Maz Jobrani of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour
by Sheila Musaji
Maz Jobrani is an American-Iranian comedian. He was invited to give a Ted Talk which is unusual for a comedian. Even more unusual, Maz Jobrani was selected in 2011 to be included in the Muslim 500: the World’s 500 Most Inluential Muslims.
Here is the bio from Maz Jobrani’s website:
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 followed up his Axis of Evil Tour with his own solo tour titled “Maz Jobrani; Brown and Friendly”, which again took him all over the world including the US, Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Australia. The “Brown and Friendly” Comedy Special premiered on Showtime in the Fall of 2009 and is now out on DVD at http://www.MazJobrani.com I-tun,es and Amazon.com. Maz is currently on his second solo tour titled “Browner and Friendlier.”
In movies Maz starred in the role of “Moly” in Ice Cube’s “Friday After Next.” He also played Secret Service Agent “Mo” in the Sydney Pollack thriller “The Interpreter,” opposite Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman as well as Jennifer Garner’s colleague, Glenn, in “13 Going on 30.” In television he most recently guest starred on FOX’s “Traffic Light” and NBC’s “Perfect Couples.” In 2010 he shot a pilot directed by Barry Sonnenfeld for ABC titled “Funny in Farsi” and recurred on ABC’s “Better off Ted.” He has been a regular on ABC’s “Knights of Prosperity” as well as FOX’s “Life on a Stick.” He has also Guest Starred on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, “The West Wing”, “24”, “NYPD Blue”, “ER” and much more.
In 2008 Maz sold a TV show to CBS based on his life as an Iranian-American in the United States. The show was best described as a Middle Eastern “Everybody Loves Raymond.” He is also preparing to shoot a film titled “Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero” – a cross between a Middle Eastern “Pink Panther” and “Bend it Like Beckham.” (Jimmy can be seen at http://www.jimmyvestvood.com).
Maz has done standup on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” “Lopez Tonight,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn,“ Comedy Central’s “Premium Blend,” and England’s Paramount 2 Network. He is also a recurring panelist on NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” and has his own podcast with 2 other comedians called “Minivan Men.” His sketch comedy performances at the ACME Theater in Los Angeles were hailed as “devilishly funny” and “extraordinary” by LA Weekly.
Maz was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he caught the acting bug after portraying the lead in his eighth grade production of “Li’l Abner.” He studied theater throughout high school, and then went on to earn a BA in Political Science and Italian at UC Berkeley. In the fall of 1994, while beginning a Ph.D. program in Political Science at UCLA, he visited the university’s prestigious theater program – and was immediately hooked back on acting. This led to him dropping out of the Ph.D. program to pursue his childhood passion.
James Poniewozik in Time Magazine called the Axis of Evil tour Stand-Up Diplomacy.
Siran Babayan wrote a portrait of Maz Jobrani Two Guys Walk Into a Mosque ...
As an Iranian-American stand-up comic and actor, Maz Jobrani is guaranteed to have enough comic material until his grandchildren are driving a Mercedes, the “standard Persian-issue car.” Of course, it helps to come from part of the world where political turmoil has existed since chariots were the standard-issue vehicle.
Arab and Muslim families like their offspring to become professionals. So when the Tehran-born, Bay Area–raised Jobrani broke the news that he’d been bitten by the acting bug, his folks were none too happy. “When I told my parents I wanted to be an actor, my mom was, like, ‘I think I heard you say lawyer.’
“She and my grandmother recommended that I think about backup plans. She said, ‘Do something people need. Be a mechanic. You can fix cars.’ She went from lawyer to mechanic. But now she’s my biggest fan.”
She’s not the only one. After launching his career more than 10 years ago as a regular at the Comedy Store, thanks to owner Mitzi Shore, Jobrani has been steadily spreading his timely brand of post-9/11 Muslim-versus–non-Muslim humor, including on the nationwide Axis of Evil tours, which featured other Arab and Muslim comics.
“I don’t have a discount pump,” he jokes whenever he’s asked about the rise in gas prices.
Jobrani has had similar success in the Middle East — albeit by replacing the “penis” in penis jokes with “ding dong.” He insists that he’s performed to mixed audiences abroad, even in fundamentalist-dominated countries, where public events are organized like underground raves, and where Facebook serves as an online coffee shop.
“A promoter found this place, a farm an hour outside of Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), which a prince owns,” Jobrani recalls. “And it’s supposed to be bigger than the country of Bahrain. He’s got a racetrack on it, as well as an animal preserve. And going into my David Hasselhoff fetish, I raced a BMW around this track. It hasn’t rained in Riyadh for two years, and, of course, the night I come on, there’s lightning. So basically, I’m the rainmaker.”
Jobrani hasn’t always gotten the royal treatment as far as film and TV work go. Like many dark-skinned, non-Hispanic actors, Jobrani has been offered his share of terrorist roles, ranging from an Afghan bomb-maker in a regrettable early Chuck Norris TV movie-of-the-week to his stint on 24 as an “ambivalent terrorist” who changes his mind halfway through the mission.
“You see so much of that in the news,” Jobrani says. “I want to counter that. I want to show another side of Middle Easterners. My hope is that I would be able to play a variety of parts, and not always be the guy with the accent.”
That accent, though, might be his ticket to a wider audience. Earlier this year, Jobrani and director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black, Get Shorty) completed a pilot for a Wonder Years–style ABC sitcom in which Jobrani plays the family patriarch based on Funny in Farsi, Firoozeh Dumas’ 2003 memoir of growing up Iranian-American in Newport Beach in the ‘70s.
He’s also co-writing what he hopes to be a feature film starring a character named “Jimmy Vestvood,” a cologne-dousing rug salesman and amateur crime fighter who still lives with his mother in that Persian principality outside Iran, Westwood. Jobrani calls the script “an Iranian Pink Panther meets Bend It Like Beckham. The tagline is, ‘You don’t need to be an American to be an American hero.’ ”
Until then, let’s hope Jobrani is prepared should he be pulled over when he crosses state lines (who knew performing in Saudi Arabia would be easier than in Arizona?). “There’s too much heat on them,” Jobrani says when asked what he thinks of the desert state’s new immigration policy. “They need to be in the shade.”
Deadline Hollywood has just reported (Oct. 2012) that CBS is planning a multi-ethnic family comedy sitcom starring Jobrani.