Evil Genius Uses His Comic Powers For Peace

Maz Jobrani is a funny guy with a serious message. The Iranian comic joined the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour—which ended last May—hoping to encourage peace through comedy

“There are not a lot of Middle Eastern comedians,” explains Jobrani, who was raised in the Bay Area after his departure from Iran. Before the comedic route, he received his bachelor’s degree in political science and Italian from UC Berkeley. The political science-bit comes as no surprise from a comic who gently pokes fun at political leaders and situations, but the Italian is funny considering that Jobrani often riffs on Persian guys who pretend to be Italian. “When we were growing up, [Persians] had no one in the media to look up to. So it was Pacino, De Niro and mob movies,” he says.

His Axis of Evil routine also pokes fun at Iranians, who refer to themselves as “Persian” to eliminate the stigma of being from a country designated as part of the “Axis of Evil.” “Persian sounds nicer and friendlier,” he clarifies. “Persian, like the cat, meeoooww. Like the rug.”

The Axis of Evil show has been a success both in the U.S., where Jobrani found that his audiences were generally open-minded, and in the Middle East, where exposure to American TV and media means that everyone “speaks perfect English and gets all the American references.”

In person, Jobrani is charming and very mellow, saving his “on” moments for the stage. “[Performing] live is great because you get fired up, it feels great, and then you go and have a drink afterwards,” he says, trying to explain the unique rush of doing standup. Despite his love of comedy, Jobrani is mostly an actor, who says he wanted to “do drama to try the other side.” With roles in prominent film and television productions such as The Interpreter, 13 Going on 30, Friday After Next and 24, as well as a guest-starring role in Better off Ted, a new pilot on ABC, his acting career has really taken off.

Jobrani’s latest role, in the independent film Overnight, directed by Valerie Breiman, will be doing the festival circuit this year. The script weaves together several stories taking place on a redeye from LA to NY. Jobrani plays an uptight Middle Eastern guy who looks suspicious to some fellow travelers, but turns out to be one half of a married gay couple. He enjoyed that role immensely, as it turns Hollywood stereotypes, where Middle Easterners only play “bad guys or goofy cab drivers,” on their ear. “I told my agent, no more terrorist parts,” says Jobrani.

With the Axis of Evil Tour over, he is working on new material for a one-hour special he hopes to pitch to Comedy Central, hbo or Showtime. This time around, Jobrani’s beautiful wife, who is Indian, “not casino Indian, computer Indian,” and their three-month old son Dara, his newest comic inspiration, are finding their way into his routines.

Jobrani likes to practice at LA’s Comedy Store, which he calls “the Gold’s Gym of comedy,” to see what gets the most laughs and building on those nuggets. “The beauty of standup is immediate feedback,” he says. “The downside is having to travel to constantly find new audiences, and the screwed up hours.” What’s next? Jobrani will embark on a national solo tour, tentatively called Maz Jobrani: Brown and Friendly.

TEXT BY Karena Akhavein
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Nick Saglimbeni