In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Actor-Comedian Maz Jobrani. In addition to his comedy specials, Maz Jobrani has appeared on many of television's most popular shows, including Grey's Anatomy, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Better Off Ted, and Shameless. He is also a regular on Stephen Colbert's late show, and he starred as the title character in the award-winning indie comedy, Jimmy Vestvood, which he co-wrote and co-produced.
Maz Jobrani spoke about his early days in Iran and upbringing in the US. How he fell in love with being on stage and why he decided to pursue acting and standup comedy full time. Maz Jobrani also shared his thoughts on the role of politics in comedy, why he has become a more vocal advocate for social justice, and how he wants to change perceptions many hold toward people of middle eastern descent.
- How Maz Jobrani's upbringing impacted his acting and comedy
- Maz Jobrani talks about his desire to work toward normalizing the image of Muslims, Middle Easterners, and "brown people" in Western media
- Why Maz Jobrani takes on bullies and advocates for the underdog
- Maz Jobrani on making a mark by bringing people together through humor and connecting them with their common humanity
- Maz Jobrani shares the challenges of defying prejudices in the aftermath of September 11th
- Maz Jobrani on how we can all play a role and make a difference
- David Rubenstein, co-founder & co-chairman of Carlyle Group & President of the Economic Club of Washington DC ( Listen to David's episode on Partnering Leadership Podcast )
- Tehran Von Ghasri
- Rabia Chaudry
- Frank Figliuzzi
Connect with Maz Jobrani:
Back to School Podcast with Maz Jobrani
Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:
More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:
Welcome to partnering leadership. I'm really excited this week to be welcoming Maz Jobrani. Maz is a comedian, actor, and producer with comedy specials including Netflix original immigrants, three additional solo specials on Showtime, Brown and friendly, I come in peace, and I'm not a terrorist, but I've played one on TV. And his latest special on peacock called Pandemic Warrior.
Maz has made many appearances on TV's most popular shows including Grey's anatomy, Curb your enthusiasm, Better off Ted, Shameless, he is a regular on the late show with Stephen Colbert, he also starred as the title character in the award-winning indie comedy, Jimmy vestvood , which he co-wrote and co-produced.
Maz has also co-starred in many films including Disney's descendants, and ice cubes Friday after next. He's a regular panelist on NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, he has given two TedTalks, his LA times bestselling book. I'm not a terrorist, but I've played one on TV was published by Simon and Schuster.
And Maz is the executive producer of Everything Must Change, a documentary he made about his sister Mariam's battle with breast cancer. He is also podcast hosts of Back to School with Maz Jobrani. And this is just some of what Maz is actively engaged in. I really enjoy this conversation, both about Mazda's upbringing, his passion for standup comedy, his desire to make a difference and pick on bullies.
So I'm sure you will enjoy this conversation too. I also enjoy hearing from you. Keep your comments coming. email@example.com And finally, don't forget to follow this podcast.
Tuesday conversations with magnificent Changemakers from the greater Washington DC region and Thursday conversations with global thought leaders.
Now, here is my conversation with Maz Jobroni
Maz Jobrani. Welcome to partnering leadership. I'm thrilled to have you in this conversation with me.
Thank you, Mahan , I'm happy to be here with you.
Really excited Maz, love your comedy and what you've been able to accomplish over the years, not just as an Iranian American, but also as a funny man that has strong political views and advocates for the underdog, Maz You were born in Iran.
What were those first few years of your life in Iran like Maz.
I left Iran when I was about six years old. I just remember playing a lot. we had a home where my father was a successful businessman. He had an electric company, we had a property that had our home on the upper area of the property.
Bottom area of the property was my grandmother's home and she would spoil me and my sister Mariam we would go down to her sometimes and she would give us money to go get candy. There was a store down the street, I had my cousin Soler, who was about my age and we would play and I remember we had a lot of western influence I had comic books like Spiderman and Batman, and we would try to recreate those. I remember seeing Rocky in Iran when I was a kid, I was probably too young to see it. And a quick story that was very interesting recently in LA, just maybe six months ago, I was doing standup comedy and Sylvester Stallone was in the audience And, I probably saw Rocky at least 40 years ago. It must've been like 19, I'm going to guess 76 or so, something around there. I went up to him after the set and I shook his hand I said, Hey, saw your movie in Iran. It was the first movie I ever saw maybe 40, 45 years ago. And he goes, oh really? And I go, yeah, And that was it.
During those days Maz in Iran, what did you want to be before coming then to the U S.
As a kid, I probably wanted to be a soccer player. I love soccer. I had my cousin who had visited America, he would come back and bring me always some soccer gear. I'm guessing my early, early, fantasies were to be a professional soccer player.
Life has its own plans. So what ended up bringing you to the U S.
So what happened was my father was on business in the U.S and it was late 1978 protests that started already against the shove on Iran. And, day by day to protest that, to get more and more intense. And my father told my mom, he goes, bring them to the U S for a couple of weeks during the winter break, the school winter break, and maybe things will quiet down and you can go back. Well, I always tell people, I always say we packed for two weeks and we stayed for 40 years. We'd even left my baby brother back in Iran when we first came because we thought we'd be back soon.
