. He'll be looking at why nearly half of Americans say they rarely get a good night's sleep.
We'll be back with you on Monday. Have a great weekend, everybody. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
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