Comedian Maz Jobrani honed his character acting chops in films like The
Interpreter, 13 Going on 30
and Friday After Next
the cast of ABC's hilarious new sitcom, The Knights of Prosperity
The show is truly reminiscent of sitcom styles from the 70s and 80s, with
a simple and humorous premise that is executed to perfection. The Knights
has an ensemble cast where every comedic note plays
like the keys on a finely tuned piano.
A group of minimum wage blue collar working stiffs devise
a plan to finance their dreams of financial freedom by robbing Mick Jagger.
The plan is hatched after Eugene Gurkin (played by the hilarious Donal
Logue) watches a special on E! Entertainment Television in which Mick
is giving a tour of his lavish New York City Penthouse. Maz Jobrani plays
Gary the Indian cab driver, and one of the five members of "The Knights
of Prosperity," who, incidentally, hold their regular strategy sessions
inside a Jewish supply warehouse. Sprinkled with silly and unexpected
celebrity cameos and intellectual pratfalls, each episode brings the Knights
one step closer to their end goal of robbing Mick Jagger.
When I caught up with Maz, he had just spent several
days at The Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where his sister
was screening a documentary. We talked about his show, The Knights
of Prosperity, his experience at The Sundance Film Festival and his
comedy troupe, The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour in which he and the
rest of the comics on the tour are hoping to bridge gaps and create a
better understanding of Middle Easterners here in the United States. Our
conversation ping ponged between the topics of entertainment, and political
and social strife.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): Are you at Sundance right
now (The Sundance Film Festival)?
Maz Jobrani: I was. I came back early.
PR.com: Why'd you come back early? It wasn't fun?
Maz Jobrani: Oh it was too fun. One day at Sundance is like
a week in your life. Have you ever been?
PR.com: No. What goes on?
Maz Jobrani: I didn't know what to expect at all. I just
went because my sister's film was in there. They've taken one of those
main streets, it's a small ski town, and all of a sudden it feels like
everyone from New York and L.A. who is in the business
there just to be seen. I don't even know if they have projects. All of
a sudden it's like this hipster place. It's funny because since I do stand-up
I don't usually go to, like, the hottest nightspots. I just don't end
up all the time at this hot club here or that hot club there. Over there
it was all kind of like that. All of a sudden there were ropes and security
at the front, and "whose list are you on?" and all of that stuff.
There's also skiing there but nobody skis. Everyone's there to schmooze
and everything, so nobody's skiing.
Cast of "The Knights of Prosperity":
Lenny Venito, Josh Grisetti, Maz Jobrani, Sofía Vergara,
Donal Logue, Kevin Michael Richardson
PR.com: Is everyone dressed in their ski gear, just
kind of standing around?
Maz Jobrani: No, no. it's actually wintery clothes. It's
not their ski gear.
Maz Jobrani: Yeah, that would be very weird.
PR.com: I know, but I wouldn't be surprised
Maz Jobrani: Yeah of course, to look hip (laughs).
It was funny 'cause we had the mountain to ourselves, because some people
were skiing but not a lot. So we'd go skiing during the day, and then
in the afternoon we'd head into Main Street, in the town. Since we were
there for my sister's thing, a lot of family and friends had come, so
we'd go have dinner and party together and then end up going to some club
and just on and on and on. But everyone I ran into was like, "Yeah,
we don't get much sleep." We were supposed to be there for a week
and there's no way you could do it for a week. And even though there are
lists and stuff [for events], if you're on the list, I was on a bunch
plus one. But I would show up with my posse, and it was
funny because most posses consist of guys and they're trying to pick up
girls. My posse, I'm married and my wife didn't come, so my posse was
my mom and my aunts
PR.com: (Laughs) That's your entourage
Maz Jobrani: Yeah, my entourage was all these women with
me, and then of course I had a few friends as well.
PR.com: I watched the first three episodes of your
show, The Knights of Prosperity. I'm one of those people who's
always complaining that television isn't like it used to be in the 70s
and 80s, kind of that classic feel. I feel like your show has that classic
feel to it. It's a brand new show obviously, but it looks and feels
has a classic quality to it.
Maz Jobrani: I kept trying to figure out the best way
to describe the show. While we were filming it, I was like, "This
is kind of like the modern-day Taxi." Even our little cave
that we have is kind of like our office. It's kind of like Taxi
meets The A-Team. When I saw the first promo that they showed at
the Up-Fronts (where television networks present their season's line-up
of shows to advertisers) for ABC, I was so excited because the promo
they had shown
they chose to make it look like a real heist. It did
kind of have that 70's feel to it.
