In late 2016, Maz Jobrani had a distinct vision for his upcoming Netflix special. But following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, Jobrani’s vision underwent a total metamorphosis. On August 1, Netflix premieres his bold, unapologetic new special, Immigrant, a brilliant, no-holds barred comedic state-of-the-union tour de force.
Born in Tehran, Iran, Jobrani emigrated to the United States at the age of six. He was enrolled in a Ph.D. program at UCLA when he decided to chase his passion and pursue a career in acting and stand-up. In 2007, Jobrani captured the country’s attention with his Axis of Evil comedy special (along with Ahmed Ahmed, Aron Kader, and Dean Obeidallah). He has gone on to appear in films (including The Interpreter and Friday After Next), television (multiple appearances on late night television as well as a role on the CBS series Superior Donuts), and has written his memoir, I’m Not a Terrorist, But I’ve Played One On TV.
For this Netflix special, Jobrani was looking to tape something with an international flair. But once “The Donald” became the President, he realized he wanted to address the orange-skinned elephant in the room. “We were looking at taping the special in Istanbul. Then we thought about doing a show in Israel and a show in Palestine, but the logistics got in the way,” Jobrani said in an interview with The Interrobang. “Once the election happened – I had been writing a lot about Trump anyway, but then the travel ban was announced and I felt like I had to become part of the resistance, in a way.”
“I felt personally affected by the travel ban,” Jobrani said. “I was born in Iran. I’m an immigrant. I started hearing all these stories. There was one on NPR about a Syrian family that was living in a refugee camp. They had been approved to come in. They have sold all their belongings and had been vetted for three years . They were ready to come in and then the travel ban came and they were told that they couldn’t enter the U.S. I thought of myself at 6 years old,” he said. “I can’t imagine if I had been fleeing that revolution and had arrived in America, touched down at JFK, and then been told I had to go back to Iran where there was a revolution going on. Just psychologically, I couldn’t imagine it. That really upset me.”
With U.S. politics first and foremost on his mind, Jobrani began writing new material. Instead of filming the Netflix special overseas, he decided to bring it to the the Beltway, taping it over two shows at the Kennedy Center.
Whereas his act typically stressed the commonalities between cultures and families, Immigrant took on a decidedly more political tone. “I had been doing a lot of Trump material in other parts of the country, but to do it in D.C. was very different since they’re so in touch with the political climate,” Jobrani said. “It was electric. I would just mention Kellyanne Conway and they would start booing. I was like, ‘calm down, let me do the joke.’” The “cover art” image for Immigrant shows a grinning, towheaded prepubescent Jobrani superimposed over the American flag, a vision of innocence and a poster child for the American dream. Given the current political climate, it’s a surprisingly jarring juxtaposition. “I decided to call it Immigrant and use a picture of myself at a young age just to show that the people being affected by this travel ban are real people,” he said. “They’re kids. They’re grandparents. They’re people who want to live the American dream.”
Naturally, Jobrani’s stance hasn’t won over many Trump diehards, including some who have trolled him on social media. When Jobrani tweeted about his 70-year-old aunt having trouble getting a visa to travel abroad, he was accused by some of “trying to distort the truth,” he said. “They said, ‘What about the illegal immigrants who kill Americans?’ And those people are mixing up two completely different issues: illegal immigrants committing a crime and a travel ban affecting people who have never committed a crime.”
Jobrani said he has caught some flack from Trump supporters as well as Iranians, many of whom support Trump in hopes that he can help overthrow the current regime. He said there are times when people tell him to “go back to his own country” or accuse him of being a coward for attacking Trump instead of speaking out against the ruling regime in Iran instead. “That just goes to show the ignorance,” Jobrani said. “I’ve been in America for 39 years, practically my whole life. I’m a citizen. Just like everyone else, I have a right to speak my mind. The beauty of America is that we are allowed to make fun of our leaders. We’re supposed to make fun of our leaders. We’re supposed to criticize our leaders. That’s what democracy is about. It’s obvious I’m against the Iranian regime and I hope for more freedom in Iran. But the fact is, all of the atrocious things happening under this current (American) leadership – the travel ban, the climate thing, the healthcare bill. I’m constantly shaking my head. It’s something I feel I need to address.”
At a couple points during Immigrant, Jobrani pauses from the comedy for a moment and makes sincere and serious points about the flaws of the current political administration and the direction of the country as a whole. He also urges Trump to take responsibility for the flippant and factually incorrect comments he makes. “Trump has to take responsibility for his words,” Jobrani said. “A lot of times, he’ll say ‘It’s just words, don’t take them seriously, I didn’t mean it that way.’ And I say ‘no, your words have led to the current state of anti-immigrant sentiment that’s out there.’ Trump’s rhetoric contributes to dangerous mindsets.” Immigrant is Jobrani’s most subversive yet insightful work to date. It’s a scathing indictment of political folly and prejudice that’s as strong as anything seen on The Daily Show, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, or Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. It may not be popular with every audience, but that doesn’t mean it’s not on the mark.
“I’m not a jukebox. I’m not here to take people’s requests,” Jobrani said. “If they get offended, they get offended. What am I supposed to do?”