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Maz Jobrani: Did you hear the one about the Iranian-American?

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I was one of the founding members of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. The other founding members included Ahmed Ahmed, who is an Egyptian-American, who actually had the idea to go to the Middle East and try it out. Before we went out as a tour, he went out solo and did it first. Then there was Aron Kader, who was the Palestinian-American. And then there was me, the Iranian-American of the group. Now, being Iranian-American presents its own set of problems, as you know. Those two countries aren't getting along these days. So it causes a lot of inner conflict, you know, like part of me likes me, part of me hates me. Part of me thinks I should have a nuclear program, the other part thinks I can't be trusted with one. These are dilemmas I have every day.

But I was born in Iran; I'm now an American citizen, which means I have the American passport, which means I can travel. Because if you only have the Iranian passport, you're kind of limited to the countries you can go to with open arms, you know -- Syria, Venezuela, North Korea. (Laughter) So anyone who's gotten their passport in America will tell you, when you get your passport, it still says what country you were born in. So I remember getting my American passport. I was like, "Woohoo! I'm going to travel." And I opened it up, it said, "Born in Iran." I'm like, "Oh, come on, man." (Laughter) "I'm trying to go places."

But what's interesting is, I've never had trouble traveling in any other Western countries with my American passport, even though it says, "Born in Iran." No problems. Where I've had some problems is some of the Arab countries, because I guess some of the Arab countries aren't getting along with Iran either. And so I was in Kuwait recently, doing a comedy show with some other American comedians. They all went through, and then the border patrol saw my American passport. "Ah ha! American, great." Then he opened it up. "Born in Iran? Wait." (Laughter) And he started asking me questions. He said, "What is your father's name?" I said, "Well, he's passed away, but his name was Khosro." He goes, "What is your grandfather's name?" I said, "He passed away a long time ago. His name was Jabbar." He says, "You wait. I'll be back," and he walked away. And I started freaking out, because I don't know what kind of crap my grandfather was into. (Laughter) Thought the guy was going to come back and be like, "We've been looking for you for 200 years." (Laughter) "Your grandfather has a parking violation. It's way overdue. You owe us two billion dollars."

But as you can see, when I talk, I speak with an American accent, which you would think as an Iranian-American actor, I should be able to play any part, good, bad, what have you. But a lot of times in Hollywood, when casting directors find out you're of Middle Eastern descent, they go, "Oh, you're Iranian. Great. Can you say 'I will kill you in the name of Allah?'" "I could say that, but what if I were to say, 'Hello. I'm your doctor?'" They go, "Great. And then you hijack the hospital." (Laughter) Like I think you're missing the point here. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind playing bad guys. I want to play a bad guy. I want to rob a bank. I want to rob a bank in a film. I want to rob a bank in a film, but do it with a gun, with a gun, not with a bomb strapped around me, right. (Laughter) Because I imagine the director: "Maz, I think your character would rob the bank with a bomb around him." "Why would I do that? If I want the money, why would I kill myself?" (Laughter) Right. (Applause) "Gimme all your money, or I'll blow myself up." (Laughter) "Well, then blow yourself up. Just do it outside, please." (Laughter)

But the fact is, there's good people everywhere. That's what I try and show in my stand-up. There's good people everywhere. All it takes in one person to mess it up. Like a couple months ago in Times Square in New York, there was this Pakistani Muslim guy who tried to blow up a car bomb. Now, I happened to be in Times Square that night doing a comedy show. And a few months before that, there was a white American guy in Austin, Texas who flew his airplane into the IRS building, and I happened to be in Austin that day doing a stand-up comedy show. Now I'll tell you, as a Middle Eastern male, when you show up around a lot of these activities, you start feeling guilty at one point. I was watching the news. I'm like, "Am I involved in this crap?" (Laughter) "I didn't get the memo. What's going on?"


