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Maz Jobrani – One Prosperous Knight
Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A lot of folks recognize Maz Jobrani from his role on ABC’s current hit comedy The Knights of Prosperity (Wednesdays at 8:30pm EST) where he’s part of a group that’s attempting to rob Mick Jagger. Many have also seen him performing as a part of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. The tour recently filmed a special for Comedy Central and Jobrani is also scheduled to be on HBO’s stand-up series P. Diddy Presents: The Bad Boys of Comedy. Both shows are set to air this spring. In addition to all that work Jobrani managed to find the time to be in the independent film Moonpie, which is due out later this year. Surprisingly, even with so much going on in his life, I caught up with Jobrani and we discussed his many roles, which roles he refuses to take, and some of the responsibilities he feels being a Middle Eastern actor and comedian in America.

Adam Bernard: So talk to me about your character from The Knights of Prosperity. He has a very very long name.
Maz Jobrani: My character is named Gourishankar Subramaniam and they just keep calling him Gary and it’s funny because we make a point of that a few times in the pilot episode like “do not call me Gary,” but finally he gives in and allows the rest of the crew to call him Gary. He’s an Indian cab driver in New York who used to be a lawyer back in India and he’s friends with the leader of the group, Eugene Gurkin, who’s played by Donal Logue. There are six of us in the group altogether and we’re trying to rob Mick Jagger. We’re like bumbling idiots Oceans Eleven basically. My character in particular, he’s a womanizer and he keeps trying to give advice on womanizing and he always comes up with the wackiest ideas. One of my favorite lines is when he’s giving advice to this young guy who we get on board as an intern, played by Josh Grisetti, and I say to him “in my lifetime I have made love to 73 women. All were left satisfied, many were left pregnant.”

Adam Bernard: Gary sounds like a great character to play. I know after seeing you on The Colbert Report a couple months ago, however, there are some roles you won’t take anymore.
Maz Jobrani: At a certain point in my career I told my agent, I had done a couple of terrorist parts and I said you know what, I don’t like doing this, let’s stop doing this. I always gave the caveat, you can’t say absolutely never ever, like let’s say somebody writes some amazing part and I am an actor after all, and I go my God this is like the Hannibal Lechter of terrorists, you might end up going “this is too much for me to pass up.” Or let’s say you’re living in a ditch and somebody comes and goes “Maz Jobrani what have you been doing over the past twenty years? Here’s fifty million dollars to get back on board and play a terrorist,” you might do it. For the most part my stance on it is there’s so much negativity around Middle Easterners now that if you want to see that you can just turn on the TV and see that in the news and it’s like it’s to the point where it’s just ridiculous. I do a joke on stage “I don’t know any terrorists, I’ve never met one or talked to one, not even accidentally. I’ve never been home late on night and gotten a phone call and heard ‘hello Hassan it goes down tomorrow at midnight.’ ‘Who is this?’ ‘Oops sorry, wrong number.’” I’ll hopefully get a chance to play other parts that are either positive or fun and in this case as an Indian cab driver, yeah people might say that’s a cliché, but it’s a fun part and there’s no threatening element to the character and there’s no negativity around it and I feel that this Middle Eastern community really needs a push in the direction of positivity. Along those lines I’m working on a screenplay called Jimmy Vestvood - American Hero, which is an Iranian guy whose name is Jamshied, but he changes it to Jimmy and he lives in Westwood, California, with his mother and he wants to be an American hero and it’s kind of like an Iranian or Middle Eastern Pink Panther meets Bend It Like Beckham. So I’m just trying to present that side because I think that’s a major side of the Middle Eastern population that has not been shown in western cinema or film or television.

Adam Bernard: Talk to me about the Comedy Central Axis of Evil Comedy Tour special, who else is involved with that and do you address some of those aforementioned topics?
Maz Jobrani: It’s with me, Ahmed Ahmed, who is Egyptian – American, Aron Kader, who is Palestinian – American, and Dean Obeidallah who is also Palestinian – American. On that show I talk about stuff like, I do a joke about they never show us doing anything good on TV, I just wish that one time they’d show us baking a cookie or something, just have CNN go now we’re going to go to Mohammed in Iran and they go to some guy and he goes ‘hello, I’m Mohammed and I’m just baking a cookie. I swear to God there’s no bombs, no flags, nothing. Back to you Bob.” And that would be the whole news piece and I’d be so happy. I talk about stuff like that. I try and just point it out and it’s funny because that actually gets applause a lot of times and I think that most people are sick of seeing the one image of Middle Easterners, not to say that there aren’t positive ones being written, but it’s just not that prominent yet and the negative ones continue to be shown. I think more people realize that it’s very lopsided.

Adam Bernard: It almost seems like The Hollywood Shuffle except with Middle Eastern actors.
Maz Jobrani: Yeah, absolutely and it’s funny because even with our standup we’ve had a couple of articles talk about us and say we’re kinda doing what Richard Pryor did for black comedy and Paul Rodriguez for Latinos and Margaret Cho for Asians and the sort and it feels like we’re going through the similar challenges. As early as three, four years ago when we’d try and book our shows with a Middle Eastern lineup some comedy clubs were like nah, I don’t know, I don’t know if there’s really a market for it, I don’t know what’s going on. So we finally went out on our own and started doing these theater shows and packing 1,500 people into a theater and then people started taking note like oh there is a market for this and it’s not just Middle Easterners. A lot of times our audience is 60% Middle Easterners and 40% regular Americans who just want to hear another viewpoint.

Adam Bernard: And funny is usually pretty sellable.
Maz Jobrani: Absolutely. And I think people just want to hear. We get a chance to talk about our experiences, we get a chance to talk about some of the hypocrisy in politics so our comedy isn’t just fart jokes, although I do have one fart joke that I actually like.

Adam Bernard: You have to have at least one in the repertoire.
Maz Jobrani: Yeah, you have to have one. But we talk about a lot of stuff, our experiences and the sort, and it’s great. We actually were put together by Mitzi Shore, who is Pauly Shore’s mother, but she’s also the owner of The Comedy Store. She put this crew together back in 2000. She originally called it The Arabian Knights and it was funny because Iranians aren’t Arabs so a lot of times we’d be doing our shows and Iranians would come up afterwards and say hey that was funny, we had a really good time, but Iranians aren’t Arabs. And I was like I know, it’s a name that was given to us, and it took us a while to come around and actually go with Axis of Evil Comedy Tour and just do our own thing, but we owe all of it to Mitzi Shore for putting it together and she’s Jewish-American. She wanted to put this voice of Middle-Easterners and Muslims out there because she knew, she said in 2000 when the whole thing in the Middle East with the Palestinians and Israelis started to heat up again, she said I know there’s going to be a need for this voice, and she was almost omniscient about it. So here we are getting a chance to actually put that positive voice out there.

For more Maz Jobrani check out MazJobrani.com and myspace.com/mazjobrani.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 8:07 AM  
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