Politics still packs a punch (line) for Iranian-American comics


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – For American-Iranian Maz Jobrani, a stand-up show in Dubai marked the first time he has been in front of a major live audience abroad since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – and he’s feeling it.

“Doing stand-up comedy is a bit like going to the gym – you have to take the stage five, 10 times a week,” said Jobrani, sitting in a Dubai hotel overlooking the Burj Khalifa, the most tall building in the world. “You have to keep going or the muscles are going to rust.”

Jobrani had a calm demeanor during a recent interview with The Associated Press. It was a far cry from the exaggerated expressions and dancing he was known for in his performance.

Taking the stage at the recent Dubai Comedy Festival, Jobrani broke into an Iranian dance routine to one of Dua Lipa’s hit pop songs, drawing laughter from an audience eager to step out as the coronavirus pandemic hit. still raging in much of the world. The UAE has one of the highest per capita vaccination rates in the world and its economy has largely reopened.

Being on stage has become a luxury for comedians, Jobrani said, with some unable to perform for more than a year. After theaters closed last year, additional creativity was needed. First, Jobrani started doing shows on Instagram, letting his fans know what he was doing on a daily basis during the lockdown, or doing workouts using random items.

Then he tried drive-ins, which posed the same problem for stand-up comedy as it did for online video calls: “You can’t hear their laughter,” he says. “You have to remind them, ‘If you like what I’m saying, if you like the joke, please honk your horn,” he said. “So people would honk at you, you would tell a joke (and) they would honk at you. “

In some states in the United States, he has performed in open-air venues to limited audiences. At others, he played indoors. In Arizona and Florida, he performed at comedy clubs, where he said he felt nervous because it was before the vaccine rolled out.

“Comedians need interaction – we’re the best in a play, with an audience, laughing, talking,” he said. “And this far-off world took that away from us, but again, I think we have adjusted, a lot of people have adjusted.”

Jobrani, originally from Iran, moved to California at the age of 6 with his family. Like many Iranians, they fled the 1979 Islamic revolution in the country. He grew up in the San Francisco area.

His acting credits begin immediately after the 9/11 attacks with a major role in the American action series “24”, in which he plays a member of an Afghan militant group in hopes of detonating a nuclear bomb. in Los Angeles.

He later stopped taking such roles, but still played with the theme, organizing the “Axis of Evil” comedy tour. He wrote a book called “I am not a terrorist, but I played one on television.” Much of his comedy is fueled by that and his background. During Donald Trump’s tenure, he focused on the US president.

“You know, for the last four years I’ve been very political, constantly with Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump stuff,” he said. “You know the Muslim ban, you know the children in cages, you know the mismanagement of the coronavirus.”

Jobrani’s visit to Dubai came at a trendy time for the wider Middle East. Tensions remain high between his native Iran and the United States as negotiations continue over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers, as a hard line appears poised to take the presidency.

On the day of his set, Israel and the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip agreed to a truce after an 11-day war that killed more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians in Gaza, and caused extensive destruction in the Gaza Strip. impoverished coastal territory.

While Jobrani discussed the conflict and the politics of the region in an interview with the PA, he did not mention it in his set.

“It’s interesting because what you do as a comedian, you know, your job is to make people laugh,” Jobrani said. “If I lived here and … felt there was an injustice and really wanted to talk about it, I would probably find the right way to do it in this society.”

The UAE only reached a diplomatic recognition deal with Israel last year and signed the White House deals with Trump – but Jobrani believes Trump should not be praised for the deal.

“There had been no will to resolve this problem, the Israeli-Palestinian question,” he said. “I think once again that governments, especially the United States, have not given it priority, even under Obama and especially under Trump.”

“It was laughable that a lot of conservatives in America were like, ‘Well, Trump made peace in the Middle East,’ he said. I said, “They weren’t at war, what are you talking about?” “”

Life doesn’t seem to be slowing down for the comedian. He continues his tour, creating his “Back to School with Maz Jobrani” podcast, spending time with his wife and two children, and caring for a dog they adopted during the pandemic.

But even though his jokes are about politics, he says he’s feeling the boost of what he’s described as all the material – and chaos – of the Trump presidency.



“I’ll say I’m almost exhausted, it’s almost we’ve had PTSD for four years,” Jobrani said. “But the problem is, what I feel is the injustice in the world has not stopped,” he continues. So sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I have to go back on this roller coaster.’ “


Follow Malak Harb on Twitter at www.twitter.com/malakharb.