I remember leaving, he was a baby, I remember kissing his little baby shoes on the way out in the middle of the night. I think as a story of many Iranians and probably many immigrants, I mean, that's one of the reasons I'm a advocate for immigrants is because I always remind people that most immigrants aren't in a fantastic situation in their countries and getting up and coming to America most are fleeing a bad situation and they appreciate America.
We ended up here. So that's what happened.
There is a lot of love for this country and the opportunities it gives to people, especially those people that runaway from persecution and other things in their home countries. you want it to stay for a couple of weeks. It's been 40 plus years. Maz, what a lot of listeners might not know that there are still Iranians that are waiting and thinking that any day now they're going to go back to the way things were 40 plus years ago.
Yeah, that seems to be a common thing in the Persian community. And I'm going to guess other, some other immigrant communities, maybe Cubans, maybe some others think that. Oh, we'll go back once things get better. it's a very unhealthy way of living because you're just kind of living in the past.
You're always saying once things get better, once things get better and you really think that things are going to change. And go back to what it was. My hope for the country, Iran, first of all, I feel that my culture is Iranian, but I don't think even if Iran were to be free of the Islamic Republic and become an actual modern democracy with freedoms and rights for their people, I still don't think that I would go live in Iran. I've grown up in America. I know America. I speak Persian, but English is my most comfortable language. So I could never imagine going back, but I do understand when there are people that are, let's say, of the older age, my parents came here when they were in their forties, it really flipped their lives upside down. Or my dad was in his forties. My mom was in her thirties. I understand when those people sometimes do want to go back or do move back. My father actually did move back after 10 years in America, where he actually had come to America as a successful businessman with some money, but ended up losing a lot of his money in bad real estate investments.
And so he went back and live the end of his life back there. I do understand those people who would want to go back, but, It's also an unhealthy way of living if you're not able to adjust and move forward. Interestingly enough, it made me think two thoughts came about one was during the pandemic when we were all on lockdown and we were all waiting to go back to normal, I told my wife, I said imagine, it really hit me that my parents and others we're waiting to go back to normal for 40 years and it just didn't happen. So imagine being in the pandemic like lockdown, or pretty much for 40 years, that was one thought that came to mind. And the other thought that comes to mind is as we're in a country, that's divided right now, the United States, sometimes I think to myself, what happens if, God forbid a civil war were to break out and I were to have to grab my kids and wife and run out of this country. That would be like replaying my childhood, I mean, it's unfortunate. It really is.
A lot of things are possible Maz, January six we saw what could potentially even happen in this country. So we can't take any of our freedoms for granted, which is part of what I love about, your comedy in that you don't shy away from politics. And I know you get some backlash from whether it's a Iranian community or others but why do you get involved in politics?
I think you talk about what interests you. So if let's say you're some young guy who's dating, a lot of comedians have a lot of jokes about dating and women and different women and all that stuff, it's just what interests you. And for me, it's always been an interesting subject.
First of all, when I first came to America, imagine this, we were the, one of the first groups of immigrants who came to America and were quickly vilified because the people from our home country took the people of our new country hostage.
And so then we were the ones who were getting all of the brunt of it. They would call you F and I Iranian. They would beat you up. I just ran into a friend of mine the other day who was a year older. And he said, yeah, I remember he goes around that hostage crisis. he goes, the older kids would take him and hold him hostage like as a game, they would play hostages like Cowboys and Indians, but hostages and hostage takers. And that Iranian kid was the hostage in America. I think early on, I saw how the misrepresentation of a complete group could have detrimental effects on individuals that had nothing to do with what had happened in this world, geopolitical situation. And then as I grew older, I became interested in history and political science. I studied political science in my undergraduate years, and so I had an interest in it.
So when I first started doing stand-up, I took a stand-up comedy class and they would tell you to talk about what you know, and one of the things that set me aside from all the other kids was talking about being Iranian in America. And inevitably that would lead to talking about being misunderstood as an Iranian in America. Like one of my earliest jokes was, as a kid growing up in America, it was hard because I could never get any kid to spend the night. Cause we called the parents and my mom would say, yeah, we would like for your kids to spend the night, we're going to just keep them for a day or two and they would think we're going to take them hostage when we're saying, you know, we're going to keep them for a day or two.
So it was a silly joke but it came from that point of view. And then once September 11th happened, for example, even though Iran had nothing to do with it, as we know there was a big anti Muslim backlash. I'm not that religious. I actually say I'm Muslim ish, but again I felt like, okay, we need to present the other side of the people that I, in a way categorically represent whether it's Iranians or Arabs or Indians or whoever this Muslim or brown, I want to be funny on that stage and I want people to see it and go, oh, wait a minute. I'm an idiot. I just put everybody into this box that they're all terrorists. But in reality, there was 19 terrorists and sure there was other people that maybe supported them, but a majority of people are good. It all became pretty personal at times, and if you can make it funny, then it's good to talk about it. If you can't make it funny, and if you end up on stage getting into arguments with people, then you better rethink your strategy.
