[Re]defining Iranian comedy

Part of being an immigrant in the US, is understanding that there is a period of time that one has to go through, as the rest of America begins to accept you and your culture into it’s fold. Before you can truly melt into the pot. The concept of melting, depending on your culture and it’s character might be a bit daunting to some, more easily accepted to others.

For example, it certainly appears that Indians have been more willing to blend into American culture as they immigrate. They seem to have arrived recently, or certainly after we did, and they look far more comfortable with the process of Amercanizing their culture, than we seem to be. Indian characters while still certainly stereotypical, have become a mainstay of films , television, and popular culture in the US. While mostly an added comedic element, America seems fascinated with making fun of the “Indian accent”, and more interesting is that Indians seem OK with it.

We, as Iranians do not seem to be as comfortable with the process of blending into America just yet, but every year you can see a definite example of  our reluctant acceptance of the fact. This year, seems to be the year of voting and political participation. If only slightly a bit more than the last election. And Iranian politicians. This year was a record for Iranians running for office. They didn’t win much, but they ran.

Another area though, that does not get much mention, is Comedy. Comedy is the most un-Iranian of arts. We all know of the Television and Film exploits of famous Iranian comics like Maz Jobrani in the US, and Omid Djalili in the UK. But the concept and lifestyle of the “Stand Up Comic”, and the cultural character of the traditional American “Comedy Club”, is largely foreign to us. Possibly because we don’t like to be made fun of, or sit and watch someone make fun of someone else. Especially when it is about us, and especially when it is done in English.

One of the most overlooked traits of our culture, is our incredible sense of humor. The look, the descriptions or set up, the punch line, or the delivery are all so perfectly funny, that often, even if you cannot tell a joke, telling an Iranian joke is not hard to do. It is a perfect package, merely ready for you to deliver it. many times, the Persian Joke is easily transferable and translates even. One of my favorite examples is this one,

A man goes to the doctor and says, “Doctor whenever I drink tea, my eye hurts.” The Doctor says, “Have you tried removing the spoon from the cup?”

Puzzling is, that traditionally, we have a rich tradition of making fun of our own people in Farsi. The “Rashti Joke”, usually centered around the promiscuity of the Rashti’s wife and his forgivings of her, or the “Torki Joke”, centered around the affable dim-wit and his profound observations of the world, is a mainstay of Iranian comedy. We even have an “Old School” of comedy with timeless professional comedians such as Hadi Khorsandi, who even today receive mixed reviews, either being too politically blunt, which comes out bitter, or not funny enough on a relative, or how do I relate to it, scale. But for some reason, most Iranian comedy is done in private, one on one, rather than in a public place. Even at parties, these kinds of jokes are rarely done out loud, and if you look around, you can see the definite discomfort, the joke teller feeling the barbs of those angry Persian eyes, targeting him with the bows of the Persian eyebrows. Even in our own skin, we are uncomfortable with this apparent social meanness.

While this is happening within our community, young Iranians who have grown up here, and have acclimated to the American culture of popularity, and the accepted norm of selling what you’ve got, your features, your benefits, and value to the common general population, have begun to carve a definite niche for us. Mostly without us knowing. A point of concern for sure, were it not for the fact that we are largely in good hands.

A good example of these kinds of forays into American comedy culture are K-Von, Elham Jazzab and Max Amini, 3 young Iranian-American comedians who appear regularly at such bastions of American comedy like the Laugh Factory, The Improv, and the Comedy Store. These brave souls are confidently proposing that the Iranian in our midst is in fact funny and ultimately good. Especially today, this is a good thing for America. A good and funny thing.

K-Von: A half-breed (Father Iranian, Mom American), you could say that K-Von was raised in Mecca, not Saudi Arabia, but that other mecca, the mecca of entertainment, namely Las Vegas. This has prepared him for a career that has included several appearances on the famed Second City improv troupe, as well as Good Morning America. K-Von’s specialty is in taking the ultra hip-and hop experience of “Being Persian” to you. In your face cockiness and all done in a fun and hilarious way, K-von’s youthful and hip brand of right-on comedy allows you to laugh at yourself and be a proud Iranian at the same time.

Elham Jazzab: In my mind nothing is harder than being a woman comic IN America. It seems it is the realm of men, and it is rare that a woman can hold her own. Now scratch everything I just said, when talking about Elham jazzab. She is so confident and proud and loud, and she has the Persian Accent and impressions of common Iranian characters down pat, and knows when to use it in full force. Similar in K-von in pointing out our tics and features, but with the added benefit of the uniquely observant and funny woman’s perspective. Elham Jazzab is the funniest Iranian woman today.

Max Amini: More sophisticated in appearance than you’d expect, Max Amini could model if he wanted to. Possibly this and being a good actor explains his appearance on hit shows like “Heroes”. But apparently he would rather perform his brand of comedy by describing the Iranian experience in America in the form of “I can relate to that” stories and his ( and ours) hilarious family-life experiences.

What is especially encouraging to note is that none of this crop of new comedians relies on any kind of put down of their own culture, but rather takes it to America, as more of a proud and defiant claim of cocky betterness. It seems that they have more confidence in the power of their culture, and it’s ability to express humor and superior observation of the quirks and chinks in American cultural armor. Unafraid to compare and contrast Iranians to Whites, Blacks Hispanics or other groups. These comedians with their ability to walk the tightrope between controversy and compatibility, show us a new world in which personal and cultural pride can coexist, and even thrive, while dealing with the ongoing challenges of new immigrant assimilation. Even as lazy as we have been, to actually assimilate.  

K-Von, Elham Jazzab and Max Amini, and their unique new brand of smart contemporary Iranian comedy is being accepted and even sought out by the America comedy marketplace, especially now, and it seems whenever the need to understand Iran and Iranians comes up, which is more often these days than not. It seems that the rest of the world won’t leave you alone when you are not free and are being oppressed, even if you yourself seem to be largely comfortable with it. Human nature it seems, wants to heal another human when it sees that other human is not well.

You can see K-Von, Elham Jazzab and Max Amini, perform their new Iranian comedy, on October 4th at Theater Artaud in San Francisco, part of Beyond Persia’s “Fall For Iran” month long arts and culture festival, happening throughout October. For more information please contact: Click to visit: Beyond Persia

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