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An Interview with Maziar ​(Maz) Jobrani Comedian and Actor

December 23, 2016 by  

Shahrokh Ahkami
I am delighted to have the opportunity to interview a very funny man. Besides being a prominent comedian and actor, there is Maz, the son, Maz the husband and Maz the father. During this interview I would like to introduce all of Maz to our readers.
Let’s begin with some background. Where were you born?

I was born in Tehran on February 26, 1972. When I was six we moved to California.

Before we get into your move to the United States, can you tell us a bit about your parents?

Sure, my father was from a city named Tabriz in the northern part of Iran and my mom was from Tehran. Her family were originally from a town called Hamedan. My father was a successful businessman while my mom was a housewife who raised us.

Do you have any memories of Iran while you lived there?

I left when I was six so most of my memories was playing with my friends and relatives. We loved Spider Man, Zorro, Muhammad Ali and all other things little boys loved.

If you can, elaborate on the reasons for your move to the States.

Simple, the Iranian revolution was happening and my family left. It was late 1978 and there were protests in the streets. Anyone who had been successful under the Shah stood to be in danger so many people left around that time.

What kind of personal impact did this move have on you and your family? Did you find it easy to assimilate? Did you or your family encounter any difficulties?

I was six so at the time I was just looking to play with other kids. When we first came to America my father was on business and we stayed at the Plaza Hotel in NYC across from one of the biggest toy stores in the world FAO Schwarz. So, as a kid I thought it was pretty cool to be in New York. I think it must’ve been harder for my parents to adjust. They had to leave the country where they grew up and come to a foreign land they didn’t know very well.

Your family settled in Tiburon, California just outside of San Francisco.
It is interesting that your studies at the University of California, Berkeley were in political science and Italian, how did you come to be interested in these subjects?

My parents wanted me to be a lawyer. I figured the best thing to study in undergrad for that occupation was political science. While I was at California, Berkeley I decided to study Italian and also did a year abroad in Italy. It was one of the best years of my life and to this day I recommend students in college to try to study abroad for one year.

I have read that you were also enrolled in a Ph.D program at UCLA, but you decided to pursue your childhood dream of acting and comedy. Please tell us how this dream developed for you and how your Iranian parents handled your diversion from political science to acting and comedy?

I had started to do plays when I was twelve years old and wanted to act and do standup as a profession. But my Iranian parents were not supportive of a career that would be so unpredictable. They wanted something more secure like a career in law. It took a lot of back and forth discussion. Eventually I realized that you live once and you should live your life pursuing your passion rather than trying to please your parents or anyone for that matter. They were shocked when I dropped out of the Ph.D. program, but came around to be very supportive.
 
What were the difficulties you met in on your career path both personal and professionally?

I loved what I was doing so I really didn’t see any of it as difficulties. Sure there was the realization that coming from a Middle Eastern background some of the early roles I was going out on were terrorist parts. However, I quickly realized I didn’t want to do those parts and let my agents know. I haven’t auditioned for one of those parts in over 15 years now.

You are part of the “Axis of Evil” comedy group, can you tell us how and why this group was formed and who else is part of this group?

I was part of that group. We haven’t toured together since the end of 2007. I have been touring solo and now have three Showtime comedy specials. That said, we came together in the year 2000 when Mitzi Shore, the owner of the Comedy Store in Los Angeles felt like there was going to be a need for a positive voice for Middle Easterners and Muslims in the west in the near future. This was before 9/11. She put us together and called it the Arabian Knights Show.
Eventually me, Ahmed Ahmed and Aron Kader changed the name to the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour and shot it as a special on Comedy Central that came out in early 2007. It really helped launch all of our careers.

What, why and how did you decide to make the subject of your comedy performance racism and race relations, Islamophobia, Iranian culture, Islam in the United States and Middle East?  Do you think this subject specific comedy has enhanced or hindered your comic career and in what ways?

Well if you were to see my current standup you would see that I take on many more subjects than that. I have a lot of material on my kids nowadays because they’re a big part of my life. You write about what you know and what your experiences are.
I still write a lot about issues concerning Middle Easterners in the US because there’s a lot of anti-Middle Eastern sentiment in this country and I find it ridiculous. With Trump and what’s going on I think there’s a need for someone like me to keep talking about these subjects and try to show how ridiculous it is to hate any one group.

It is interesting to me to hear comments from my non – Iranian friends after they have attended your performance. Following your acts, 99% of the comments are positive and they believe they learned more about Iranians.
They see them in a very different and positive light and are now educated on the difference of an Iranian versus an Arab. Do you agree with this, do you get the same feedback and is it the premise of your subject matter?

I just talk about what I think is funny. If you come to my shows you will see that there’s a good mix of people. I think that we have a lot more in common than you would think. I love having a diverse audience and it feels like most of them enjoy themselves.

Are you happy where your career has taken you thus far and do you believe it is possible for you to achieve a higher level in your career as a comedian?
 
Yes, I’m happy with where I am and I continue to grow every day. It takes time to be a good comedian and it takes more time to be a great comedian. I hope to get better and better every day. I tell young comedians that you have to get on stage 5-10 times a week and do that for 10 years before you get good at it. I’ve been doing it for 18 years and I keep going!

Just a few more questions on your professional life, if you do not mind. You have many credits in both TV and movies, recently I have read that you are more discriminate about the roles you would now play, why the change?

Again the main thing I won’t play are terrorist parts. I feel there’s enough negativity against people from that part of the world without adding to it with negative depictions in movies and TV.

Let’s turn now to the private side of Maz. How did you meet your wife?

Through a friend who was at the same law firm as her.

Tell us about your two children?

I have a five-year-old girl and an eight year old boy. Anyone who has kids will tell you they’re the best thing in the world. They’re tiring but also wonderful!

You have a great combination of ethnic culture between your wife and you, how important is it for you to keep your cultures alive in your children and can you give our readers advice on how to accomplish this in their own households?

I really want my kids to learn about their backgrounds, but it’s really hard in this day and age. I try to keep teaching them some Persian words and I really am hoping to find a fun way for them to learn more about Iran. If I could travel to Iran I would go and take them. I’m not sure if the current regime would welcome me.
I went back about 20 years ago when my father was still alive. I really loved seeing Iran, but I was only there for 2 weeks. It felt a little depressing too because of the lack of opportunity for young people.

I have read many articles in which you have commented on politics etc., I am not asking you to do that here as we believe everyone has the right to have his or own personal opinion.
Do you, however, believe that it is important for Iranian-Americans to be more engaged in their communities or should to continue to assimilate as they have done?

I definitely think we should be involved with politics. This is our country now and if we sit on the sidelines we will not be counted and our rights won’t be met. We have to get involved!

How do you spend your free time? I know you sit on the board of the Persian American Cancer Institute? Do you still sit on the board?

Yes, I am involved with PACI. They do great work and I suggest people look them up and get involved. I also like to play soccer with my friends and I try to exercise a few times a week.

Do you have an opinion on the future of Iranian Americans?

I think we’re making some noise in the US and I feel optimistic about our future.

Do you have any words of wisdom that you would like to give the next generation?

Find what you love to do and go for it!

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