Yeah, actually, I find humor is a great way for us to challenge our own assumptions and other people's assumptions. It's a lot more likely for people to be willing to challenge their assumptions when you approach it with humor. Now. Maz, I wonder, at what point did you realize that you were pretty good on stage, that this is something you wanted to do.
As a kid, I grew up in Northern California. And I fell in love with Eddie Murphy when I was a kid, I was like, that's my guy. So I wanted to be a comedian. And then at that point, my immigrant parents were saying, no, you're not going to be a comedian. You're going to be a lawyer, doctor engineer, one of those. And so in the seventh grade I auditioned for the school musical, I got in. I took to it right away. The director said when you're in a musical, when you're singing and dancing, you always have to be smiling on stage. and I analyzing it, I thought maybe being an Iranian or an immigrant kid, I was taught to listen to my elders. Whereas I think a lot of American kids talk back to their elders and we don't talk back to our elders. I think, what had was that has something to do with it. Cause this, director Mrs. Bombright, Serly Bombright had said smile on stage.
And one day I show up and I'm under the weather. I have a cold, I say, miss Bombright, I know I'm just a background dancer cause I'm one of the younger, because we had seventh and eighth grade, I was in the seventh grade. I was a background dancer.
But I showed up cause you said you should always show up and be here for the cast. That's it. She said great. So I get on stage. I'm singing, I'm dancing, I'm smiling. She stops the whole rehearsal. Stop everybody stop, stop. Look at him. Look at him. He's sick. He's here. He's smiling. You all should learn from him.
And I'm looking around and go, oh wow, this is pretty cool. So it was positive reinforcement. Felt good. Fell in love with being on stage. The next year I do the school play, I'm one of the older kids cause we're in the eighth grade now. And I get the lead, and little Abner, which is like, I'm this Iranian American kid playing this hillbilly dude. And, so I was comfortable on stage from that age. I was good at being on stage. I kept doing plays. I love being on stage. I always did well. My teachers would always say you have what it takes to make it my acting teachers. And I would say, I don't know what that means, but thank you. The one thing that I feared, doing stand comedy because when you do it a play it's other people's words, you're an actor, there's a director. If it doesn't go well, it could be anybody's fault when you're doing standup. It's your words. It's your point of view. So I was really worried to put my voice out.
When I was 17, I tried to do a stand-up comedy show. It was a talent show. I tried to write material about it was basically all sexual material cause I was a 17 year old boy and I would write it down and I would think, oh my God, this is brilliant. And then the next day I'd look at it and go, oh no, this is horrible. After a while I chickened out and again at the, encouragement of my parents, I decided, you know what, I'll just make this a hobby and I'll go be that lawyer that my parents think I should be.
So undergrad, poly sci, but always like took an acting class in college. Then decide I'm not going to be a lawyer and be a professor. So graduate school, poly sci. But I go over and I started doing plays in the theater department, loved being on stage, I'm alive on stage. Like I love being on stage. And so it wasn't until I was in my mid twenties when I really decided to do standup. And I took that standup comedy class because I needed someone to help me figure out how to write. I didn't know how to write, and that really helped me. And then when do you find out you're good at stand up on stage? at first you think you good. Because when you're first performing, you're performing an open mics with a bunch of other not good amateu,r mediocre comedians. And all, you gotta be as a little bit better than the really bad comics.
And so I had the stage presence and I'm like, oh, I can stand on stage and tell jokes. Early on, we do something called bringer shows. A bringer show is where every comedian on the lineup brings four or five audience members. The idea being that none of us are known so we can't just put our name on the marquee and hope people show up.
So everyone bring a relative, bring a friend, and I was pretty good at bringing people. I would do my shows my fans, my family, my friends over there, where they'd be laughing and I'd be better than the people that were bad. But then when I became a regular at the comedy store, which is One of the meccas of comedy in Los Angeles. I remember going up on stage after other professional comedians and with an audience that wasn't my audience and just kind of having death for 15 minutes. And I realized, I really gotta work on this. I always tell comedians, I say, you gotta get on stage five to 10 times a week and you gotta do that 10 minutes sets, 15 minutes sets. No, one's giving you an hour. You're doing 10, 15 minutes sets, and you do that for five to 10 years, and then you start to get better and better. So more recently in the past, I've been doing this now for 24 years in the past four years. I know I've been on stage at times going thinking to myself, oh, wow, I'm really good at this.
And then I remember hearing Dave Chappelle say that in his comedy special, he said, I'm really good at this. And I was like, I just said that. And then I'm going, well, he's been doing it for 10 more years of me. I said, oh wow, I guess I get better.
