Maz Jobrani Explains Why It's Way Harder to Tell a Joke in the Middle East
When it comes to supplying laughs, Iranian-American comedian Maz Jobrani enjoys his share of racial banter. Born in Iran and raised in California, he delivers jokes rooted in his own heritage, mixing in jabs at his family, upbringing, even audience members. Before he headlines the Brea Improv February 21st through 23rd, Maz talked to us about keeping humor "PC" around the globe, plans for keeping his career fresh and evolving, and whether he thinks Shahs of Sunset is properly representing his peeps. Sorry, we just had to ask.
OC Weekly (Ali Lerman): First off, I have to know if you're loving the Shahs of Sunset as much as I am. I'm kind of obsessed.
Maz Jobrani: Hilarious. I think it's kind of funny because we've gone from being labeled as terrorists to people who are always drunk, so I think that will endear us more to the American people in general. [Laughs.] I'm not bothered by it at all. Some people in the community are like, "No, we are better than this! We are lawyers and doctors." I'm like, whatever, all of those shows are really entertaining. I always think if you take it too seriously you are probably watching the wrong channel. Reality shows are the modern day soap opera.
Do you have to tone down your jokes in other countries because of sexual and religious guidelines?
If you go to like Jordan, Lebanon or even Egypt, you'll see a lot more authentic culture there. When we first went there and started doing shows the promoters would say, "Guys, stay away from sex, religion and politics." We'd be like, great, now there's nothing we can talk about! But what they meant is local politics. If you are in Dubai, you can make fun of the former President of Egypt or the President in Iran and they don't care. With religion and sex, a lot of people in the Middle East go to shows with their families. I think they're a little wary of you doing jokes when there is a guy with his little daughter there. But I've also done shows in night clubs where the promoters will be like, "Do whatever you want."
Have you ever been put in the position where you've had anyone demanding an apology like we keep seeing these days?
Yeah, that whole thing is really crazy. I saw once that Katt Williams said something to a Mexican-American at a show and it went viral and people were like, "You should apologize!" He went on CNN and I actually liked what he was saying because he basically told the reporter, "Look, I'm a comedian. This is what I do. I'm not going to apologize for what I do." I was like, 'Right on man, way to go!'"
Any specific time you can remember?
One time, there were two kids sitting in the front of my show and it was on a hot day. The host went on stage and mentioned that these two guys looked really sunburnt and then I went on stage and looked down at them and was like, "Boy you guys are really sunburnt" and did a couple of jokes about it and moved on. A couple of days later, I got an e-mail from a guy who came with those two kids saying that they had a rare skin condition. I was like, "Aww I feel like an asshole!" So I sent them a letter apologizing because I felt really bad for making fun of them without even knowing it Luckily, they accepted it.
I keep hearing about a TV show called Nobody Trusts Maz. What's up with that?
You know, CBS passed on the script. Every year they buy like 30 or 40 scripts and three or four of them get picked up. The good news is that I'm on the radar. The other good news is that we're going to try to see if another network will do it. It's still on life support and not fully dead, so wish me luck! I'm also making a movie called Jimmy Vestvood, Amerikan Hero. We just did a fundraiser and raised some good money, so hopefully we'll be shooting that soon, too.
It seems like it's been awhile since you've done [the Improv in] Brea. How's the set looking?
My comedy is always evolving and I'm always working on new material. So it'll be some of the stuff from my special I Come in Peace that just came out. I try to get to Brea at least once a year because it's kind of like a launching pad for my newer material. The main thing people should know is that it's a totally international show. I think if people come out they'll see some really good stuff and have a really great night!
Maz Jobrani performs at the Brea Improv, 120 South Brea Blvd. 92821, (714) 482-0700; www.Improv.com. February 21st-23rd. For more info, v3isit www.Mazjobrani.com or follow him on Twitter: @MazJobrani.