Interviews with Peyvand Khorsandi and Elham Jazab, who will be performing at the Iranian.com Norooz show in Berkeley on March 16. Cartoonist Saman will also talk about, and present a slide show, of his latest caroons.
Q: Is this your first performance in the U.S.?
No, in summer 1999 I started “How to be Iranian” with my sister Shappi at the LA Cabaret in Encino. We performed each Sunday for nine weeks. It is now a sushi bar.
This is my general disposition, so before a major gig it's just more of a familiar feeling.
Q: What adjustments do you think you have to make to appeal to Iranians here?
English words like “mini-cab” worry me. Will they know I am referring to taxis or will they think it's a rare species of bird?? Q: What attracted you to being a comedian? Obviously your father is an influence. But what convinced you that this is what you wanted to do? And what differences do you see in your style/approach to his?
Abbas Kiarosatami once said that film-making chose him rather than vice versa. Film-making didn't choose me, comedy did. I don't know what influence Kiarostami's dad had on him.
Q: When you prepare your material, do you always have a political/moral message in mind? Or do you focus more on entertainment with or without a message?
No, something will grab my attention, like two Chinooks are downed, U.S. soldiers are killed and, hey, the war is back!
Q: In the past year or so, I have heard the names of at least four Iranian standup comedians who perform in English. Why this sudden surge?
Britain's Omid Djalili is the first and most accomplished. Shappi Khorsandi is now a familiar name on London's comedy circuit. I doubt there's a “surge”. Most Iranians are still in proper jobs.
Q: Are immigrant Iranian kids all grown up now and making fun of their community with all its contradictions?
We never aim to “make fun”. I look to Spike Lee's “The Kings of Comedy” for inspiration. The chemistry between those Black performers and their audience is phenomenal.
Q: Who's your favorite comedian?
Right now, Tony Blair.
Q: What is the best joke you've ever heard? “It's time to bomb Iraq.” We never stopped bombing Iraq.
Q: When did you first realize that you want to be a comedian? When did you first start? What was your first performance like?
Okay… well my background is in acting, that's what I studied and I would say that it's my first love, comic acting. But my comedy came about as a result of my background as a performance artist in Chicago, writing my own material and performing certain characters with different names, backgrounds etc.
But I stopped performing shortly after I got married (life was too hectic) and started again shortly after my divorce 4 years. ago. But it took on new life as me as a comedian though I still like to call myself a performance artist to leave the door open for other venues. I've loved acting and being on stage since I was in 4th grade
Q: What is it about our Iranian/American culture that generates material for your performances? Is it the clash between traditional and modern values? And the sense of being the “other” (immigrants) in a new land?
I'd have to say that my material right now comes from my experiences with everyday life and with Persians as I did not grow up around Iranians. We left Iran when I was a baby, and I visited once.
I feel American. I've never felt different or unusual, maybe in the south a little because my name was weird compared to everyone else's but that's it. I feel more as if I'm a visitor in Persian culture than American culture primarily because I identify so clearly with American/Western culture but also with European culture and having lived in Africa, with ethnic cultures there.
I feel very international in many ways because I look as if I CAN be from different cultures and blend well with a variety of different cultures.
Q: Do you see any difference between your approach and those of American comedians?
The difference between me and other American comedians? I dunno, I'm Persian by heritage so I can have a totally different take. I can do the ethnic thing, that's not available to the typical comedian, and I can make it be my thing.
Q: What is your favorite joke?
My favorite or best joke of recent times? Two peanuts were walking down a dark alley. One was assaulted. (It's a pun, I love puns).
Edited samples of Saman's cartoons which will for the first time be shown at the Norooz show. Saman will be there in person to talk about his work.