Yeah, it takes both that, experience and commitment time that you put into it. It also takes a tremendous amount of planning, writing, testing of the jokes and all of those aspects of it. Now I wonder Maz, I imagined your parents were not very supportive of you giving up the dream of becoming a doctor or a lawyer you'd gone to Berkeley, gotten to undergrad degree before going into a PhD program. what was it like trying to, have your family be okay with you pursuing this stream?
I think I loosen them up. It was a combination of them and me. Being the oldest son, my sister Mariam was older, but then I was the oldest son. We had two younger brothers. My father had been the oldest son. He also had an older sister. But he had been someone who had to take care of his whole family.
Cause he lost his dad when he was young. And when he went to Tehran from the Northern city of Tabriz. He goes to Tehran and starts this business. Then all of his brothers all start working under him. So my dad was always telling me, take care of your brothers, take care of your sister, take care of this. Take care of that.
Early on I was mature. And then I think because of that, I also had a little bit of confidence to be the one who would maybe if we needed permission from my dad to go somewhere, to do something, I was quite often the one foot up to do that. And then, I think my junior year in college, I went to Italy to study abroad and my father had recently gone back to Iran at that point.
So when I wanted to go to Italy, my mom and my aunt, who's my mom's sister, kept telling me you should stay in America, be near your mom, she needs you now more than ever. And I said, look, I have to go to Italy. I've been learning the language. This is my junior year. It's the only chance I get, I got to do this. And I remember going at first and I remember my mom being upset at me going but it was the one of the best years of my life.
So I did what I wanted to do for me and it ended up being great. So then when I come back from Italy, I told my mom, I'm not going to be a lawyer and gonna be a professor. And that for her already, she goes, no, there's no jobs for professors. You should be a lawyer. Again, that was round two of me saying, this is what my life, I got to do my thing.
I was loosening them up, Then I dropped out of that PhD program and told my mom I'm dropping out because I want to go audition for roles in LA. And she said, are you crazy? And she says, at least you should learn to be a mechanic. And I said what do you mean? She goes, you know, people need mechanics, nobody needs an actor. And I said, well, that's a good point. But I asked her, I said, how'd you go from lawyer all the way to mechanic there's other jobs in between. And so she was worried basically.
And so I ended up actually having an office day job for a while in advertising. And it wasn't till I was in my mid twenties at the ad agency, there was a gentleman by the name of Joe Ryan, and Joe was a producer at the ad agency. He was older than me. He'd seen me do some of my acting I was doing plays just for fun. And he says, Hey you got good comedic timing. You're good at this. Have you ever thought about doing it? So Joe, I've thought about it several times throughout my life and I'm going to save up money and pursue it when I'm 30. This is when I was in my mid twenties and Joe goes, listen Maz, he goes, I'm in my sixties now. And like you, I had things I wanted to do when I was in my twenties. I never got around to doing them. He goes, if you really want to do it, you should do it. And it was a light bulb moment. I signed up for some comedy classes. Again, I slowly dipped my toe because it opened my mind. I realized you live once and you got to live for you. You can't live to make other people happy. And if you're making yourself happy, then maybe you can make your family happy because you're happy. and then if you're able to do that, maybe you can make others happy and maybe you can spread the love, like, my heroes were like Muhammad Ali and Mahatma Gandhi, who affected the world then I go, maybe if you do what you love doing, you can actually have an effect on others around the world.
But again, it was buttering them up. Cause like when I decided to take the comedy classes, I didn't quit the day job 100%. I kept the day job while I was doing comedy and classes while I was going into a standup comedy I still had my day job, which was working in an ad agency. I did it slowly, but, I knew the direction I was going. It just took me a few years. I looked back and there's comedians I know friends of mine who started when they were 17 and I'm going, wow. If my parents had been encouraging, maybe I would have started at a younger age, but then I wouldn't have had the experiences that I had going to Cal and Italy and all the other stuff.
And all those experiences fed into what eventually became your comedy. You got into comedy and some acting couple of years before 9/11. Which really impacted including Iranians, I still remember in all of our family's cars, everyone put a US flag on the cars. In the house, we put US flags, it's like, we are not one of them.
So how was it trying to break into comedy and acting at a time when all of a sudden, the stereotypes of Middle Easterners became the worst they have been in generations.
Well, like you, I actually got that flag. I put the flag in the back of my car. I remember pulling up to the comedy store. There was a comedian in Maryland Martinez, she started laughing. She goes, oh my God, Maz Jobrani has got a flag on his car. Are they in Maryland? I go there, there's shooting Indian Sikhs. .
I guess racists don't understand nuance. They don't know the difference between a terrorist and a regular person. Nor do they know the difference between any country in that part of the world. I started in 98, then again, I was talking about things that I knew and a lot of times when people ask me, they go, oh why September 11th months to change your life.
