Thursday, January 3, 2013

An Interview with Maz Jobrani

The first time I saw Maz Jobrani's act was when I was doing a research for a presentation about Standup Comedy. During the presentation I showed clips of Ellen Degeneres, Rodney Dangerfield, Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld and to my surprise the biggest laughs came when I showed Maz Jobrani's act taken from the "Axis of Evil" comedy tour.
Maz was born in Tehran in 1972 and his parents moved to California when he was six years old. He was raised in Tiburon in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jobrani studied political science and Italian at UC Berkeley, where he received a B.A. degree. He was enrolled in a Ph.D. program at UCLA when he decided to pursue his childhood dream of acting and performing comedy.
Maz Jobrani is best known as a founding member of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, which featured some of the top Middle Eastern-American comics in the world. The Axis of Evil Comedy Central Special premiered in 2007 as the first show on American TV with an all Middle Eastern/American cast. The DVD was also released in 2007.  The tour started in the US and later went to the Middle East in the fall of 2007, selling out 27 shows in Dubai, Beirut, Cairo, Kuwait and Amman (where they performed in front of the King and Queen of Jordan.) Maz is currently on his own solo tour titled “Maz Jobrani; Brown and Friendly”, which again is taking him all over the world including the US, Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.

Last May while visiting New York City I was delighted to find out that Maz was appearing in Carolines Comedy club and I got to see him performing live. After the show I e-mailed Maz and he was kind enough to agree to be interviewed over the e-mail.

The Standup Comedy Center: It seems that the best standup comedians are people who either had a bad childhood or were outcast as individuals or because they belong to a certain group. Is this the reason in your case?
Maz: I had a great childhood. However, I did move from Iran to America when I was 6. I think moving to a place so foreign as a kid makes you learn to blend in and cope with your new surroundings. One of the ways to do that is through comedy. So I tried to make people laugh early on and now I earn a living doing it.

The Standup Comedy Center: Where were you on 9/11? Do you have a good alibi?
Maz: I was in a cave in Afghanistan. But I was just there camping – I swear!

The Standup Comedy Center: What is the most surprising reaction you got from people who saw your act?
Maz: The most surprising reaction is when during the Iraq war I would make fun of George Bush and a few times I had marines come up to me and say how much they appreciated what I was doing. Shows you that not everyone takes what they’re fed at face value.

The Standup Comedy Center:  If your family didn't immigrate to the US from Iran, do you think you also would have become a standup artist?
Maz: I strongly doubt that. I would probably be a business man or a doctor or something. But I’d still try to tell jokes during surgery.

The Standup Comedy Center:  As a person who studied political science what is your take on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
Maz: He’s like Iran’s George Bush. Gives me and other comedians plenty of material to work with.
The Standup Comedy Center:  Which is a better language for doing standup English or Iranian?

Maz:  I only do it in English. In Iran we have jokes like “two guys are walking down the street and one says to the other…” Those are jokes. In the American style of standup you don’t tell jokes as much as you talk about your life and make it funny. That’s what I do. (By the way, the language is Farsi not Iranian.)

The Standup Comedy Center:  What is your best joke?
Maz:  Here’s one I wrote a long time ago to show the atrocities of war – “How many Iraqis does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, they have no electricity!”

The Standup Comedy Center:  Complete this joke: A Jew, American and an Iranian walk into a bar…
Maz: And world peace is finally reached.

The Standup Comedy Center:  Who many days in a year you are on the road?
Maz: Lots!

The Standup Comedy Center:  In which films and TV programs did you participated. Were you type cast as a terrorist?
Maz:  Early on I did a couple of terrorist parts (Chuck Norris movie of the week and the TV show “24”.) After that I told my agents “no more terrorist parts!” So I haven’t worked in 8 years. (Just kidding. Actually people can see my work at

The Standup Comedy Center:  Any plans on doing your act in Israel?
Maz: Would love to. Been all over the Middle East. Want to do Israel as well as Ramallah and other parts out there.

The Standup Comedy Center:  If you were the US president what would you do differently?
Maz:  I actually think Barak is doing a good job. I might shorten the work week to 4 days just so weekends would be longer and there’d be less traffic.

The Standup Comedy Center:  Any final words of wisdom?
Maz: Never say “what if”. My grandfather used to always say, “if my aunt had a penis she’d be my uncle.”

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