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How Maz Jobrani deals with hecklers

The ‘peaceful warrior’ is blissed out and rising above the f-bombs

Maz Jobrani will return to the Kennedy Center on Friday. (Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images)
Maz Jobrani will return to the Kennedy Center on Friday. (Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images)

Maz Jobrani knows politics. He has a degree in political science. He’s spoken out on immigration. He’s toured the country with a comedy troupe named after a speech by George W. Bush.

Heck, he even had a bit part on “The West Wing.”

Now the Iranian American comedian is smiling at hecklers and headed to Washington on his “Peaceful Warrior” tour. I asked him how his stand-up is faring in the Trump era. (Yes, the word “impeachment” may show up in his act.) 

What’s the difference between performing in D.C. and LA?

I’ve got a pretty well-informed audience wherever I go, but D.C. is that on steroids. Nowadays I have a lot of material about my kids, and people will come up and be like, “I wish you would do more political stuff.” And I’m like, “I can’t do a whole hour.” Maybe one day.

No, don’t do that. We need a reminder that there’s life outside of politics.

You ask the people you meet in D.C., “What do you do?” They go, “I work for the agency, I work for State, whatever.”

In LA, you go, “What do you do?” They go, “I got an audition for a guy who works for the agency, works for State.”

We’re pretending. You guys are doing the real thing.

That’s nice of you to say. Do you have to add an extra layer of wonk to your act when you come here?

As an Iranian American, of course I have to talk about the brink of war that we came to a couple of weeks ago. But how much comedy can you get from it?

And then I was thinking, I’m going to be in D.C. toward the end of this impeachment trial. I have to allude to it somehow. Now, will I have a whole slew of jokes about it? It might just be a reference at the top.

It’s been fifteen years since your “Axis of Evil” tour. Are there jokes from back then that you could pull off today?

A ton of them. Some people were getting upset when I would do Bush jokes on the eve of the Iraq War. That’s what America is about — that we can make fun of our president here.

I couldn’t make fun of the president of Iran. You’d come up to me after the show and say, “Hey, that was a great show. When’s your next show?” And I’d be like, “There are no more shows, the ‘Ministry of No Show’ showed up.”

Are you prepared for hecklers or is your response off-the-cuff?

I’ve had several of those. The reason I call my tour the “Peaceful Warrior” tour is because I’m trying to continue to say what I want to say, which is criticism of this president, but say it in a peaceful way. I don’t have specific comebacks, but I’ve learned to breathe.

A guy in Irvine started throwing f-bombs at me, and I was like, “Hey, man, it’s all good.”

Another time I said, “Calm down.” I walked offstage and felt really good about how I handled it. And then the opening act came backstage and said, “Dude, your audience is going off on this lady,” cussing her out because she interrupted the show. I was like, “I’m trying to be a peaceful warrior, but people ain’t following my lead.”

Do you have a favorite restaurant in D.C.?

My wife has come out with me a couple of times. Years ago we went to a place called Obelisk near Dupont Circle. It was delicious. This time we’re gonna check out Columbia Room.

There’s a good Persian place called Amoo’s [in McLean]. The chef’s name is Sebastian. So if you go there, I’m serious, say Maz Jobrani told me I gotta come check this place out, and tell him to bring you stuff.

I’m actually going to show up everywhere and just say Maz Jobrani sent me and hope I get free stuff.

Good luck to you.

Maz Jobrani, the comic behind “Immigrant” and the “Back to School” podcast, comes to the Kennedy Center on Friday. This transcript has been edited and condensed. Hear the full interview here

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