Photos by Storm Santos
Maz Jobrani wants his daughter to be a DJ.
“She loves music, she memorizes every lyric, she's got a good ear for it,” the comedian explains to Los Angeles Confidential.
Jobrani isn’t exactly pushing for a DJ career, but thinks she should at least give it a try (he’s currently hired her to come up with a few mixes). His encouragement comes from his belief that if you’re lucky enough to find what you love to do, do it.
He pushed the same sentiment a few years ago when giving the commencement speech at his alma mater, UC Berkeley. “Don't listen to your parents,” he recalls saying. “They don't know what they're talking about. Go find what you love and do it.”
Jobrani’s words of advice come from personal experience. He has loved stand up comedy since he was a kid, but being a comic wasn’t always part of the plan.
“My parents being immigrant parents didn't understand what this was,” Jobrani says. “They kept diverting me in different directions and I was going to be a lawyer, then I was going to be a professor, then I was going to work in advertising. And it wasn't till I was in my mid 20s when I realized you live once.”
“I love being onstage,” he adds. “I love talking about what's on my mind. I love interacting with the audience. It's a therapy for me, and I think it's a therapy for the audience.”
On March 31, Jobrani’s newest comedy special, The Birds and the Bees, hits YouTube. It marks his seventh special, following Netflix’s Immigrant from 2017; Peacock’s Pandemic Warrior from 2021 and a lineup of TV roles on Grey’s Anatomy, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Shameless, among others.
The title comes from a bit inspired by a real-life moment with his own kids, his daughter and son.
“I talked about the difference of the culture I grew up in and the culture my kids are growing up in,” he says. “I talked about how when I was a kid, nobody did ‘birds and the bees’ with us… I think culturally it wasn't as common. And secondly, when I went to my Iranian dad and I said, ‘Tell me about the birds and the bees.’ He was like, ‘We don't have birds and bees. We have lawyers and doctors. Just be one of those.’ So he didn't want to talk about it. The truth is all my standup comes from either experiences or from observations. And so this happened to me. Parents will tell you, we read a lot of parenting books and I'd been told if your kids ask you a question, answer them honestly.”
Given that Jobrani draws from his own life experience for material, his kids are regularly part of his material. In moments of Immigrant, he touches on putting the kids to bed, carseats and parenthood exhaustion. They have also regularly attended his shows.
“They gotta earn their rent,” Jobrani jokes. “They've seen me on stage forever, but as they got older, I realized they're gonna be a little more aware of what I'm talking about.”
In addition to checking in with his kids to be sure they don’t feel like he is “defaming them,” Jobrani is sure to present his kids as multidimensional.
“I think anybody who's got kids will tell you when boys start to get into their teenage years, they get a little spaced out. I was like that, my son is like that, a lot of the parents I talked to go, ‘Yeah, my son is spaced out now.’ Rather than just piling on him on stage and saying, ‘Oh, he's always spaced out.’ I make sure to go, ‘By the way, my son's a smart kid. But I just think boys as they get into their teenage years, they get a little spaced out.’ I make sure that he doesn't feel like I'm abusing him. And then he's come to my shows and I've asked him, ‘Hey, you're cool with it?’ He's like, ‘Yeah, I love it.’”
Like any comedian, Jobrani wants his material to be seen, which is part of the reason The Birds and the Bees is on YouTube. More importantly, putting the special on the free global platform widens access, which is key for his fanbase that stretches from the U.S. to Europe to the Middle East and beyond.
Stand-up comedy, as Jobrani notes, has become more international. His point is best proven by his own recent travels: Cairo, Kuwait, Doha, London, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul. From spring to mid-summer, he’ll tour around the U.S. before heading to Australia for the rest of the season.
“It’s like my body has no idea where I am,” he says.
Jobrani credits the international fanship to social media. Through YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, people anywhere in the world can develop a taste for the rhythms of stand-up comedy. He admits to being nervous before his recent slate of shows in the Middle East. It had been about 10 years since he performed in Egypt.
Back in 2007 as part of the Axis of Evil comedy tour, Jobrani brings up being told to not talk about sex, religion or politics on stage. This time around, the promoters instilled the same rules.
“I got to drop a couple F bombs. And I got to tell the story of when I gave the birds and the bees sex talk to my kids accidentally,” he remembers thinking.
“After the shows, I was getting people coming up going, ‘I'm so happy you went for it,’ because they were afraid I would pull back. And they've been used to seeing social media people going for it because they're seeing clips from stand-up comedians from around the world. They don't want you to go to their countries and pull back even when it comes time to talking about politics.”
Jobrani’s recent sets feature bits from the new special, but he has already begun to weave in other material, which can also be seen on his Instagram and TikTok. A quick scroll through his profiles and you’ll see a number of posts dedicated to amplifying the atrocities happening in Iran, which is where he was born and lived until age 6. Jobrani was on tour last September in Europe when he learned about the death of Mahsa Amini, which sparked a revolutionary movement in Iran and outcry from around the world. This prompted Jobrani to channel his efforts to spread awareness about the mistreatment of women and others inside Iran and their protests.
However, you won’t find Jobrani discussing the Iranian protests in The Birds and the Bees because the shoot happened in August 2022, which was about a month before Amini’s death.
Filming took place at The Comedy Store— hallowed comedic grounds on the Sunset Strip since 1972. Jobrani himself got his start at the club, which he explains in the new hour.
Decades into performing in Los Angeles, Jobrani’s life philosophy is more than just do what you love. To survive in comedy, you have to adapt.
“Your audience is going to get old and younger audiences aren't going to want to watch you,” he concludes.
In his own act, Jobrani has shifted his approach to embodying different characters. “I love doing accents and I always wanted to do characters. And I have throughout my career. I've played an Arab, Mexican, I’ve played it all. As an industry and as a people as we've evolved, we see ‘Oh, you know what, let people from those backgrounds represent themselves. And so whereas the accent used to be part of the joke, I realized if you're leaning on the accent for people to laugh, then the joke isn't funny.”
“Comedians have the choice. You either evolve or you go extinct.”
Photography by: Storm Santos