Axis of Maz
In today’s ever-evolving, and often-tumultuous, social and political landscape of America, Maz Jobrani, 48, boldly stays his own course – with refreshingly frank political humor, an ability to adapt to life’s curveballs, and a little time away from technology. The Iranian-American comedian and actor cemented himself as a household name in 2007 with his boundary-breaking comedy group and international tour: the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. Repurposing and reclaiming a term originally intended to stoke up fear and create separation, he used his sense of humor to make the immigrant experience universal and touchingly relatable. But he wasn’t always on the course towards a career in the spotlight.
Born in Tehran, Iran, Jobrani and his family immigrated to California when he was just 6 years old. Expected to make his parents proud with a career as a doctor or lawyer, he went to UC Berkeley to study political science (and Italian as a minor). But in his first year of a PhD program at UCLA, he realized his calling was somewhere else. “I dropped out of my PhD program the first year I was in it,” he recalls. “And slowly but surely, I ended up working my way back into what my love was – to be on stage and on screen.” Getting his start in the industry in his mid-twenties, he began taking the first steps toward the life he wanted for himself. “The idea was, you live once, and you can’t live for your parents, or for anybody else, you’ve got to pursue your dream. So when I was 26, I decided to get into my dream of being a comedian and actor,” he adds.
And that wasn’t the only time he’d forge his own path in the face of criticism. To Jobrani, infusing politics into his comedy is less of a courageous career choice, and more of an inevitability. Combining his interest in social and political issues with performing and making people laugh, he has found his niche in that space. “I love it if I’m able to do comedy and also have a message,” he shares. “I feel that it’s raising my comedy to another level.”
But despite bringing such a lovability to the stage and the screen, he’s found that his jokes might not be for everyone, especially in the divided and politically-charged environment of today. Jobrani’s work is, at its heart, a true expression of himself – and for the most part, he’s unconcerned. “Ultimately, I don’t necessarily set out to write my comedy with the reaction of the fans in mind, other than hoping that they laugh,” he says. “It’s about self-expression, it’s about having a point of view.” Although he tends to unabashedly comment on some pretty serious subject matter, Jobrani challenges himself to conclude on a lighthearted note (“I think as long as you’re ending it with a punchline, you’re still in the comedy game”).
Still packing a punchline, Jobrani has spent his recent days tackling the world of online and socially-distanced performance. With a global lockdown in March, the stand-up comedy industry has been forced to evolve, and Jobrani has found a way to adapt, bringing his signature freshness and pluck to the Zoom screen. However, in a world that becomes increasingly digital, he prioritizes spending plenty of time away from devices and screens to prevent “virtual burnout.” In fact, that’s Jobrani’s most important piece of advice to humankind in our collective recovery and reinvention of society once the pandemic dust settles. Social media has a tendency (and an algorithm) to turn into an echo chamber for like-minded people, and it’s been detrimental to our politics and our society. Jobrani aims to change that and to get people more active in their search for truth. “Get off your phone, try to research stuff before forwarding it, and if you can, go out and be in nature,” he says.
Writer: Summer Myatt
Photographer & Videographer: Haldane Morris
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)