I go, well the truth is, now, it wasn't that different because before September 11th, let's go back to the hostage crisis, I'm a kid hostage crisis happens. They call you effin Iranian. Iran is in the news every night. Nightline became Nightline because of the hostage crisis. It was originally just a show called the Iran crisis. America held hostage and I think on day 1 41 or something that changed it, the Nightline. That was happening, then that finishes. Then you have Iran Contra. Now that's happening. Then that finishes and you have not without my daughter, then movie with Alfred Molina, Sally field. So it was constantly idea of being, considered a terrorist hadn't changed in 30, 40 years.
Because by the way, every time they showed Iranians, they would show the Moolah with the Turbans and you go, okay, this is not good. So I'd already been doing standup before September 11th, hit Mitzi shore, who was the owner of the comedy store.
She is Jewish, and we would always watch the news and she says, I think there's going to be a need for a positive voice for Muslims in the near future. This is in 2000 because she'd seen the latest Intifada with the Palestinians and Israelis and she goes, there's going to be a need for positive voice.
So she puts together a show with me and anybody else who's brown that's not black or Latino. I swear to God. We had, my friend, Amet Ahmed who was an Egyptian and then we had Aaron Cater who's Palestinian, but then we had a friend of mine Sam Tropalus half Armenian, we had an Indian guy, we had a white girl who did a belly dance. So she threw her in. There was all kinds of people. It was a crazy show and she called it the Arabian nights.
And so we were doing the Arabian nights show before September 11th. And once September 11th happened, matter of fact, Mitzi said, you know what? I don't want you guys performing at the club for a little bit because of her worry. It wasn't like, oh, you guys aren't welcome. She was protecting us. She said, I'm not going to do you guys at the club for a little bit until things cool down. And we certainly are not going to do Arabian nights shows because it's just too toxic I mean, it's too much of a target and it wasn't until actually six months or so after September 11th, when we did the Arabian nights again in LA Jolla, California, which is near camp Pendleton. And the managers called us and said, Hey guys, we just got a death threat for you guys. Someone said that they're going to come and kill you guys. Do you still want to do the show? And me and Ahmed were like, yeah, first of all, we don't think it's real, but you know, if we're going to die, may as well die on stage. That's probably a good way to go.
The other thing that happened after September 11th was there a lot of attention came up on us because all of a sudden, the press was saying, who are these Muslims doing comedy? And so we were all of a sudden in the New York times and, Time Magazine and Hustler, we went from, intellectual newspapers to porno magazines.
I told him, I said, you know how disappointed some, some Marine is going to be when he's got his hustler magazine and he's checking out this naked girl. then he turns over, it says access of people. It's like, oh my God, the terrorists are in my hustler. so yeah. Got us more attention.
One of the things I was interesting too, because we would do morning radio sometimes. Some of the morning radio hosts would be just, I think they were trying to be funny, but there was saying, oh, September 11th was good for your career. And I was like, you can't say that, I go that's offensive. I was taking crap before, and then I'm taking crap after and I said, no, because September 11th, was historical thing that happened, but it was not something that I saw as an opportunity. Yes, there was a lot more parts for people of my ilk in television because they were writing a lot more of these types of parts.
I ended up doing a couple of terrorists parts, which actually one terrorist part that I did with an a Chuck Norris movie of the week was done before September 11th. In between before the actual thing came out, September 11th happened. And then I tried to get them to take it off.
I said, please don't air this because they're shooting Indian Sikhs and if somebody sees this movie where I'm playing a terrorist, and then they forget that there was a movie and they see me walking down the street, they might shoot me. And that experience actually left a bad taste in my mouth.
After that experience, I said, I don't want to, play the more terrorist parts. And I played one more terrorist part on the TV show, 24, because they offered us, they said, he's a terrorist who changes his mind halfway through the mission. So I called him the ambivalent terrorist. I said, all right, I do the ambivalent terrorist. That was the last time I played a terrorist.
That typecasting contributes to that unconscious bias that people have Maz, and that's part of what you break down with your comedy on this immigrant experience. You've also amped up your politics, picking on bullies of all kinds in your comedy. Why have you gone more into that over the past few years?
Well, I think first of all, I think part of it is that since I was a kid, I've always been an advocate for the underdogs. I remember telling my younger brothers to always stand up to the underdog, always defend whoever's getting bullied. I tell my kids that all the time, my heroes were Muhammad Ali who stood up for what he felt was right. He gave up his championship belt because he said, "why am I going to go kill? He said the yellow man", which is, the Vietnamese, I have nothing against them.
So if you can stand up for things that you believe in, I'm a big fan of that. Colin Kaepernick. I'm a big fan of any kind of artist who has made a political statement.
So for me, for comedically, you know, guys like Richard Pryor and George Carlin, and those types of guys, and then later on all the daily show guys currently I watch Colbert's monologue pretty religiously. I watch it every night to get some of the news. So I've always been a fan of that stuff.
