Maz Jobrani is one comedian with plenty to laugh about this year. His debut book, I’m Not A Terrorist But I’ve Played One On TV, hit the Los Angeles Times bestseller list, while his long-gestating dream project — the feature film “Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero” — had successful showings at comedy festivals nationwide en route to an impending release.
But when the ISIS terror attacks hit Paris on Nov. 13, Jobrani found himself thrust back into the same awkward position he’s faced for the past 14 years since 9/11. Despite the fact he’s an American citizen who moved to the US from his native Iran when he was 8 years old, and is not even Muslim, his Middle Eastern ethnicity has made him a lightning rod for comedy fans eager to find some way to process tragedy with a sense of humor.
Jobrani became the preeminent face of Middle Eastern comics in 2007 when he headlined the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour with three other comics hailing from the region. He just finished walking that tightrope again this past weekend at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena, California, and took some time last week to discuss his precariously comical life with Carl Kozlowski on the podcast “Kozversations” on the podcast network Radio Titans.
“Paris is front and center on everyone’s minds,” says Jobrani. “When I am making fun of a serious subject in the news, I’m making fun of the coverage the media gives it because it’s obviously a tragedy, and the reactions that some politicians have that are ridiculous. Sometimes they don’t differentiate those who did the crime from those who are innocent and just happen to be from that same background. Hoping we don’t go down that rabbit hole.”
Jobrani steers clear of talking about the victims in terror attacks, but finds humor where he can in average Americans’ frequent inability to distinguish between the terrorists and their victims. Lately, he’s been sharing an awkward incident he experienced while supervising a group of his kids’ young friends.
“I was talking to a young kid who I was with because I took my kids and their friends to a movie,” says Jobrani. “An Indian Sikh walked in with a turban and the kid started freaking out that he thought the guy was ISIS, and I had to calm him down and tell him no. There’s a real fear in this country and if it’s misguided it can really lead to the wrong path and hate crimes against Indian Sikhs where people thought they were attacking Muslims. So you attack the stupidity, not the situation itself.”
Having already survived and thrived with the Axis of Evil tour, in which taking on ignorance and prejudice head-on made him an even bigger star than before, Jobrani sees comedy as not just a fun way to make a living, but a mission. He’s happy that the world of online comedy sources is not only keeping classic performances in the public eye, but spreading his message and those of other Middle Eastern comics far and wide.
“I appreciate this country and think we have a lot to offer. All my jokes criticize the terrorists, the extremes and politicians who spread hate from their power,” he says. “Comedy is a great way to deal with serious topics, but do it in a way that’s palatable. The nightly shows that are on deal with current affairs. Comedy is a great way to expose hypocrisy and get a point across. D.L. Hughley said comedy is like giving people their medicine, but in orange juice so they don’t notice it.”