Comedy can be powerful stuff. On the surface, sure, it’s lighthearted and fun. See, but that’s how they getcha. One minute you’re innocently laughing away at a standup comedian; before you know it your world-view has shifted slightly.
Maz Jobrani, an Iranian-born American comic, has his work cut out for him, given the histrionics in the mainstream media about his native land. He’s been plugging away for the last 10 years, talking about his experience of being a Middle Easterner in America. You’d think that after 9/11, with W. calling out Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, things would be more difficult for entertainers like Jobrani. Not so. At least not professionally.
Following the terrorist attacks, Jobrani toned down his act a notch before realizing just how valuable his profession is. “I thought at first that the world was going to come together and rally around a central cause,” he says by cellphone from his Los Angeles home. “Then you see that they’re leading us into a war with Iraq and there’s rights being taken away and falsely accused people and all this other stuff. And you go, ”˜Wait a minute! It’s my job to bring these things to the forefront.’ So that’s inspired me to talk more about those issues.”
That’s the explicit message of his comedy, but there’s a more subtle one, too. Just by getting up on-stage and being a regular dude, Jobrani, who is bringing his act to the River Rock Show Theatre on Sunday (March 16), is representing the typical Iranian who doesn’t get depicted often in the media. “If you believe what you see in the news, you would think that Iranians are savages,” he says. “But the fact is they’re very westernized, they’re very hip—very much into the western culture and educated.”
Depeche Mode said it best: “People are people so why should it be/You and I should get along so awfully?” Not all Muslims are religious zealots, and not all religious zealots are Muslims.
“When I did my Tonight Show set, I tried to make a point that Bush and Ahmadinejad actually have a lot in common and they’re both playing the same card,” he says. “They’re both millennialists, they’re both highly religious, and they’re both on the extreme. Neither one of them is in the middle going, ”˜Hey, let’s really figure this thing out and move on with it.’ ”
In 2005, Jobrani cofounded the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, featuring three other comics of Middle Eastern descent. Luckily for him, Americans have short memories. You would think registering a name like that would cause some problems. Apparently not.
“I’ve gone to deposit stuff [at a bank] for Axis of Evil and people don’t even flinch,” he says. “You know what’s interesting? I’ve had people go, ”˜Access of Evil? Like A-C-C-E-S-S?’ I’m like, ”˜No! Remember “Axis of Evil”? The George Bush speech?’ They’re like, “Hmmm”¦ Nope, don’t remember it.’ ”
Opening for Jobrani on Sunday is Vancouver comic and fellow Iranian Reza Peyk, who’s a big fan of his American counterpart.
“He’s huge with the Middle Easterners because we don’t have figures like him at all,” Peyk explains to the Straight. “He’s kind of like our Michael Jackson.”
Jobrani loves giving young comics the chance to perform in front of large crowds, and Peyk knows it’s a golden opportunity. His goal? “Make sure I do well and go out with a bang,” he says. “Not a Middle Eastern bang—a friendly one.”