Public enemy had a song, it was called, he got game. And at one point there's a lyric in there, something along the lines. After the game, if it ain't saying nothing or something like basically that you could have gain, but if you're not saying something, what's the point. And then obviously with the rise of Trumpism, I saw a major bullying, major hypocrisy, major charlatan it's like that blew my mind. The fact that Trump rose the way he rose. Listen, I have friends that Republican and I have friends that are Democrat. I'm very left leaning myself. And I say, if my Republican or Conservative friend comes to me and says, this is what I believe when it comes to abortion and gun rights and taxes, I'm going to disagree with them, but I'm going to say, okay, we can have a conversation and maybe one day, one of us will see the world the way the other does.
But I still don't understand how anybody fell for The Trumpism and all the lies and all this stuff that he was doing. And then maybe if you say, okay, Mitt Romney, I go I disagree with Mitt Romney, but at least the guys got some decorum. The guy is not going to come out. And even George Bush, if you remember, after September 11th, he made a point of saying this isn't a war against all Muslims. he went out of his way. When I saw, Trump talking about the Muslim ban, and Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers and all that stuff.
I go, what the hell? And I really jumped hard, on social media, wherever I can. criticizing him, trying to expose that hypocrisy, trying to reiterate, because he was clearly lying in many cases, he was clearly vilifying groups, but people started to come on board. It was actually kind of sad to me to see the hatred that people had, that there was hatred like that hidden underneath, and people were just waiting for the excuse for the bully to start bullying. And then they started, they got behind the bully and they started bullying as well. And one of the biggest shockers was , my own community, Iranian Americans that became so hardcore pro-Trump that they would argue or disowned me.
Some people would say, oh, you're a disgrace to Iranians. And they start making lies up about me saying that, oh, somehow I am funded by the Islamic Republic of Iran. And I would say, well, where is that funding? Because I could certainly use some money. I'm trying to remodel my house. Um, so it was pretty crazy.
And as we all know, there was actual funding from the state department for certain groups to go after other left-leaning or liberal minded people like myself. and others on social media. Trump had this tendency to say things and just not do it. I'm going to build a wall Mexico's going to pay for it. Well, it didn't happen. I'm going to have a healthcare plan. That's going to be the best healthcare plan. Didn't have a plan, but was trying to disband the actual plan that we had. I'm going to have, coronavirus is going to disappear next week.
Oh, it'll just go away magically in the spring. I mean, it just makes stuff up. Right? Similarly with Iran, he was saying, I'm going to have, I'm going to get out of this Iran deal, which was the worst deal ever. I'm going to have the best deal. And also, I think a lot of Iranians thought that he is going to get rid of the Islamic Republic of Iran somehow and, so I think a lot of Iranians bought into that without taking the next step of going well, how do you do it. Because you can't just magically just lift up all the mullahs and all the clerics and the Islamic Republican and just move them and just have a democracy. So really the only way to do it would be to attack probably.
And I'm thinking to myself, oh gosh, if there's a war with Iran, as much as I hate the leadership of Iran and the government of Iran, a lot of Iranians would die. Innocent Iranians would die. It's a similar to what we saw in Iraq. And maybe it would become an unstable unstable place where who knows who would take over.
So all of that to say, A lot of Iranians were coming at me and I just tried to hold my own. And I said, I would either ignore them if they were trying to really drag my name in the mud, or I would say, listen, this is who I am. And even Non- Iranian at my comedy shows, and one of my clips that was on YouTube is if you Google Maz Jobrani, Trump heckler.
It's this lady at, one of my shows and I'm doing my Trump jokes and she's drunk and she starts going, I as a woman, I'm offended, she's offended about my Trump jokes. As a woman, I don't get that. You should be the opposite. You should be offended by Trump's words as a woman. But I basically had learned at a certain point because as a comedian, early on, if somebody yelled, I would yell back, it actually derailed the show. So then I learned a tight sheet. So on that video, you see her yelling and me just going, oh wow, what a great country that you as a woman can have an opinion. And I, as a man can too, and this is fantastic. And I would say, I would say, listen, I don't know. Two more Trump jokes, you can stay if you want, you don't have to. So it became this back and forth. So I dealt with it. I tried to, tight sheet and then I also gave in to the fact that I'm going to lose some fans that aren't going to like me, but I was like, well, listen, if you're not going to like me, cause I'm criticizing Trump, then it was probably not for you anyway.
Maz, I talk a lot about organizational purpose and organizations, aligning what they say and do along with their core values. And some people get turned off by that an organization that takes a stand that's quite all right. Other people are more attracted to it. But beyond that, it's the right way to approach it.
One of the beauties of this country is giving people the opportunity and the voice to speak up. And again, part of what I've loved is that, you both speak up for yourself, but also you speak up for the underdog.
Yeah. I think, what's the point of life, I think one of the points of life is to love. love your family, love your children. love your friends. Love what you do. love your experiences. But another point of life is to help. And that feeling you get, even if you give a dollar to some guy on the streets, you like, you feel like, oh, I did something good.