But what was interesting was, the Pakistani Muslim guy -- see he gives a bad name to Muslims and Middle Easterners and Pakistanis from all over the world. And one thing that happened there was also the Pakistani Taliban took credit for that failed car bombing. My question is: why would you take credit for a failed car bombing? "We just wanted to say we tried." (Laughter) "And furthermore, it is the thought that counts." (Laughter) (Applause) "And in conclusion, win some, lose some." (Laughter) But what happened was, when the white guy flew his plane into the building, I know all my Middle Eastern and Muslim friends in the States were watching TV, going, "Please, don't be Middle Eastern. Don't be Hassan. Don't be Hussein." And the name came out Jack. I'm like, "Woooo! That's not one of us." But I kept watching the news in case they came back, they were like, "Before he did it, he converted to Islam." "Damn it! Why Jack? Why?"

But the fact is, I've been lucky to get a chance to perform all over the world, and I did a lot of shows in the Middle East. I just did a seven-country solo tour. I was in Oman, and I was in Saudi Arabia. I was in Dubai. And it's great, there's good people everywhere. And you learn great things about these places. I encourage people always to go visit these places. For example, Dubai -- cool place. They're obsessed with having the biggest, tallest, longest, as we all know. They have a mall there, the Dubai Mall. It is so big, they have taxis in the mall. I was walking. I heard "Beep, beep." I'm like, "What are you doing here?" He goes, "I'm going to the Zara store. It's three miles away. Out of my way. Out of my way. Out of my way." And what's crazy -- there's a recession going on, even in Dubai, but you wouldn't know by the prices. Like in the Dubai Mall, they sell frozen yogurt by the gram. It's like a drug deal. I was walking by. The guy goes, "Psst. Habibi, my friend." (Laughter) "You want some frozen yogurt? Come here. Come here. Come here. I have one gram, five gram, 10 gram. How many gram do you want?" (Laughter) I bought five grams. 10 dollars. 10 dollars! I said, "What's in this?" He's like, "Good stuff, man. Columbian. Top of the line. Top of the line."

The other thing you learn sometimes when you travel to these countries in the Middle East, sometimes in Latin American countries, South American countries -- a lot of times when they build stuff, there's no rules and regulations. For example, I took my two year-old son to the playground at the Dubai Mall. And I've taken my two year-old son to playgrounds all over the United States. And when you put your two year-old on a slide in the United States, they put something on the slide to slow the kid down as he comes down the slide. Not in the Middle East. (Laughter) I put my two year-old on the slide; he went frrmrmm! He took off. I went down. I go, "Where's my son?" "On the third floor, sir. On the third floor." (Laughter) "You take a taxi. You go to Zara. Make a left." (Laughter) "Try the yogurt. It's very good. Little expensive."

But one of the things I try to do with my stand-up is to break stereotypes. And I've been guilty of stereotyping as well. I was in Dubai. And there's a lot of Indians who work in Dubai. And they don't get paid that well. And I got it in my head that all the Indians there must be workers. And I forgot there's obviously successful Indians in Dubai as well. I was doing a show, and they said, "We're going to send a driver to pick you up." So I went down to the lobby, and I saw this Indian guy. I go, "He's got to be my driver." Because he was standing there in like a cheap suit, thin mustache, staring at me. So I went over, "Excuse me, sir, are you my driver?" He goes, "No, sir. I own the hotel." (Laughter) I go, "I'm sorry. Then why were you staring at me?" He goes, "I thought you were my driver."



I'll leave you guys with this: I try, with my stand-up, to break stereotypes, present Middle Easterners in a positive light -- Muslims in a positive light -- and I hope that in the coming years, more film and television programs come out of Hollywood presenting us in a positive light. Who knows, maybe one day we'll even have our own James Bond, right. "My name is Bond, Jamal Bond."


Til then, I'll keep telling jokes. I hope you keep laughing. Have a good day. Thank you.


Video Details

Duration: 8 minutes and 57 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: TEDTalks
Views: 9,327
Posted by: tedtalks on Aug 19, 2010

A founding member of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, standup comic Maz Jobrani riffs on the challenges and conflicts of being Iranian-American -- "like, part of me thinks I should have a nuclear program; the other part thinks I can't be trusted ..."

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