PR.com: And also the premise is so clever. It almost
reminds me of when you go to see one of those sleeper hit movies like
My Big Fat Greek Wedding or something that totally catches you
off guard because you couldn't have thought that up in your wildest dreams.
Maz Jobrani: If I get a script and I read it and I'm
laughing out loud, then I know that it's a funny, funny script. That doesn't
happen a lot at all; since I do stand-up as well. Stand-up is just kind
you don't get jaded but your like, "that's funny,"
but you don't really laugh. And ABC said they're onboard and they're supporting
[the show], and I hope they keep doing it.
PR.com: How would you explain, from your point of
view, the premise of The Knights of Prosperity for people who haven't
Kevin Michael Richardson, Lenny Venito, Maz
Maz Jobrani: The way I always explain it to people is
I say it's kind of like Ocean's 11 but with bumbling idiots, or
it's like The Roadrunner, where Mick Jagger is "The Roadrunner"
and we're the "Wile E. Coyote." We just keep messing it up.
It's just a bunch of normal guys who are down and out in New York City
and they decide to subsidize their dreams by going for a heist, and the
heist is robbing Mick Jagger.
PR.com: There's this beautiful woman who is in your
Maz Jobrani: Sofia Vergara
PR.com: Yes. It's so funny because whenever I think
of the name now, I don't think "Mick Jagger," I think "Mick
Yagger," with a "Y," because of her Latin accent.
In the first episode you have the character Eugene Gurkin, who is played
by Donal Logue, and he's watching an E! Special where they're showing
Mick Jagger and his big amazing penthouse in New York. It's kind of like
an MTV Cribs kind of a thing. Do you think those shows instill
a feeling of entitlement or a sense of jealousy among people who are not
economically advantaged, let's say?
Maz Jobrani: It's a comedy and that's what's beautiful
about it. We kept talking about this. These guys are doing something that's
really bad. They're robbing somebody. But you can't help but root for
these guys because they're so lost. They're not idiots, but they're not
skilled and they're all very pure and childlike in a way. Let's just say,
if you were somewhat sophisticated and you really were going to try and
do a heist, you might say, "Let's research this. Let's go online
and see what you would do." If you were a little bit more sophisticated,
you might actually have a longer thought process. You might, like I said,
go online and figure out
well maybe it's actually better to try
and do credit card fraud or something
Maz Jobrani: I don't know! (laughs) You know what
I'm saying. If you were somewhat sophisticated, that might be the route
you would go. But these guys are these total underdogs who all have their
own reasons and they're good people. So it's not the feeling of jealousy
like, "That bastard. I should get what he has," as much as "Hey,
this guy's got so much. He's not gonna miss it." That's why it's
so much fun, because these guys are like, "Look, if we took a painting
from [Mick Jagger's] house that's worth probably five million dollars,
he won't even blink twice. It's not gonna hurt the guy." That's the
thought process these guys have, so I don't think there's a dark energy
at all in this.
PR.com: Is David Letterman one of the producers of
the show or an executive producer?
Maz Jobrani: The production company for The Knights
of Prosperity is World Wide Pants. Rob Burnett was an executive producer
at Letterman's company, and John Beckerman was one of the head writers
for many years. So those two guys now are a part of World Wide Pants and
I believe that World Wide Pants also had produced the show Ed.
Now this [show] is another one that World Wide Pants is producing, so
David Letterman is an Executive Producer on it. And actually the music
for The Knights of Prosperity was composed by Paul Shaffer (David
Letterman's band leader and sidekick).
PR.com: The entire first season of the show is kind
of set up like a serial where one episode leads into the next, correct?
Maz Jobrani: Yeah, it is. And that's where again, thank
God ABC's got it on ABC.com, where people can go and catch up. I don't
know if it makes sense if you were to start on episode five. I don't know
if you would get it or not unless you knew what the premise was. We shot
13 episodes, so in 13 episodes, we're going after Mick [Jagger], and there
are other celebrities that will pop into the picture down the line. In
one of those earlier episodes, I think episode 2 where we're having a
brainstorming session, I was suggesting we rob Fran Drescher.
