Maz Jobrani has an energy that permeates everything he does, says, and creates. It’s a dynamic energy that equips him with the multi-tasking skills needed in a successful host, comedian, and producer.
Whether you know him from his stand-up comedy specials, his many appearances on talk shows like The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Late Late Show with James Corden, or his numerous television roles, you know that he fills a room.
His most recent comedy special, Pandemic Warrior, is streaming on Peacock and beautifully illustrates his ability to adapt a project to suit the changing context of the world.
Speaking to TV Fanatic by phone from Los Angeles, Jobrani explains how this special, like many projects these days, needed its timeline (and its title!) to become flexible with the impact of the pandemic.
“We shot it in 2019 in Dubai. The idea was to finish the editing and have it sold in early 2020, and life goes on. Well, the pandemic hit.
“Originally, it was called Peaceful Warrior. It was called Peaceful Warrior simply because during the Trump era, I had been doing some shows where some Trump supporters would get upset at Trump jokes, and they would scream at me.
“And [initially], I would get into an argument. I’d scream back. And that would always derail the show. So, quickly, I learned, rather than screaming back, I will Tai Chi the moment and take their screaming and just smile back and say, ‘Hey, what a great country where you can express yourself. Thanks for coming to the show, etc., etc.’
“If you go to YouTube, you put ‘Maz Jobrani Trump Heckler,’ I think it comes up. We have this video. I was in a club. Some lady starts — she was drunk — she started heckling me about Donald Trump. I just smiled for like five minutes. She just digs her own grave more and more. It’s pretty funny.
“Therefore, it was called Peaceful Warrior. Go to Dubai, film it, come back, ready to sell it. Pandemic hits.
“Then I see other specials they’ve shot before the pandemic. They start to come out. And I’m watching them, and they feel like they’ve been shot on Mars because there’s an audience, they’re sitting next to each other, the comic is talking about traffic. It doesn’t make sense.
“I thought, ‘You know what? If I’m going to put my special out, I’m going to add a little bit to the special, at the beginning of the whole thing — beginning and the end — that shows how we’re doing stand-up during the pandemic.’
“So the show starts with me in a closet basically, doing stand-up for like four or five minutes. Then, I frame it by going, ‘Guys, this is what happened, blah blah blah. Now let’s go to the special that I shot before.’ And you go see the whole special. And then, in the end, you come back, and I’m back in the closet doing a few more jokes.
“[And so], I took Peaceful Warrior, named it Pandemic Warrior, and kind of gave a flavor for what stand-up comedy was like under the pandemic.
While many things spring to mind when one thinks of Maz Jobrani’s career, podcast host isn’t necessary at the top of the list.
And yet, his podcast, Back to School with Maz Jobrani, has been dropping weekly, hour-long episodes since April 2019.
“It’s the best-kept secret of my career. It’s been a fun ride. The idea for the podcast came when my kid would ask me questions that I didn’t have the answers for.
“So, I said, ‘Rather than just googling it, let me bring in experts, and let’s learn from them.’
“And it’s just become an excuse now to talk to really interesting people. And the more you do it, the more you realize how many interesting people there are. I mean, obviously, we know that, but it’s just crazy.
“I had Jill Heinerth, who is [a] cave diver. I had a guy named Firouz Naderi who helped land the Rover on Mars. I had a former assistant director of counter-intelligence at the FBI named Frank Figliuzzi, who was talking to us about the threat of white supremacists. This was in the fall of last year before the Capitol attack.
“These are interesting people. We have a team that helps find people, as well as my publicist, Kasey. I also sometimes will look at people that I’m following on Twitter that I enjoy, and I’ll reach out to them. So I had a few people come on from there.
“Once they are coming… Obviously, I want to be prepared by knowing some things about them. I also like to keep the conversation flowing a lot of times. It’s almost like we’re sitting there… It’s not a TV interview where they have seven minutes, and I gotta ask the exact questions I gotta ask and get those in.
“It’s a longer interview, so I will have a series of questions ready to go. But then, as we go, it finds a life of its own, so we end up having more of a conversation.
“One of the challenges is to tell my kids, ‘Okay, so this week, this is the person coming on.’
“So whether they have a biography or they have a book they’ve sent, or there’s somewhere to read, I have them read up a little bit .. y’know, study ten minutes, fifteen minutes, reading about the person or watching a TED talk they gave or something and then I go, ‘So what’s your question for… whoever that guest is.’
“And we always launch it like that then. From there, my sidekick — his name is Tehran — he’s a fellow Iranian-American who’s half-Persian and half-Black. He’s always got some good questions too. I feel like we have a pretty good rapport going, and it’s fun.
“It’s been a lot of fun. Especially since the pandemic, there was not a lot of time to tour or opportunities to tour obviously, and before, we used to record in the studio. Now, we’ve been recording via Zoom, so that’s been a little more convenient. We can just do it from the back and be done with it.
