What made you decide to pursue your passion?

I was 26. I was working in the ad agency and doing a play on the side. The play was called “The Belind Date and The Vedding.” It was about an Iranian charlaton living in LA who goes on a date with an Iranian gold digger. It was the first play that I know of that was for the Iranian community but in English. Anyway, the play did very well and we were selling out to crowds of 1200 people in LA and New York. One day while I was at the ad agency, making a dub of the video tape of the play, an older gentleman who was a producer there, (Joe Rein), caught a glimpse of the play on the TV moniter where I was making the dub. Joe, being a very nice guy, came up to me and told me that I had good comedic timing and asked if I had ever thought about pursing acting professionally. I told him that coming out of high school I had wanted to study it and then again I had dropped out of grad school to pursue it. I told him that my newest game plan was to work in the ad agency until I was 30, where I could save up some money and be a bit more secure and then I was going to try to purse it. He took me into his office and told me that when he was in his 20s there were things he’d wanted to do. He said that he hadn’t gotten to those things and now was in his 60s. He encouraged me that if I really wanted to do it that I should do it right away. That was a light bulb moment for me and I went into my bosses office and told him that acting was going to be my priority from that day on. I then enrolled in some sketch comedy classes at a place called the ACME theatre in LA. From there I got into standup comedy classes. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Are there big differences between telling (dirty) jokes for an American audience or an Iranian audience?

The main difference between the two audiences is that you might have to explain more to an American audience if you’re talking about something that’s part of the Persian culture. The same works the other way. If you have an older Iranian crowd you have to adjust your jokes. They probably don’t know some of the pop cultural references you might make. That’s the case with any audience though – you have to always adjust. As for being dirty. I’m not really that dirty. I do swear sometimes. It depends on the venue. If it’s a comedy club or theatre show I’m pretty loose. If it’s a black tie dinner then I make sure to watch my language and be respectful.

What is your process of making jokes?Do you have situations where, you kind of just wake up one morning and the joke is in your head or…?
Some comedians walk around with notebooks and write all the time. Since I’ve been a regular at the Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd. I’ve tended to try to write jokes on stage. What I do is take a premise up there with me and try to riff on it. Sometimes it works, many times it doesn’t. I tape record my sets to see what worked and what didn’t.

You’re part of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour cast along with Ahmed Ahmed and Aron Kader. Can you tell our visitors how you all decided to work together and how the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour got started
We first came together because the owner of the Comedy Store, Mitzi Shore, who is Pauley Shore’s mom wanted to do a Middle Eastern night at her club. In the past she’d done shows with her black comics and her Latino comics, etc. and she wanted to do one with Middle Easterners. The reason was that she had been watching a lot of news. She is Jewish, and she saw the latest intifada between the Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. She felt that there was going to be a need for a positive Middle Eastern voice in the media. This was in 2000. She put a show together and she called it “The Arabian Knights.” We did the show under that name for a few years, but I kept saying that Iranians aren’t Arabs. Our audience would remind us of that too. Anyway, we played around with a bunch of names and we really liked this one. We felt that it made fun of George Bush’s negative term by taking it and putting the word “comedy” at the end. We also felt that it was a bit irrelevant. On Nov. 11, 2005 me, Aron and Ahmed produced our first show under the new name at the Lisner Auditorium in DC. It was a huge hit at 1400 people came out. From there we continued to do packed shows and were able to get a production company on board in mid 2006 to help us shoot the special for Comedy Central in October of ’06. It premiered in March of 2007 as the first all Middle Eastern cast on an American TV show in history. We added Dean Obeidallah, who was a friend of ours, as the 4th act.

Since 9/11 the media often portrays middle easterners as terrorist and focuses on one image. You talk about prejudice and stereotypes in your shows, Is this tour your way of educating people and breaking prejudices through laughter?
Absolutely. I think there’s so much negativity out there, especially when dealing with the Middle East, that we felt we could help counter that by letting people see us laugh.

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