And even further, if you can become an advocate for somebody, or if you can help somebody as you just said, get their voice out or whatever you can do, and that feeling is a good feeling. when the Muslim ban happened, that was an atrocious front to me. I was. Like, oh my God, what's going to happen, there's these protests. And I'm thinking, should I go down? Is it going to be hectic? Is it going to get violent? And I go, you know what? I got to go down. So I got an Uber and I had some people that I knew that were down there and I went down there. And went down to LAX and I protested and it felt so good to be there and showing it on my social media and making my voice heard, and then going on and turning it into part of my stand-up, and putting it on my Netflix special, and just getting the word out like that. It helped. It helped me meaning, it helped me feel full, feel whole. So to be someone who comes in and goes, no, I don't want to try to be a part of any other thing in my opinion, that's, leading a pointless life, If you got in, you should turn around and help. Now, maybe you're a lawyer, you can help that way. Maybe you're a store owner, you can show up and give free food, whatever it is, but you should be involved. You shouldn't think, oh, I'm good. I'm not going to take careof anybody else. I think that's a big part of life .
And, your empathy and compassion is part of what contributes to your comedy. So you've been very successful with a comedy, with some roles in sitcoms and movies from being with curb your enthusiasm with Larry David, to also funding your own movie, Jimmy Vestvood so you had lots of success.
And then we got hit with a pandemic Maz, which has impacted everyone's life. However, I wonder how did it impact you being that comedy in parts stand up, comedy is feeding off of the audience you're in front of.
At the beginning I was doing Instagram lives almost every day. And, that got exhausting because I had to middle of the day or whatever in the afternoon, I said, okay, I gotta go do my Instagram live and I'd run away from my family. And I go do an Instagram live. And as you said, for comedians, we need to hear the laughter the clapping or the lack of laughter, whatever it is.
And you can't on Instagram, you just get these hearts coming up. So then I was hesitant to do zoom shows until we did a benefit fundraiser show for something. And we decided let's try it on zoom and ended up being actually really doable and really fun because zoom shows became a thing where I learned early on, you do the show, and let's say there's a hundred people there. You tell 10 of them to keep their microphones un-muted so you can hear them and you encourage them laugh. If it's funny, laugh. So they do that. And then meanwhile, every time you go to gallery view you can see everybody. So you can go person to person and be like, oh, what's the idea you have, uh, a bird on your shoulder? Why do you have a bird on your side? You know?
So it became kind of fun. So I actually enjoyed it and we also did, outdoor driving shows which is where we stood on a stage. Told jokes in front of a bunch of cars and they would project our image onto the screen behind us. And they would listen to us in their cars, on a radio station.
And the first time I did it, it was kind of hard because I can't hear them laughing. Right. Cause they're, they're in the cars. But the second time I did, I realized that we encourage them to honk their horns if they like the jokes. So you would do a joke and they'll go bebebebeep. So, we did what we could to get through it.
And then there was outdoor shows started to pop up with like social distancing. And the one thing that was good about it was that we were all going through the same thing. So when you went to a show and you did jokes about sanitizing your hands and cleaning the groceries and all that.
So everybody was going through it. So everybody knew what you were talking about. and then for me, the silver lining was I didn't have to travel for that time because I couldn't travel. Whereas I travel quite often when I'm touring. so I was able to be home with my family. We watched a lot of movies with my wife and my kids. So there was a silver lining there.
Also we got a dog we'd never had a dog. We had a pandemic puppy. So I see the silver linings, but I also see the damage that it's done a lot of people psychologically. And I'm just hoping that as we slowly come out of it, that people are coming out and, I know everybody's exhausted and they, oh man, you know, I'm sick of wearing a mask and all that. I go, just follow the guidelines. Let's just stick to that and let's try. It limit the numbers of cases otherwise we're going to keep on this rollercoaster for awhile.
And all throughout, you've done a lot of great things. And I know you had started your own podcast before the pandemic, picked up a lot of great conversations. What got you to start a podcast, which by the way, I ran into David Rubenstein, who had interviewed for the podcast also at an economic club of Washington event, and he mentioned being interviewed on your podcast. And you having left an imprint on him about Nowruz, which is the Persian new year celebration that Persians and people of Iranian background and descent and many other people from the region celebrate the beginning of, spring as our New Year.
So what got you to start that podcast?
Yeah, my podcast is called back to school with Maz Jobrani and the idea came about because my kids, two, three years ago, they're a little older than the 13 and 11. When there were even younger, they would ask me questions that I just didn't have the answers to, even something as simple as like, how does a television work? How do they do it there and then it ends up on my TV? And I'm like, there's some sort of electrical, and I go, I don't know, let's get an expert.
So rather than Googling it, I said, let's just get experts in to talk to them and learn from them. So I was bringing in experts of all kinds from, Firouz Naderi, who helped land the Rover on Mars we had, Ricky Williams, who was the running back for the Miami dolphins who was kicked off the team when he was caught smoking weed. David Rubinstein, who is an economist and the founder of the Carlyle Group. So we've had all kinds of people, it's become an excuse to talk to interesting people. We just had Rabia Chaudry, who was the New York times bestselling author and creator of the Case Against Adnan Syed , which was the HBO documentary about this Muslim boy who is in prison and Rabia is telling he claims he didn't do when I watched the documentary, I go, yeah, I think she's right. That he's wrongfully there, but she's a prolific podcaster. Anyway, the point being that we have these interesting people on and what I do is, I will, show a clip or something to read to my son and I'll say, okay, what's your question to this person.
