This Axis of Evil is About Laughter and Togetherness
It sounds like the start of an awful joke: an Iranian, a Palestinian and an Egyptian walk into a comedy club.
And the name of their act? The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour.
But Iranian-born comic Maz Jobrani makes no apologies for his trio’s in-your-face take on Middle Eastern culture and terrorism. His motto: laughter can humanize people on both sides.
“I was down with the whole Axis of Evil thing until they got to Iran,” said Jobrani, speaking over a static-filled cell phone call from Los Angles. “I mean, the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis and Egyptians…what did we do? (pregnant pause). All right, we might have a nuclear program. But come on.”
Onetime doctoral student Jobrani, a character actor with a credit list miles long (Friday After Next, ABC’s The Knights of Prosperity, The Interpreter, NYPD Blue, 24, ER, and more), originally performed with the Arabian Knights tour, organized by legendary Comedy Store owner Mitzi “Paulie’s mom” Shore.
But eventually he joined Egyptian-born standup Ahmed Ahmed, Palestinian-American Aron Kader and sometimes guest Palestinian-American Dean Obeidallah in the Axis, borrowing heavily from the tradition set by the all-black Kings of Comedy and white, working class Blue Collar comedy tours.
Here’s what Jobrani had to say about the journey.
Deggans: Were you worried about coining such a controversial name?
Jobrani: “If you look at our Web site, it’s got pictures of us smiling and it says “Axis of Evil.” We’re trying to contrast that term with the real face of actual people. I’ve heard so many people go, ‘Let’s just bomb the whole region and let them figure it out.’ This is just a nice way of turning it all around.”
Will it be tougher now because of the controversy over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinijad coming here?
Jobrani: “No. We need to allow somebody like him to come and speak because that’s what this country stands for. I couldn’t make fun of the president of Iran in Iran, you know. You’d say, ‘Hey, Maz, that was a good show. When’s your next show?’ And I’d be like, ‘There are no more shows. You know, the ministry of no shows came up and my next show will be a prison.’”
Is it hard to find comedy in these subjects so close to tragedy?
Jobrani: “After Sept. 11 happened, I honestly felt that I would never be funny again. I was just so in shock of the tragedy of it. But a little while after, I tried to make it about making fun of the terrorists…I never make fun of victims, I never make fun of the underdog.”
When I heard about this tour, my first thought was ‘They must be traveling by bus.’ (laughter) Jokes aside, how do you guys get around?
Jobrani: “Well, Ahmed Ahmed, his name is the same as one of the terrorists on the most-wanted list. So I always joke, ‘Ahmed is the best guy to travel with because they always pull him over and you just sneak all your contraband right through.’ But after Sept. 11, I was expecting to be pulled over and it didn’t happen. It kinda scared me. You should be looking at people who look like me.”
Have you refused to play terrorists any more?
Jobrani: “I’ve always said if somebody writes like, you know, some amazing part that actually shows why this guy became a terrorist and it’s intricate stuff, I’d like to take that on. Or, 10 years down the line, if I’m starving, in a ditch, you know (laughter).
Gotta be practical.
Jobrani: “The problem is, you know, Italians had The Sopranos but they also had Ray Romano. They also have a lot of positive Italian characters in different things. They’re absolutely countering it. Unfortunately, we have mostly negative stuff…(And) don’t you think those images make it easier for us to drop bombs on these countries?”