An interesting thing happens when people discuss their passions: they unconsciously change the way they speak. All of the sudden, there’s more energy behind their words. They talk slightly faster. They choose more expressive words. So it’s no wonder that when I interviewed Iranian-American comedian, Maz Jobrani, I heard him light up as we discussed his career. It was clear that beyond being a talented comedian, Maz is also incredibly creative, introspective, and driven. More than anything, I saw how his mission to share meaningful messages and ideas is one he takes to heart.
Maz explained that his “first goal is to be funny,” on stage, but he also built his career around the idea of “humaniz[ing] the face of the Middle East” and showing people “we’re a lot more similar than [we] think.”
Maz is also an author, actor, film writer, speaker and philanthropist and every aspect of his projects echoes these ideas.
- When he wrote his first book, he purposefully chose the title: “I’m not a Terrorist but I Play One on TV.” It describes what it was like growing up in America as an Iranian and making it in Hollywood while trying to avoid being stereotyped.
- His latest project, a movie called “Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero,” is a comedy that shows the Middle Eastern character as the hero (instead of the usual terrorist). The intention was to have a character “that Americans would root for and not worry that he’s Iranian.”
- During his TedTalk, “Did You Hear the One about the Iranian?” he conveyed the challenges of being Iranian-American. He also shared two messages: “there’s good people everywhere” and that he wants “to break stereotypes and present Middle Easterners in a positive light.”
Tying a deeper mission to one’s work isn’t only reserved for those on stage: Maz says any of us “can have messaging in [our] acts, whatever [our] art is.” Maz encourages people to make a difference in the world in their own way: “…you can work with organizations that inspire you. We’re so busy in our lives…it’s great if you can go outside of yourself.” Maz walks his talk: he regularly supports charitable organizations including the Persian American Cancer Institute and the International Society for Children with Cancer.
Maz is quick to highlight the people who have helped him like Sarah Knight of Simon & Shuster who gave the idea of using city names as chapter titles and Amir Ohebsion who co-wrote his film. But his biggest influencer was his late father, a self-made millionaire, who instilled in him a strong work ethic. As a result, Maz appreciates that his work is “entrepreneurial” and says he “would be restless if [he] didn’t hustle” to find and create new opportunities. He adds that hustling is “in [his] bones” which is helpful when “you’ve got to get up on stage 5 to 10 times a week and keep writing, writing, writing and performing, performing, performing.” To keep his focus in the early days of his career, he wrote small, short-term goals and kept them in his pocket or wallet.
Maz urged that “life is short” and that people must love what they do. However, he warns that you “shouldn’t just go for just the result of it: Do it because you love doing it. Victory is me doing what I love doing. The rest is icing on the cake.” But he said that it’s critical to “put yourself in that environment” meaning the setting that represents your passion. He shared this story: “I have a friend who loves sports. He now works in the offices for professional sports teams. Not everyone is going to be LeBron James but you can be around what you love doing.”
Maz Jobrani shows that when you love your work and are equally passionate about inspiring others with it, success is inevitable. All it takes is a little creativity, drive, and a great sense of humor.