Jobrani notes that the leaps and bounds technology has taken in the wake of COVID-19 measures has reshaped the landscape.
“It’s created these environments, these communities, in a way. Originally, you had FaceTime, right? One-on-one, which is still good, but it’s not quite what Zoom or the others are. People are having fun with them.
“Obviously, there were a lot of technical problems. For me, as a comedian, I was hesitant at first to do stand-up comedy shows on Zoom because, as comedians, our instinct is that we need people in front of us. We need a live audience.
“But the first time I did one, it was for a Google event. It was a charity event for some Googlers. And it was actually kind of funny because once the opening act was finished, it was my turn to do my set.
“I started to talk, and they go, ‘We can’t hear you!’ And I’m going, ‘What?’ ‘We can see you, but we can’t hear you.’ So it became this technical glitch.
“So then one of the people from Google said, ‘Okay, I’ll call you on your phone and put you on speakerphone, and they can hear your through mine while they see you.’
“If this were a formal thing [like the Oscars], they might’ve been freaking out, but as a comedian, that’s just gold presenting itself right in front of you.
“The first thing I said when they got me on: ‘Guys, remind me after this, to sell all my Google stock because it’s horrible.’ I was just making fun of it, right?
“And then, from there, I learned whenever I’ve done these Zoom shows, it’s amazing because you start, you do about 5-10 minutes of your material, and then, as you’re doing your show, you just start looking into the audience because you’re seeing everyone on gallery.
“People love it when you just start picking on people and go, ‘Hey, Tommy, could you stop flossing? I’m doing a show over here.’ And everyone starts looking at Tommy. It’s become pretty fun.
“I was actually having this argument with another comedian recently where I said, ‘God, I’m actually having a lot of fun doing it,’ and they’re like, ‘No way!’ and I said, ‘Dude, I go in the back of my house.’ I’ve got a little office back there.
“I do about fifteen minutes of material, and then I just start talking with them. And I’m going, ‘Hey, what’re you doing? What’s going on with you? How’s everyone doing? How are your kids doing? And they have fun because I’m having fun just with them.
“When I’m done, I just close my computer, and then I walk into my house. I say [to this comedian], ‘I don’t have to get on a plane, I don’t have to do anything.’
“If I could make a living doing it like this, I would certainly consider it. But there’s really no replacing a live audience. I’ve just been doing some live shows recently, and the energy is something else.
“It’s nice to find this as an alternative, and I would love to be able to continue to do some shows like this as time goes by.
While stand-up comedians often incorporate the events of their lives into their acts, Jobrani’s life story is one that stands out more than most with its elements of childhood immigration from Iran, breaking with cultural expectations, and his experiences in stand-up, film, and television as an Iranian-American.
It’s a story he was able to share in written (and audiobook!) form in his 2015 memoir, a media that allowed him to explore the personal aspects more thoughtfully.
“When I wrote my book, I’m Not a Terrorist But I’ve Played One on TV, there are definitely stories that I told in there that were probably deeper than I usually gave my stand-up comedy. And yet, I still tried to keep it fun and funny.
“I say writing a book is like doing therapy because you remember a lot of stuff. ‘Oh, yeah, I remembered that happened. Oh my god, that made me feel like this…’ and you go into it.
“But there’ve been TV shows that I’ve wanted to do, sold just the pilot script, and it hasn’t gone any further, unfortunately. But I would hope that if and when I’m able to actually get a show around my story that I can dive deeper.
“I love shows that are comedies that dive deeper. I just watched Freaks and Geeks with my wife and kids. We’ve been watching a lot of stuff over the pandemic, and that did a good job of sometimes going into deeper places.
“Mindy Kaling has a show called Never Have I Ever that is really good.
“So, yeah, I think the book is probably my chance so far, but I hope a TV show becomes that opportunity.”
Jobrani’s perspective as an Iranian-American provides insight into the challenges of holding onto traditions and identity within the (theoretical) American cultural melting pot.
“As the years go by, I think it dissipates. It’s just hard to pass it on and on and on. I personally see with my own kids that they don’t hold onto my traditions as much as I’ve held on to my parents’ traditions. And my parents, obviously, would’ve liked me to hold onto more.
“There are certain practical things that help keep some of those traditions going. Food is a big one. The good news is that Persian food is delicious, and my kids love it. So that’s a good sign.
“Language is another. Unfortunately, my kids haven’t been able to hold onto that as much, but I have been recently, on this app, Clubhouse.,
“Clubhouse has done a good job of reaching out to countries around the world, so they’ve got people that are in there from Turkey. There are people from China. There are people from Italy. And there are people from Iran.
“So there’s this big Iranian contingent of people on Clubhouse, and now I’ve done two or three Clubhouses where we’re speaking fully in Persian. There are people tapped in from Iran and from Germany, and from around the world. So language has definitely helped hold onto those traditions.
