Culture TED Talks

A sampling of Maz Jobrani’s stand-up, sprinkled with the work of his Axis of Evil Comedy Tour collaborators

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Comedian Maz Jobrani has some advice for anyone who happens to be Middle Eastern and getting on a plane in the United States.

“As a Middle Eastern male, I know there’s certain things I’m not supposed to say on an airplane in the U.S. I can’t walk down the aisle and be like, ‘Hi, Jack.’ Even if I’m there with my friend Jack, I say, ‘Greetings Jack,’” jokes Jobrani in today’s talk, filmed at the TEDxSummit in Doha, Qatar. “The key, my Arab brothers and sisters, is that you throw in good words as you’re walking down the aisle.”

Jobrani’s suggestions: ‘strawberry,’ ‘rainbow’ or ‘tutti frutti.’

Jobrani, an Iranian-American who was a founding member of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, is known for poking fun at the strained relations between the West and the Middle East.

“A lot of Americans don’t know a lot about us in the Middle East. People don’t know we laugh,” says Jobrani in today’s talk. “We like to laugh, we like to celebrate life … I always encourage my friends to travel and see the Middle East — and vice versa. It helps stop problems of misunderstanding and stereotyping.”

To see an example of a Middle Eastern audience cracking up, watch Jobrani’s talk. And after the jump, see more from this comedian and his compatriots.

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At TEDGlobal 2010, Jobrani talked about founding the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour with Ahmed Ahmed, who is Egyptian-American, and Aron Kader, who is Palestinian-American. In this bold talk, Jobrani pokes fun at his dual identity. “It causes a lot of inner conflict. Part of me likes me, part of me hates me,” he says. “Part of me thinks I should have a nuclear program; the other part thinks I can’t be trusted.”

In his comedy special Brown and Friendly, Jobrani talks about growing up in Iran and doing his best to blend in when he came to the United States. “I would play baseball, I would eat apple pie,” he says. “I would eat apple pie while playing baseball … Everything would be cool until my dad would come to pick me up.”

In this set from the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, Jobrani lays out the differences between Persians and Arabs. “We’re similar — we’re all getting shot at,” jokes Jobrani, before explaining why Iranians prefer to call themselves “Persian.”

Ahmed Ahmed spoke at TEDxDoha, making the point that when it comes to laughter, the Middle East and the West are actually very similar. “It’s great being a comedian. I get to travel all over the world and meet people from all over the world. The problem is getting there,” says Ahmed. “If you Google my name, it comes up on the FBI’s most wanted list. There’s this terrorist from Egypt and he kind of looks like me. I thought, ‘I gotta find this guy, he’s killing me.’ And then it dawned on me, maybe he’s in the Middle East Googling me and saying, ‘Bro, look, there’s this comedian in America, man. He’s using my name.’”

Aron Kader is the third member of the Axis of Evil comedy tour. In this video from the Just For Laughs Festival, Kader talks about “Making small talk with Palestinians.” He jokes, “Sometimes people ask me what my ethnicity is, and I’ll say Palestinian. And there’s never a follow-up question.”

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Television producer Jamil Abu-Wardeh moved from London to Dubai with a vision: to bring stand-up comedy to the Middle East. In this talk from TEDGlobal 2010, he shares how he built on Jobrani, Ahmed and Kader’s work, and brought their brand of comedy to the Middle East. In this funny talk, he reveals how thousands came out to see the Axis of Evil Middle East Comedy Tour, which highlighted the work of Korean-Jordanian comic Won Ho Chung, and Nemr Abou Nassar, who is Lebanese. While these comedians could make any jokes they wanted, Abu-Wardeh urged them to stay away from the “three B’s” — blue material, beliefs and “bolitics.”