Getting ready to talk to someone, who's a professor of supply chain. So I go, what's your question. And the question is what was the supply chain going to end and how will that affect prices? that kind of thing. We start with interesting conversation, question from my son, we had this Frank Figliuzzi, he was in the FBI. Was an assistant director, I believe in the FBI. My son's question to him was, have you ever shot anybody? that's an interesting question to ask FBI. And his answer was no because the FBI trains you how to deescalate. And that led into a conversation of why we have so many police shootings, because a lot of police departments don't train their police as well as the FBI and deescalation.
Again, it's been a cool thing and zoom has helped us get all kinds of guests. Robert Rice was on there. We go out and all kinds of interesting guests. I think people can listen to it anytime. It's pretty evergreen and it's called back to school with Maz Jabroni.
Yeah, it is great conversations and I think the questions from your son Darra, make it more fun at the beginning of it also. And what it shows me Maz is your own growth mindset and that part of what we have to do in this faster pace of change, which has nothing to do with COVID for a lot of different reasons.
We're going to experience a faster change, an acceleration. We need to speed up our own learning and our own growth which is part of what you're doing. you have your hands in a lot of different things. You've done a lot of great things. 2015, You, introduced Michelle Obama at the white house. Nowruz Ceremony, you've given the Berkeley commencement speech in front of 40,000 people. So you've done a lot of great things on many more ahead. I wonder Maz what do you want to be your legacy, your impact.
He was a billionaire. No, I really am at a point where I've been trying for a long time to get a show on TV, from my point of view, I really would love to have that show come on, and hopefully tell our story from our point of view, humanize Iranians, humanize Muslims, humanized immigrants, as much as possible.
And then I would love to be able to parlay that show into the ability to produce, shows from other people's shows movies, projects from other people from our backgrounds, because I feel like there's a lot of talent, a lot of young talent. When I first started doing this 24 years ago, there was a handful of us.
Now there's a lot. And I really want these stories to be told. I would like to work on normalizing the image of Muslims and middle Easterners and just people from that part of the world in Western media. I mean the same way they say Richard Pryor helped bring black comedy to a more broader audience so that there's white people watching it and laughing and getting it. Bill Cosby did that, the TV show Black-ish, there's been different people from these backgrounds who've been able to help normalize these people because the fact is if you look at another date, we all are the same.
I didn't travel to the middle east until 2007 after I'd left Iran, I visited once, but then I didn't really travel to see the middle east till 2007. When we toured, the Arabian nights had become the Axis of Evil comedy tour. And you go to places like Egypt and Beirut, and Kuwait, and Dubai, and all these places.
And you realize end of the day, everyone's just trying to feed their family. Maybe have a laugh, just live life. if I can help other people in this country realize that the people from my part of the world just want that, then I feel to me that would be a great legacy. If people could say, oh, he was the guy who had that show that showed that Muslim family, they wasn't even that religious, because the truth is a lot of Iranians aren't even religious. They had one relative who was religious, who ended up being the nicest guy in the whole show. And the truth is, again, I have one of my cousins he's the only guy who prays as a religious person in our family, and he's probably the nicest one in my family.
I would hope my legacy is the person that helped do that, and then really help others as much as I can. I stand behind that. I'm not just saying that as like a cliche. I would love to be able to help others in any way possible, because Lord knows we have a lot of problems that we can attack.
We do. And I really appreciate the joy you have brought to so many people's lives, Maz advocating for people. And at the same time, bringing a lot of smiles and laughter into people's homes and lives. You're going to be in Washington, DC on March
It's 18th and 19th is a Friday and a Saturday. We're doing the Kennedy Center, Friday nights, the big room, which is like 2300 people we've done in the past. It's a lot of fun. And then Saturday will be the smaller room, which is about four or 500 people, a little more intimate, but it'll be fun. Again.
I have a great lineup. It's me, T Ron who's a lot of people know he's half Persian, half black, very funny comedian. He's been my opening act for a couple of years now. I have a lady by the name of Zarna Garg, who was an Indian lady out of New York who started comedy later in life. But it's very funny. And I have a musician by the name of Danny Assadi who does really cool experimental music, and he's going to open the show.
And so I think it'll be a perfect way to celebrate the spring. It's right before the Persian New Year. I'm looking forward to coming out and then I continue to tour all over the U S as well as Canada, as well as Europe I'm everywhere. So people can just go to mazjobrani.com to find those dates, or they can go to at @MazJobrani on Instagram or Twitter, and I'm always announcing stuff.
Really appreciate you joining this conversation, Maz,
Thank you Mahan, you and have a great day.
Thank you so much.