Maz Jobrani: Brown and Friendly

Iranian comedian makes sure everyone laughs

"Please go ahead ... I am a doctor, but I am a ve-ry bad doctor, I have many malpractice e-suits, pe-lease after you..."

The buttoned-up crowd in the Los Angeles Theatre grew hysterical with laughter, as did the pajama-clad crowd in my university dorm.

It was the prime of the color-coded terror scale era and we were watching Iranian comedian Maz Jobrani's act on the HBO syndicated "Axis of Evil Comedy Tour" one Sunday night.

My friend Justin had dragged us all into his cramped triple to watch his latest boot-legged gem.  "This is so freakin' funny, you guys are going to die," he said as he fast forwarded to Maz's set.

Minutes later, my eyes misty from laughter, I looked up to see a blurry image of my friends doubled over and rolling on the floor.  Maz was satirizing a peculiarly Iranian cultural trait, tarof.   It was especially funny to me, because it hit home, but why did my non-Middle Eastern friends have the same visceral reaction?

"Simple," said Justin. "It's funny.  Funny is funny, you know?"

But its more complicated than that.  It wasn't just that Maz is making non-Middle Easterners laugh at Middle Eastern characteristics: it's that they're laughing WITH them, and at a time when the phrase "Middle East," let alone "axis of evil," made most shutter.  His humor forces people to examine their perceptions of the Middle East and momentarily live in what they'll find is a surprisingly warm and lively culture that has only been present in the U.S. for some 30 years.

"I was a big comedy fan and I knew that I just wanted to be funny," Maz said. "I didn't think I would be dealing with issues of being Iranian ... I took this class and they said, 'Write what you know.'  That's when these issues started coming up."

Maz was born in Iran and raised in California.  His father sent for his family to visit him for a couple of weeks, while he was on business in New York.  "Two weeks turned into 30 years," says Maz.  The Iranian revolution had taken a largely unexpected turn for the worst, and the family settled in the U.S.

Years later, Maz dropped out of a prestigious grad school to pursue comedy, much to the dismay of his parents.  "Lawyers act ... be a lawyer," he recalls his mother saying.

Well, if you happen to catch his solo act "Maz Jobrani: Brown and Friendly" this Saturday, you'll be thanking god he isn't.

In addition to touring solo, Maz, who has had a number of TV and movie roles, including a recurring role in "24,"  is working on a project with playwright and friend Amir Ohebsion called, "Jimmy Vestvood, Amerikan Hero," a sort of Iranian Pink Panther.

And it's pronounced "Jee-mee Vest-vood,"  in the true Iranian fashion of drawing out multi-syllable words, a trait that Maz plays with often in his act.

The crowd eats his impressions up and it's a great reminder that, as Maz says, "Even though the world's crazy ... we can all sit in one room and laugh together."

For tickets to Maz Jobrani's performance at Listener Auditorium, click here.  The show is at 8 p.m.  Tickets are $28-$35. 

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