PR.com: Oh yeah, I remember that! (laughs)
Was it you who said, "She's got all that Nanny money?"
Maz Jobrani: No, I go "Let's rob Fran Drescher!"
And then Rockefeller Butts (played by Kevin Michael Richardson)
goes, "She's got that Nanny money."
PR.com: (Laughs) I think if you skip episodes
you'll know what's going on. You'll just miss whatever progress they made,
in their quest to rob Mick Jagger, the week before. But I think everybody
should definitely see that first episode because it lays the groundwork.
But people can catch up online.
Maz Jobrani: You're right. people do go online (www.abc.go.com)
and catch it, or they catch up on some DVDs and then they go, "Ok,
now let me see where we're at
PR.com: It's funny, because now it's a DVD culture.
People get the DVD of a whole bunch of seasons and just watch everything
in one straight run.
Maz Jobrani: A lot of people do that with the TV show,
PR.com: At the end of the 13 episodes of The Knights
of Prosperity, obviously you don't want to say exactly, but is there
some type of resolution to what they're trying to do?
Max Jobrani: A season is 22 episodes, I believe. ABC has
ordered the back 9 scripts to be written. Now we're on hiatus waiting
to find out, hopefully, when we will be shooting the [additional] 9 episodes.
We've filmed up until a little past the middle of the season. So there's
no final resolution yet.
PR.com: And you tour with a comedy troupe?
Maz Jobrani: We perform stand-up all the time. My home
club is The Comedy Store, which is Mitzi Shore's club; she's Pauly Shore's
mom. She put us together. When you're a regular at the club, you perform
on any night, with any lineup. What Mitzi would do from time to time is,
she would get a group of let's say
do "Black Comedy Night," "Latino Night," or "Women
of The Comedy Store." She's Jewish and around the year 2000, she
watched CNN a lot, and she started seeing that there was this new [conflict]
there is the Middle East between the Palestinians and the Israelis. She
said, "You know, I think something's going to be happening in the
next few years
" This was before September 11th but right when
the Israeli and Palestinian [issue] started heating up again. So she said,
"I think there's going to be a need for a Muslim voice to be out
there. Not just Muslim, but a Middle Eastern voice to be out there to
counter the negativity." And we always say that [Mitzi Shore] is
kind of like a "Yoda." She kind of sees the future, almost.
PR.com: Yeah, that's kind of prophetic.
Kevin Michael Richardson, Lenny Venito, Maz
Jobrani, Josh Grisetti
Maz Jobrani: Yeah, she really is. The way the stories
go, she kind of helped Roseanne [Barr] create her character and that's
where Andrew Dice Clay created his character
at The Comedy Store.
A lot of the people who evolved came through there, and she had some ideas
for a lot of them and helped them create their characters and their voice.
I was the only Middle Eastern comic who was a regular at the club, and
then she found a few others, one of them being this guy, Ahmed Ahmed who
is Egyptian American. There's another guy named Aron Kader who is Palestinian.
Mitzi Shore put us together in this group called Arabian Knights.
As it went on, Ahmed, Aaron and I kind of broke off and started doing
our own thing. Our community came out and was supporting it hardcore,
because I think that people saw that there was so much negative depiction
of Middle Easterners in the media. When we first started doing the shows
and traveling, a lot of the crowds were mostly Middle Eastern. As we kept
going, it started to mix up. It wasn't until November of 2005 that we
had been throwing around this name, starting to call it The Axis of
Evil Comedy Tour. The reason we wanted to change it is because Iranians
PR.com: Out of curiosity, what is the definition of
Maz Jobrani: Arabs, I believe, are Semitic. Arabs are
the Saudis and Iraqis and Egyptians and Palestinians and Syrians. All
they're all Arabs. They speak Arabic.
They are ethnically Arab. But Iranians, actually the word Iran comes from
"Arian." Iranians are Caucasian, ethnically. A lot of Iranians
get snooty about, they're like, "No, no. We are not Arab. We are
Persian." And I'm like, "Listen dude, we're all getting persecuted.
We're all in the same boat." I do a joke on stage about like, the
only way you can tell the difference is in our accents. Iranians talk
a lot slower. They talk like deeeees (allowing an accent to break through
into his speech). Like I say, maybe they shot some heroin and dey
r falling az-leeeep (laughs). Arabs talk a lot faster, like they
did some cocaine and they are talking to you; that kind of thing. So there
is a difference. And Iranians speak Farsi. That's why also right now,
politically, there is that whole thing where the Saudis don't want the
Iranians to have control and to have too much influence in the Middle
PR.com: Is Iran mostly Muslim?