“I think there’s that struggle to hold onto your traditions, but also I, personally, want to be more modern in my ways than some of the traditions in our culture [which] might be a little more dated.
“For example, just simply the idea of me being a stand-up comedian. In our culture, that was not a thing. In the Persian culture, you got to be a lawyer or a doctor, or an engineer.
“Being a stand-up comedian is not considered, and so I had to break that tradition to go after this twenty-two years ago.
“Trying to hold onto the good stuff and break through the dated stuff. And it ain’t easy. It ain’t easy to pass it on.
Jobrani is very circumspective about how he accumulated such a varied and impressive CV of accomplishments. While he never set out to do anything specific in pursuit of his passions, he sees the skills and experiences he’s acquired along the way as tools he can continue to use.
“I look back to my struggles to get into this. My parents really always pushed me away from it. They weren’t dictators about it. They weren’t yelling at me, but they would say, ‘No, no, why don’t you become a lawyer, and then you could just tell jokes in court? This isn’t for us. You shouldn’t be doing this.’
“I was in plays as a kid, and I loved doing it. I did musicals. And every time I’d do a play, the teacher or the director would say, ‘You really got what it takes to do this.’ And I would say, ‘Oh, thank you,’ and then I didn’t know what to do with it.
“At first, I started taking improv classes, so that improv class led to my stand-up comedy class. Improv also led to sketch comedy. So I was writing sketch comedy. I was doing improv.
“It was interesting. After my first guest star, the next several for a while were all dramatic guests, like in dramatic shows.
“You know, you’re blessed to do what you love doing, and there are all these variations of doing it. Including hosting! I’ve hosted a lot of events, and that’s kind of where the podcasting comes in. It allows you to host and talk.
“I find it all to be different variations of the same thing in terms of these talents all help each other.
“For example, I’ve seen some people who aren’t comedians host an event, and they really need someone to write a script. They really need someone to help them with, ‘What are the questions? Lemme know the questions… I gotta have the questions beforehand, and I gotta have this and that, whatever.’
“I’m very loose on stage. There are people who have had me do events, and they go, ‘So then at 6:42, this person will come, and then at 6:51, that person is going to come.’ And I go, ‘Listen, guys, if the lights go out, that’s the best thing for me. I will have fun with it.’
“I was hosting an event one time in Malaysia. It was some big charity event, and somehow, through some family members, I knew someone who knew the king. So the event was being done. The king was there. And the Prime Minister was coming.
“In Malaysia, there’s something like six or seven rotating kings that are more figureheads, but the Prime Minister is the main person running the country. It was funny because I was on stage; seven hundred or so people just scattered through this ballroom.
“Nobody’s paying attention, and I’m doing my act, and in Kuala Lumpur, the traffic was ridiculous. So I’d done a couple of jokes about their traffic.
“Y’know everywhere you go, everyone jokes about the traffic. Everyone seems to be proud of their traffic. ‘Yeah, haha, Lebanese traffic is the best traffic!’ People feel very proud of their traffic, so I’m in Kuala Lumpur, and I’m like, ‘Guys, your guys’ traffic’s crazy.’
“Half the people aren’t paying attention, and half the people don’t know who I am. They’re all dressed to the nines and everything, and I’m doing the show, doing the show, and all of a sudden — this is the only time it’s ever happened, I’m already sweating, just trying to finish my twenty minutes — I hear someone go, ‘Maz, can you please stop?’ and I go, ‘What?’ and I look over, and the host has the microphone.
“He’s intercepted my microphone. He’s intercepted my bit, and he’s going, ‘Can you please stop?’ and I go, ‘What’s going on?’ and he’s like, ‘Um, the Prime Minister has just arrived.’
“And as soon as he said it, some music starts playing; everyone stands up in the hall. So, I’m on stage, mid-show, everyone stands up, Prime Minister’s at the back of the room. He’s walking down as people are clapping for him and stuff.
“I’m just sitting there, going like, ‘This is the weirdest thing ever. I’ve never had someone interrupt my show for the arrival of a Prime Minister,’ and he kept walking walking walking. Of course, he’s going to be in the front row, right next to the king in the front row.
“As soon as he gets to the front, and everyone’s being very respectful and stuff. The moment I find a chance, I go, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, you’re so late, were you stuck in traffic?’
“A few people laugh. A few people are appalled that I’m making fun of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister’s confused. He’s looking at me like, ‘Who’s this guy?’
“For me, it was a disaster, but it was great and so, all of that to say, these years of doing stand-up at the Comedy Store and the Laugh Factory at two in the morning have helped me be ready for all this stuff. I’m enjoying all of it.
“I’m lucky to be able to do it, and I always tell people, ‘Look, if there’s anything you’re passionate about, don’t wait, just do it, get into it, ’cause you’re going to find ways to include those things in your life.
