Media depictions of Middle Easterners usually portray us as very serious, violent people who don’t have any fun.
Thankfully, Iran-born Los Angeles comedian Maz Jobrani is bringing Seattle some comic relief of debunking these stereotypes tomorrow night.
As he explains in his joke, “Middle Easterners love to dance”:
“A lot of people in the Western world don’t know how we love to dance and live life. We are always exposed as too serious and we never laugh when they show us on TV. And if we are laughing, it’s always an evil laugh,” he says with an exaggerated laugh.
Maz Jobrani is performing at Seattle’s Neptune Theatre tomorrow night in promotion of his new movie “Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero” a project he crowdsourced on Indiegogo.
“Jimmy Vestvood,” which premiered in San Francisco on Sunday, is about a “lovable Iranian immigrant who wins the Green Card lottery and moves to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming an American hero,” according to its website.
The trailer addresses the ongoing misunderstanding between the United States and Iran when the main character, played by Maz Jobrani, is celebrating winning the “Green Card Lottery.” People clap and celebrate in the streets, someone accidentally sets an American flag on fire, which the Iranian neighbors record and post as a video that goes viral and gets picked up by the American press before our hero gets to the states.
The trailer also addresses the difficulty in pronouncing an Iranian name, and Jobrani handles the situation in laughter and smiles, a very common Iranian trait.
Jobrani told Al Jazeera: “The goal of this film is to have it cross over beyond just the Middle Eastern community. I want Western teenage boys, white, black, other ethnicities laughing, quoting this character, and enjoying this film.”
Tomorrow night at The Neptune Theatre, Maz Jobrani will be performing his show, “I Am Not A Terrorist But I Play One TV.” The title of the show is perfect for Jobrani, since when he first began to act, Hollywood kept wanting to cast him as a terrorist. This, in turn, inspired him to be a comedian and fight against the stereotypes of Middle Eastern people.
In his 2013 stand-up comedy movie, “Maz Jobrani: I Come in Peace” (available streaming on YouTube, Netflix and Amazon), Jobrani jokes about how Middle Easterners love to clap:
“You can put us in any violent situation, and we all can start clapping and the violence will stop. Sunnis and Shiites fighting in Iraq? No problem! Send some people to clap and it will all be over. ‘I have to dance! I will kill you later!’”
He ends the joke with dancing, joking that once someone calls your name, you have to dance, even if you don’t feel like it.
It is this particular joke that my mom especially likes. She first saw Jobrani on YouTube doing stand-up.
“I was not sure he was Iranian at first because he didn’t have an accent,” my mom explains, “but as soon as he started dancing — only Iranians know how to dance that way. He is definitely Iranian and he is so funny! I died laughing!”
And many other Iranians feel the same way, as Jobrani covers all subjects of Iranian society, from dancing, hospitality, language and culture, to experiences traveling when you are Iranian.
“As Iranians, we totally understand what he is saying,” says Ali Reza Farzin, a local Jobrani fan. “And if you aren’t Iranian, you get a better idea of how we are.”
Jobrani’s imitations of Iranians are flawless. His jokes pinpoint how Iranians deny that they are Iranian when “bad” things happen, but when good things happen, there is nothing but pride.
Another trope: being Middle Eastern on a plane or at an airport can be challenging. Remember last November when Spirit Airlines kicked a Middle Eastern man off one of their planes because a fighting video he watched on his phone scared a passenger? Jobrani joked about this, too.
“First of all,” says Jobrani, “this man was watching the news, and even if he was ISIS, what is he doing? Getting last-minute videos on how to do something? OK – (in a Middle Eastern accent) ‘I go here, and then I go there — wait, wait, don’t start the plane! I’m not done yet!’”
Jobrani found his niche in 2005, when he started the “Axis Of Evil Comedy Tour” with comedians Ahmed Ahmed (Egyptian American), Aron Kader and Dean Obeidallah (Palestinian American) after George W. Bush’s infamous 2002 speech calling Iran part of terrorism’s “axis of evil.” Other comedians performed in these shows, including Wonho Chung, (Korean Jordanian), Carlos Leon (Cuban American), Nick Youssef (Lebanese American), Helen Maalik, (Syrian American).
Since then, Jobrani has made regular screen appearances including performances on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “The Colbert Report,” “Malcom in the Middle” and the Disney movie “The Descendents,” where he plays Jafar.
Not everyone can understand this humor, but the diversity of his audience and collaborators, as well as his range of work demonstrate otherwise.
Catch Maz Jobrani starting at 7 p.m. tomorrow at The Neptune Theatre in the University District. Tickets and details at www.stgpresents.org.