Review I'm Not a Terrorist, But I've Played One on TV by Maz Jobrani

Thursday, March 12, 2015
Title: I'm Not a Terrorist, But I've Played One On TV: Memoirs of a Middle Eastern Funny Man
Author: Maz Jobrani
Genre: memoir
Series: none
Pages: 240
Published: February 17, 2015
Source: Publisher via Edelwiess
Rating: 4 out of 5

A hilarious and moving memoir of growing up Iranian in America, and the quest to make it in Hollywood without having to wear a turban, tote a bomb, or get kicked in the face by Chuck Norris.

When he first started out in show business, Maz Jobrani endured suggestions that he spice up his stand-up act by wearing "the outfit," fielded questions about rising gas prices, and got called an F-in Eye-ranian for being involved in the Iran hostage crisis even though he was only eight years old at the time - in fact, these things happened so often that he began to wonder: Could I be a terrorist without even knowing it?

Having emigrated with his family to the US during the Iranian Revolution, Maz spent most of his youth desperately trying to fit in with his adopted culture - whether that meant learning to play baseball or religiously watching Dallas with his female relatives. But none of his attempts at assimilation made a difference to casting directors, who only auditioned him for the role of kebab-eating, bomb-toting, extremist psychopath.

In this laugh-out-loud memoir, Maz shares his struggle to build an acting career in post-9/11 Hollywood - from playing a terrorist on 24 to playing a terrorist opposite Chuck Norris to his mother asking, "Vhy you alvays terrorist?!" (Followed by, "Vhy you couldn't be doctor?!") But finally, through patience, determination, and only the occasional unequivocal compromising of his principles, he found a path to stardom. And he also learned the proper way to die like a bad guy on TV.

Maz Jobrani isn't a household name in this country, but you've probably seen him in bit parts, as Bhamba on Better Off Ted, or on Comedy Central as part of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. (For my Disney girls, he's also playing Jafar in the new DCOM, The Descendants.) What you won't see him in is a turban. Since an ill-fated Chuck Norris movie, Maz has a strict "no terrorists" rule for all of his agents, which I find super admirable. It has limited his big screen roles, but it's opened up amazing stand-up opportunities, particularly in the Middle East.

This biography is structured very much like a stand-up set. It's full of asides, embellishments, and particularly when his mom's involved, punchlines that come full circle. No matter your mother's religion or ethnicity, jokes about becoming a lawyer/getting married/supporting her still hit. It's funny and relatable. If anything, I could have done with more information on Maz's personal life. I felt like we skipped right over his wife and his daughter.

Instead, a lot of Maz's stories revolve around his race and how he feels in America. He talks about his young life in Iran, before moving to America and feeling like an outsider as he tried to assimilate. His parents are embarrassingly foreign and it seems like ever other Iranian in the state wants to give him a hug. As he gets older, he struggles with stereotyping, flying post 9/11, and his own internalized racism. It's very interesting to read, especially since racism against Middle Easterners is so prevalent and not talked enough about.

It is a little hard to feel too bad for Maz, though. He's incredibly privileged. His father owned an electric company under the old Iranian regime, so rather than a traumatic story of sneaking over mountains into a neighboring country, Maz went on Christmas break to a posh New York hotel and never left the country. (I suspect there is more tragedy to the story, as he does mention his brother being left in Iran and it taking a long time to bring him over. Instead of including this genuine emotion, it's used as a set up to a joke about FAO Schwarz.) A lot of his stories about being a sad, rich Persian in a Rolls left me gnashing my teeth.

My favorite part of the book is when The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour became the first American stand-up group to perform in the Middle East. Over there, the members were rock stars, performing for princesses and kings. And Maz still managed to bomb during an art show. Just goes to show every comedian has a bad night. I also liked learning about the Comedy Store and how it worked, (and how Maz bombed in front of his idol there, too.) (Too conceited, the man is not.)

In all, Jobrani's biography is a bit more humor than memoir but I enjoyed it all the same.

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