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What a trip

We talked, we laughed and there was no mention of Pacino

By Peyvand Khorsandi
April 4, 2002
The Iranian

Jahanshah Javid has not seen Scarface. There was me thinking he would have it on video. It's Saturday March 16 and I've just had a brainwave for tonight's fundraiser in Berkeley. I need to see Tony Montana. I want to hear his faux-Spanish accent. But the show's promoter and editor of has no idea why I might want to impersonate Big Al on stage.

Perhaps, I muse, Pacino's character in that film does not play so important a part in the Middle-Eastern male psyche after all. Just as well: Montana wanted to sleep with his sister and killed his best friend for doing so. When he shoots Manolo, boys are shocked but, somewhere deep in our mindset, we understand it.

I don't venture to ask whether Javid has seen Gheysar, Kimiai's Behrouz Vossoughi vehicle. It would upset me too much if he hasn't. Gheysar, it is worth noting, also had a sister thing: he wanted to avenge the rape of his own. Masculinity is a weird thing.

Two minutes in Javid's car, the make of which is hidden by dust, I'm having an identity crisis. It's 10:30 in the morning and we're off to a local Farsi radio station to plug tonight's event. There is a fizzy, denim-clad woman in the back. My friend Zaid is sitting next to her. It turns out she is an contributor who goes by the name of Niki Tehranchi.

We are an unlikely bunch, but everyone gets along and San Francisco rolls by until we reach the university, from where a weekly two-hour radio programme is broadcast.

Tehranchi won't participate in the interview. A 25-year-old attorney from Orange County who drives to and from LA every day, she is here, like me, to meet Javid and witness in the flesh.

As I struggle with rusty Farsi, a listener phones in to complain about my pronunciation of the word "Iranian". She sounds like an older woman and insists it's "Iraaanian", not "Iraynian". The tune to "I say tomayto, you say tomaaato" enters my head. We agree to disagree. Seven days later I realise what I should have said to her: You don't get Americans asking Iranians to say America instead of "Umrika".

What a [expletive], I tell Javid when we are off air. "That was my aunt," he says. But I don't feel embarrassed. There's no need to. That's the thing with Javid. He understands.

The radio presenters appear to be wrapping up and I notice they haven't announced the reservations number for the venue. Javid searches his pockets hurriedly. He doesn't have it. I don't believe it. We have come to publicise the show and he hasn't brought the number. I like this guy.

We drive to Berkeley for lunch. I apologise to him for having offered someone two free tickets. "Don't worry, it'll help fill the place up," he says. "How many bookings have you had?" I ask. "Actually, I haven't phoned the theatre yet." Great, I think. He is afraid no one will turn up. At least Tehranchi will be there; she hasn't seen my act. So will Javid himself and perhaps his aunt. My trip will not have been in vain.

We eat some falafels, humus and stuff for lunch. Javid pays. By this stage we are both getting edgy. Zaid is helping with outbursts of humour and Tehranchi looks like a rational human being -- a soothing sight.

Back at base, in Javid's apartment, I get a chance to lie down and go through my set -- in the very room is produced. I need to snatch something from the net. "Er, the printer's not working," says Javid. I grab the yellow duck I've brought him from London and lie down. Through the ceiling-to-floor pane I see Berkeley upside down. Zaid, who works in marketing, decides to devise a strategy for and is quizzing Javid about the site. I ask them to be quiet.

Before we leave for the theatre Zaid and I find a ladder which takes us to the top of Javid's apartment block. There is a magnificent view of the Bay Area and in the distance, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge. Wow. "Hey guys, where are you?" shouts Javid from downstairs. He is unaware of the two pot-heads on his roof.

We are backstage at the Julia Morgan Center and it is almost full. Javid and I are discussing how late we should start - five, ten, fifteen minutes? We settle on ten.

Audience murmur rises. Javid looks petrified. Thanks to Zaid and Johnny Walker I am reasonably calm. But going on first, I feel people need a warm-up. "Get everyone to clap," I suggest -- a classic warm-up device. "When they do," I add, "say 'I didn't hear that!' and ask them to clap and cheer louder and louder until they're ready to go. Then give me my cue." Javid stares at me. I might as well have asked him to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, plant a flag at its summit and sing "I am what I am."

The show rocks. The audience loves Saman and his highly entertaining cartoons and Elham Jazab has them in stitches with her inventive gags.

Nine days later I am back in a Berkeley restaurant with Jazab, Javid and my last cheeseburger in the States. I demolish it. Elham, who later takes me to the airport, has a Caesar salad. I can't remember what Jahanshah ordered. We talked, we laughed and there was no mention of Pacino.

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Khorsandi's features index


Peyvand, Elham & Saman
Norooz show interviews

It was raw, irritating and urgent as ever to be Iranian with filling our tortured need for friendship, affection and acceptance

Gheysar: The crown jewel
... of Iranian movies
By Niki Tehranchi

My flag
Conquering Mount Kilimanjaro cleared my mind
By Amir Khosrow Sheibany


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