Maz Jobrani is a comedian, actor and writer who lives in Los Angeles. In this podcast, he joins New Lines’ Anthony Elghossain for a conversation on comedy and life.
“I got into comedy because I’m a fan of comedy.” Growing up, Jobrani was raised on a steady diet of standup greats. But he names comedians like Richard Pryor and George Carlin as particularly strong influences because of their political overtones. “I love it when people can make a point and be funny.”
But the Hollywood of Jobrani’s early career, during the Bush years, wasn’t a friendly place for a politically minded Muslim comedian. “Early on, when I would get acting parts, they’d go, ‘Okay, great, can you say I will kill you in the name of Allah!’?” he explains. Eventually he told his agent: “no more terrorist parts.”
He used the experiences as material for the Axis of Evil comedy tour, lampooning American Islamophobia and the War on Terror. Not everyone was amused. “I had people at my shows saying, ‘You can’t talk about our commander-in-chief that way during a time of war!’”
It’s perhaps these experiences that make Jobrani skeptical of modern fears about “cancel culture”: “You guys are saying that the left are snowflakes and doing cancel culture, but you’ve been trying to cancel me since back then!”
Jobrani’s comedy often covers issues of ethnicity, race and religion. That’s a big part of his appeal, particularly for those with Middle Eastern backgrounds who are rarely given the chance to see their experiences reflected in the American mainstream. But inevitably, some of his jokes have caused offense. At times, he says, he thinks the criticism has been overzealous. Still, he says, “I think we should be open to learning. … You gotta evolve; otherwise you’re gonna be obsolete.”
“My first goal is to be funny,” he says. “I always say, if you’re worried about pleasing everybody, now you’re just a jukebox and you’re taking requests.”
Produced by Joshua Martin