Maz Jobrani: Iran are the Shiite Muslims. Iran is mostly
Shiite Muslim. That's the whole thing in Iraq. The majority of Iraqis
are Shiites, but Saddam Hussein was Sunni. So the Sunnis who were minority
were running the country under Saddam. And I don't know if there was flat
out persecution of Shiites, but I'm guessing like in any of these struggles,
the Shiites probably, there was this whole thing with Suddam where some
Shiites tried to assassinate him. Then his people massacred these Shiites.
The simple way of describing it is like saying Protestant versus Catholics.
After the prophet Mohammed died, they all feel that there's a split. The
Sunnis feel that this one guy Abu Bakr was the proper next leader of the
group. The Shiites believe that Ali was the next profit, so there's that
divide. Then it gets murky and they just start fighting each other.
PR.com: I've never seen a religion that's so politicized
and manipulated as the Muslim religion. It's just very interesting to
me the way it's been used throughout recent decades to serve different
people's interests. Even just going back to our own history in the United
States, the way "The Nation of Islam" used it with Malcolm X
and then the way people are using it in the Middle East. I think there
are a lot of misconceptions. Now when people hear the word "Muslim,"
it automatically has a stigma attached to it.
"The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour": Maz
Jobrani, Ahmed Ahmed, Aron Kader
Maz Jobrani: I think you're right in that
what we're trying to do on stage. I emphasize the fact that I have Jewish
friends, I have Christian friends. That's not an issue at all. The only
way it ever comes into play is when we are just teasing each other and
having fun with each other. It's your buddy, so you make fun of them,
and you say something related to his religion or whatever. I never feel
like it's us against them. They are me. I get discouraged when
I see this kind of stuff. Like you said, it's constantly getting politicized,
and it's the same thing now with Iraq, with the Shiites and the Sunnis.
You're all Muslims and yet you decide to fight. It's a manipulation by
politicians. A lot of times religion is a good manipulating force in that
a lot of people who are poor, who have no hope, religion is a great way
to go, "Hey, you know God is on your side. God is telling you it's
right to kill that guy because he doesn't believe in your God." I
was talking to some guy who was a soldier, and he was at Sundance. The
pawns are the soldiers. The pawns are the women and children that get
killed in the middle of all this. It's so easy to manipulate a religion
to use it for political reasons. We do it in America. The words democracy
and freedom, I think, were manipulated to go into Iraq. I'm just saying,
"Don't lie to me." I just don't think the intentions are that
pure. Otherwise the administration is just naïve. That's what we
try to do in our stand up [comedy] is to talk about some of these things;
if there's a hypocrisy. I think that one of the jobs of a stand-up is
to expose hypocrisy. If we can do that and make people laugh while doing
it, then it's great. We hope to do that with The Axis of Evil Comedy
Tour. We just got a release date; we are supposed to be on Comedy
Central on March 10th.
PR.com: Did you decide to call it The Axis of Evil
Comedy Tour as a way of diffusing hostility towards Middle Eastern
people, or disarming people?
Maz Jobrani: Absolutely. The reason we chose that name,
The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour
I always say it's kind of like
when black people say that using the "N" word diffuses it. Now
there's been a whole controversy
PR.com: Oh God (laughs) Yeah, yeah
Maz Jobrani: When I first heard that term, "The
Axis of Evil," and I'm watching [George] Bush talk about it on TV,
I'm thinking, "This is so ridiculous." I understand his intention.
I don't support the government of Iran and what they talk about in, you
know, when the President comes out and denies The Holocaust; I'm just
like, "Come on. Stop talking gibberish." I don't support them
either. But Bush was saying in his speech, "For the people of Iran,
we are with you. It's your government we have a problem with." Well
unfortunately, when he puts Iran in "The Axis of Evil," most
Americans probably think any Middle Easterner rides on camels and is smarmy
and wants to blow himself up. Again, I know that a lot of people are educated
and know those aren't the facts, but I am shocked sometimes by what people
say to me or by what I see sometimes on TV.
PR.com: Do you think that there is a big difference
between the beliefs of the Iranian government versus the beliefs of the
Maz Jobrani: Oh, absolutely. I actually went back and
visited about eight years ago. I bought into the things I would read here.
