I was watching a standup comedy performance on Netflix streaming video when it struck me as very familiar. The comedian asked members of the audience about their ethnicity and then proceeded to make jokes about it. Many of his sallies were about Arabs and Indian-Americans. Himself an immigrant , he mined his background for laughs about growing up different in America. A high energy performer, he danced about the stage and frequently mugged for the audience. His material reminded me of a Russell Peters show but this wasn’t a Russell Peters special. The show I was watching was a Showtime presentation , I Come in Peace, with Maz Jobrani performing for an appreciative audience in Stockholm Sweden.
Jobrani is an Iranian – American comic who founded and performed with the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. The troupe’s name is a play on the term used by then President George Bush to describe America’s perceived enemies: Iran, North Korea and Cuba and Iraq.The troupe members consisted of Jobrani (an Iranian American), Ahmed Ahmed ( an Egyptian American) and two Palestinian Americans( Dean Obeidallah & Aron Kader). There were also occasional stints by guest comedians from Korea, Cuba, Syria and Lebanon. All of them were good but Jobrani was easily the best.
While their material is somewhat similar, Jobrani and Peters differ from each other in several respects. Jobrani, who came to the U.S with his parents at the age of six, earned a degree in Political Science at UC Berkeley, before turning to stand-up comedy. He is married to an Indian American , Preeta, and the couple have two young daughters. Peters is an Indo Canadian, now living in L.A, who never went to college and was a vj before he took to comedy while still in his teens. A divorcee with a young daughter, he is now 43, two years older than Jobrani. He has been performing stand-up for over 20 years, twice as long as Jobrani. One of the most successful comedians in the world , he regularly performs to SRO audiences all over the world ; Jobrani too is successful but is still on the way up. Both of them are popular abroad and have had similar experiences in the Arab world. While performing in Dubai, Peters was hanging around the hotel lobby when he was mistaken for a driver by an Arab guest. In Lebanon, Jobrani’s Indian American wife was mistaken for a nanny. Talk about stereotypes!
While both Peters and Jobrani’s acts can be termed situational comedy and satire, and though their material is somewhat similar, their treatment of it is quite different. Peters is a master of accents , particularly Indian and Chinese, and his banter with the audience is edgy , frequently nasty, and increasingly sexual in nature. Jobrani is nowhere near as good with accents but he is charming and good natured , his humor gentle rather than borderline offensive. Perhaps the difference is because Jobrani’s avowed intention is to defuse the negative perception of Muslims after the terrorist attacks and to counter Islamophobia by inviting the audiences to laugh with him. Peters has no such intentions or inhibitions and is just out to squeeze out laughs. Having discovered what his audiences like: insult humor, crude and overtly sexual, he gives them what they want. That seems to be the secret behind his success and who can argue with that. Jobrani may not be as talented as Peters, but he is funny and a pleasure to watch. Watch I Come in Peace and I think you will agree with me.