“I have friends and family who like sports. Now, they’re not going to be professional athletes, but they could go coach a baseball team or something and feel alive doing it.”
Pandemic life, especially with families, has created a new normal at home for people used to being out of the house, or even out of the country, much of the time.
With a lot more “together” time than ever before, how has Jobrani and his family chosen to use it?
“Watching kind of took over everything. I just had a guest on who wrote a book about people getting rich and how the rich live, and how it’s detrimental to all of us.
“One of the things he says in there is something like, ‘Every year, Americans spend a lot more money on lottery tickets than they do on books.’ So, all of that to say, watching has won over.
“I got a few books. I got Obama’s biography. There’s one somebody just sent me about the history of Iran-US escalation. There’s a bunch, and they’re sort of just sitting there. I’ve probably read like two chapters of every book I have. They just sit.
“Shows-wise, we’ve been watching a lot of stuff.
“Documentaries until we are blue in the face. Just watched the Tina Turner documentary on HBO. Watched the Biggie Smalls documentary on Netflix. Watched the WeWork documentary on Hulu. Just got into the Qanon documentary on HBO Max, as well, which is just totally confusing. So we love documentaries.
“And then with the kids… You know what’s great about the landscape of television now is all these older shows that you can go back and watch with your families. So we went back and watched all of 30 Rock. The kids love Saturday Night Live. We watched that. We watched Ugly Betty.
“We also got a dog, so there’s a lot of dog-walking involved.
“I’ve been jogging, 5-6 miles every couple of days.
“Been working on tennis. My son and daughter play tennis, so I decided I should get better at tennis. That’s a piece of advice they’ve been giving parents. They’re saying, ‘Get your kids into tennis’ because you could take lessons and get better and it’s one of the sports where you can actually go out and play with them.
“I was doing a joke about the tennis. The joke about the tennis was, ‘The silver lining of the pandemic is, even though there hasn’t been work, my tennis has improved. But when you find out your agent’s tennis is getting better, that’s when you gotta start worrying.”
“I called up my agent, and I said, ‘Are there any new gigs?’ He like, ‘No, but I got a court for us at three o’clock.’ I go, ‘Oh, crap. You’re not working either.’
Despite lockdowns and quarantines, the world of entertainment persists in moving forward with productions and plans. Jobrani’s docket seems to be a perpetual motion machine.
“There’s a lot of stuff that’s kind of in different phases of production, right? There’s an animation project we sold to Fox Studios a while back with Courtney Cox and myself and a team of writers. That’s making the rounds to see if any network would buy it.
“Meanwhile, I’m again developing another show based on my life, so that’s getting ready for the pitch phase of it. There’s obviously the podcast going on.
“There’s a second podcast that Bassem Youssef and I are going to be working on together. That hopefully will launch sometime soon. So those are some of the projects that are in the pipeline, as they say.”
Looking to the future, Jobrani is optimistic that the world is improving for the next generation.
“Kids, like my mom always says, they’re like flowers. You gotta water them. You gotta care for them. So really, the water is love. So, I think if you start from that place of love… I’ve even been working on this a little bit.
“Sometimes, I’ll get frustrated with one of them. And I’ve really worked on keeping my tone at a place where they don’t feel shaken by me. I don’t ever want them to fear me in that way. I want them to really just know that I’m coming from a place of love.
“Once you do that, the rest falls into place. Y’know, we took them with us on Black Lives Matter marches last summer. My wife was delivering care packages to front-line workers. She had them help pack those.
“I work with an organization called the Persian-American Cancer Institute. I hosted an event for them just before the pandemic. And I had my son along with my nephew on stage, and I gave them the mic. I had them MC a portion of it. And I think they felt good when we got to the fundraising.
“I was blown away by my son. I guess he’s been watching me, so he started using tricks that I use when I’m asked to do the auctioning. There’s all these tricks that I learned watching auctioneers at events I’d done before.
“So my son took those tricks, and it was the most amazing thing. He’s twelve years old now, so, at that point, he must’ve been eleven. He just took the room over. There were like a thousand people, and he went in and was like, ‘All right, let me see… You, sir! You look like you got a lot of money! How much do you bid?’
“I’m like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ and the crowd was like, ‘Who is this kid?’ and it was really heartwarming to see him care so much and be there.
“Like I said, you start with love, and the rest falls into place.”
Maz Jobrani’s comedy special, Pandemic Warrior, is available to stream NOW on Peacock.
His podcast, Back to School with Maz Jobrani, is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
He narrates the audiobook of his 2015 memoir, I’m Not a Terrorist But I’ve Played One on TV, and it is available on Audible.com.
Seriously, folks, there is no excuse for improving your life with a healthy hit of this a-MAZ-ing individual’s talents.