Q&A: Maz Jobrani
Maz Jobrani — who dropped out of a Ph. D. program to pursue his comedic talents — has appeared alongside Ice Cube in “Friday After Next” and performed in front of national television audiences on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and “Lopez Tonight” will perform at the Houston Improv Comedy Club tonight, Saturday and Sunday.
Jobrani will give his first two stand-up comedy routines at 8:00 and 10:30 p.m. this evening. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit improvhouston.com
The Daily Cougar: How do you like Houston so far?
Maz Jobrani: So far, so good. It’s a little warm, but I can handle it.
TDC: Your comedy tours have taken you all around the world. Is there a particular city or country that you have enjoyed the most and if so, why?
MJ: The good news is that when you are touring and people come to see you, if you haven’t been somewhere in like a year or two, people are really excited. So I have been lucky to kind of get that reception everywhere. I really enjoy anywhere I go, but if I had to pick some of the best crowds though I’d say Washington D.C. is really politically in touch in many ways. Also, Beirut is just an amazing city in general. You know places like New York City and Houston too; the shows are always really nice.
TDC: That’s really good! So, when you’re visiting these different places, what is the first thing you like to do?
MJ: Sleep! You know a lot of the time it’s a long flight and different time zones. All you’re trying to do catch up on sleep. A lot of times people are like, ‘You’ve seen then world’ and I’m like, ‘I’ve seen a lot of nice hotel rooms around the world.’ So one of my first priorities is to catch up on sleep.
TDC: Have you tried any crazy food while traveling?
MJ: Well at a sushi restaurant in Norway they gave us whale, which is illegal here. It tasted okay at first, but the after taste was really bad. I was like no wonder it’s illegal.
TDC: Let’s rewind back to when you were just a student working on your Ph. D. in political science. What sort of things were going through your mind when you decided to drop everything and give acting your all?
MJ: I started acting when I was 12 years old in school plays and I really loved it. My parents being Middle Eastern parents wanted me to be a lawyer, doctor or engineer so they kind of talked me into going into a different direction. When I was in the Ph. D. program and I dropped out, it was a moment of this-is-not-what-I-want-my-life-to-be. I realized that it wasn’t my passion, so it was kind of a light bulb moment. It was very freeing to be able to drop something like that. As a matter of fact, a few years ago I used to have nightmares that I had papers that were due. I would wake up and be like ‘Thank God, I’m a comedian!’
TDC: After you decided to do acting, did your parents continue to try to convince you to do something else?
MJ: They wanted a lawyer. My mom would even say, ‘Why don’t you become a lawyer and you could work comedy into your presentations.’ Then, when I decided to be a comedian, she started recommending back up jobs based on the last person who came to our house to fix something. She would be like ‘Why don’t you be a washing-machine-fixer-guy, that way you can fix my washing machine for free.’
TDC: Since you’ve started out, how do you feel things have changed for minorities working in the film industry?
MJ: It’s a life long struggle to get minorities to be depicted positively in film. As a matter of fact I wrote a movie called “Jimmy Vestvood: American Hero.” You can find out more at facebook.com/jimmyvestvood. It’s about an Iranian private investigator, kind of like a Persian Pink Panther. Our tagline for it is, ‘You don’t have to be American to be an American Hero.’
I’m trying to do stuff like that to present Middle Easterners in a more positive light. Even for Bruce Lee, it took him going back to Hong Kong to make movies that became hits for him to become the superstar that he was. So, it’s been a lifelong struggle and it will continue until we have more people from minority backgrounds writing and producing. One good step last year was when the Iranian film “A Separation” won best foreign film at the Oscars. It was an amazing film and that was definitely a good thing. Hopefully it continues to grow.
TDC: You are definitely contributing to the cause as well.
MJ: Well thank you very much. I really appreciate that.
TDC: When you first came to America, it was such a critical time for Iranians. Did people make fun of your culture and if so, is that how you learned to joke about stereotypes and also learn to laugh at yourself?
MJ: Yeah, when I first came I was 6 years old it was late 1978 and about a year and a half later the hostage situation happened. They used to call us ‘effin’ Iranians’ back then. I remember being called that by a 6th grader when I was in the 4th grade and I was like, ‘Dude what did I do? I’m just trying to play kickball here.’
I think yeah, you’re probably right, that may have had something to do with trying to be the funny guy. I was also just a big fan of comedy regardless of what was going on politically in the world. I would watch “Seinfeld” and Paul Reiser on TV. Then, Eddie Murphy came on the stage and just blew my mind so that was one of my big comedic heroes when I was a kid.
TDC: That was also one of my questions. Tell me more about who your biggest influences were.
MJ: Eddie Murphy was when I was a kid. Once I actually started, Richard Pryor became the one I wanted to emulate because he talked about more social and political stuff in his stand up.
TDC: Since you started acting in plays when you were young, when was it that you decided you wanted to try stand-up comedy?
MJ: I always wanted to do stand-up comedy, but I chickened out. I tried one time when I was 17. I was writing material that I thought was brilliant and then the next I would be like, ‘Oh no I’m not going to do it.’ Then in my early 20s, I entered a comedy competition and I did a couple of open mics, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. I actually worked in advertising for a few years while doing plays as a hobby.
Then when I was 26, I decided to go 100 percent with the whole acting thing. I got back into improv comedy classes for acting and that’s when I went 100 percent. The first thing they tell you in stand-up is that if you’re serious, you need to get on stage and write as much as you can. So I was trying to get on stage 5-10 times a week. That was 14 years ago and I have been doing it since.
TDC: Do you prefer doing stand-up to acting in films and TV shows?
MJ: I like both. The good part of stand-up is that you get to talk about whatever you want. There is no director, producer or network to tell you anything differently. The hard part of stand-up now is the traveling because I have two young kids at home. So, I would love to get on a show back in LA so I can be around them more. Then, your other hope is that if you end up on a show, it is a good show and the schedule isn’t too killer. It would be nice to end up on a show where the hours are manageable.
TDC: After this tour, are you planning any other big projects?
MJ: Jimmy Vestvood is the next big project, and then I’m in the process of selling a book hopefully. Then I am also getting ready to release my special called “I Come in Peace” which I filmed in Sweden.
TDC: Thank you so much for your time!
MJ: Thank you and if your readers are on Twitter I am @MazJobrani. I am always trying to say really funny stuff in 140 characters or less.