Sunday July 15, 2012
Stand-up kind of guy
By ALLAN KOAY
Iranian-American comedian Maz Jobrani wants to be funny with Kuala Lumpur.
I was late with my phone call to stand-up comedian Maz Jobrani’s home in Los Angeles, and it was about 11.30pm over there. He was about to retire for the night when I finally got hold of him, and though he sounded sleepy, he also sounded genuinely excited about his upcoming stand-up comedy show in Kuala Lumpur.
Jobrani has performed in many countries including those in the Middle East and Scandinavia, Australia and Canada. But he’s never had a show in Asia, he said, and he’s heard from fellow comedian Ahmed Ahmed, who performed in KL last year, that it was a “great experience”.
Snippets of Jobrani’s act are all over YouTube, including stuff from his DVD, Brown & Friendly. He is also a founding member of the Axis Of Evil Comedy Tour, which comprised some of the top Middle Eastern-American stand-up comedians. Just from this, you can get an indication of the kind of stuff Jobrani cooks up on stage. He smashes up Middle Eastern stereotypes, American perception of foreigners and people of foreign descent, and pokes fun at what it means to be Middle Eastern in a post-911 world.
Jobrani is of Iranian parentage, and often takes jabs at his own family, or how Americans perceive an Iranian family (just to pick him up from school, his entire family, including the rooster, tags along). His keen eye shows up some very funny observations – Iranians don’t make good burglars because of their strong cologne, and while Asians are appearing in TV commercials, there are still no airline commercials featuring a Middle Eastern pilot. There are Osama jokes, Ahmadinejad jokes, Axis Of Evil jokes, Bush jokes, and even one about Zinedine Zidane’s World Cup headbutt.
But worry not, Jobrani said he will be bringing new material to the KL stage, stuff that’s not already on YouTube.
“A lot of the stuff I’m doing nowadays deal with being a dad, with social and political commentary,” he said. “When I come to a new place, I tend to do some material about that place as well. Hopefully I’ll have some jokes about Kuala Lumpur.”
He still does jokes about being Iranian in the United States but he said they have pretty much evolved over the years.
“Nowadays when I do shows, the audiences are pretty mixed,” said Jobrani. “So I have material about Pakistan, India, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia ... enough material to cover whatever audiences are out there.”
What he does try to do in every new place that he performs in is to gauge what has been happening there and find stuff that’s relevant to the people there.
“When I was going to perform in Egypt, post-revolution, I knew I had to talk a little bit about what had happened,” he said. “Whenever I get into a new place, I try to find out what’s going on in that place and experience some of the vibes of the place. So when I go on stage to talk about what’s relevant to the place I’m in, I try to take people on a journey with me about the way I see the world.”
He admitted that so far, he hasn’t heard much about Malaysia, but a friend has told him about how amazing the street food is. He’s also seen a video of a very peculiar trend here – people drinking tea out of a plastic bag with a straw. I told him yes, that’s common practice here.
“It’s little things like that which I hope to observe and hopefully talk about,” said Jobrani.
Raised in the San Francisco Bay area, Jobrani knew he wanted to be a comedian when, as a kid, he saw Eddie Murphy’s comedy act and became a big fan. But his Iranian parents didn’t think that was a viable career option, so he studied political science, got his degree, and then went on to do his PhD.
It was while in UCLA that he started performing in plays again.
“I did plays when I was younger, and I really loved being on stage,” said Jobrani. “Being on stage again, I realised that was where I needed to be.”
As far as stand-up comedy was concerned, it was when he was in his mid-20s that he “finally got the nerve to really go for it.”
Even though it had been 14 years since, he still remembers the nerves the first time he ever performed in front of an audience.
“When you do a play, there is a writer, director, other actors,” he explained. “So if things don’t go that well, there are a lot of other people you can blame. When you do stand-up, and the people aren’t going to laugh ...”
When he was 17, he had wanted to try stand-up comedy, but he chickened out in the end. But it all turned out to be a blessing.
“I was worried I was going to bomb,” he said. “At the time the jokes I was writing were all inspired by Eddie Murphy. So a lot of it was based on sex. I wrote a few jokes which I thought were funny but when I looked at them again, I thought oh my God, this is horrible. So I chickened out. But I was lucky because the audience I was going to perform for turned out to be a bunch of juvenile delinquents and criminals. Had I bombed it might have scared me from ever going up on stage again.”
Today, Jobrani performs sell-out shows, and once in front of the king and queen of Jordan. He has appeared in numerous TV shows, including The West Wing, Curb Your Enthusiasm and 24. He also appeared in the movies Friday After Next, The Interpreter and 13 Going On 30. He has written a screenplay called Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero, about a Persian rug seller who becomes a private investigator (jimmyvestvood.com). And he has a podcast series on iTunes called Minivan Men, with Al Madrigal and Chris Spencer.
He said of the KL show: “I’ve never performed in a country this far. And I’ve never performed in Asia before. But I think it will be fun and I’m really looking forward to it.”
■ Maz Jobrani performs tonight only at KL Live (03-2162 2570) in Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. Show starts 8.30pm, and tickets, priced at RM188, RM158, RM118, RM88 and RM68, are available from ticketpro.com.my.