I get into a cab and cab drivers were complaining about the government.
My dad took me to this sauna/steam room where these guys were talking
politics. Everyone was highly critical of the government. With most Iranians,
I don't think that a war is on their mind even though the U.S. is moving
navel vessels into the region. I think that most Iranians, with the advent
of the Internet, are very aware of what is going on in the United States.
I did the film, 13 Going on 30, and my aunt got it on DVD before
it had come out here. She got the bootleg version. There's a whole culture
of Iranians loving the west, and Iranians loving freedom.
PR.com: I know that you moved to the United States
when you were six years old. Why did your parents choose to move to the
Josh Grisetti, Kevin Michael Richardson, Maz
Jobrani, Donal Logue, Sofía Vergara, Lenny Venito
Maz Jobrani: My father was a successful businessman in
Iran and so at that time he had a lot of friends in the government, whether
they were military or whatever
he was well connected. After the
revolution there was a witch hunt for anybody that had anything to do
with the regime. We didn't know if it was safe for him to be [in Iran],
and he wasn't in the regime at all, but he had friends and associates
and he was a successful businessman. Furthermore, there was also a revolution
going on in the country and that was followed by an eight year war with
Iraq. There was a way you could pay money and not have to do military
duty, but I don't think my father wanted to risk that for his kids. So
he moved us to the United States. At that time the people who could afford
to move did move. And that's why right now I think there is a stereotype
that Iranians are all rich, because the people who moved out here were
all rich. The people who couldn't afford to move stayed there. Also, my
family had been very secular, always. We've never been that religious.
We wanted to live our lives and if I wanted to have a drink, then I wanted
to have a drink without having to deal with the oppression that was going
on there. It had seemed to have gotten really bad [at the time]. There's
this book that this woman wrote, where she did it in a cartoon format
and she talks about her life and her experiences in Iran and how suddenly
there was a religious police. You would walk down the street and if your
hair wasn't covered enough they would scold you, and if you talked back
they would take you to prison.
PR.com: That's what goes on now?
Maz Jobrani: Not as much. It's much looser now. The women
aren't supposed to have makeup and show their hair and all that other
stuff. It's funny, women have turned that into a style now. Rather than
covering themselves, they'll be covered, but their hair will be coming
out the front. It will be all made up and ready to go. The thing that
I was hearing was, if they had to go out they'd cover themselves, but
then when they'd go indoors to parties they'd take that thing off and
it would be like New York City. Women would have mini-skirts and just
enjoying themselves and people would be having a good time at a party
behind closed doors.
PR.com: I have to be honest, when I see a woman dressed
in the traditional Middle Eastern garb, where her hair is covered and
sometimes part of her face is covered, it really does something to me.
It really angers me. I get a strange feeling inside. I guess that's the
feminist in me coming out.
Maz Jobrani: I understand that. I am very liberal minded
in my ways. I went to Berkley and I feel like, "live and let live."
Anybody should be able to do whatever they want to do. I hear some women
say, and I don't get the argument, but they say that they feel more liberated
in that because then they're not being judged for their sexuality. I don't
agree with that but that's what they say. If it's somebody's choice to
do it, then go for it.
PR.com: I just wanted to set the stage as far as the
comedy show and the issues that are behind it and what you guys are trying
to accomplish, and why it needs to be accomplished in the first place.
Maz Jobrani: You turn on the TV and anytime you see any
Middle Easterners, another bomb went off; another guy took a hostage.
I talk about it on stage as well. I look around and most Middle Easterners
I know are good people. They're doctors, lawyers, businessmen, fathers,
they're just regular people. If you were to take one million
Middle Easterners, I would say that 999,990 are good people. Ten of them
are going to be criminals. Ten of them are going to be terrorists, or
whatever. So, it's a disproportionate image of us that you see and it's
for obvious reasons. Because that's where the turmoil is and that's who
the terrorists are. But unfortunately we aren't prominent enough
I feel that the biggest PR machine in the world is Hollywood. Because
there's not that many Middle Eastern [movie stars] you don't have a Middle
Eastern Tom Cruise. So we're just chipping away at it. We say, "Hey,
come see the show. We're American. We're good people. Everyone in the
audience are good people." There's Jews and Muslims and Christians
all sitting next to each other and we're having a good time.