Late night or variety shows are loved almost as much as apple pie and baseball in the United States. Since the 60's, these programs have been an integral part of the American culture. Every evening, we welcome adored and well-respected hosts of the various late night programs into our homes as they recap the most recent events of the day, world news and current affaires through satirical and humorous monologues. We also have the chance to meet our favourite stars, new artists and interesting people who share their stories and recent projects with the hosts and the rest of us through informal interviews.
There are other countries such as the UK, Australia and Japan for example who have similar programs with an equally strong fan base as the United States. However, when considering the countries where late night shows may be produced or popular, perhaps Iran wouldn't be amongst the top 5 that comes to mind...or even the top 50.
Well, let's not allow stereotypes and sweeping generalisations to limit our understanding of Iranian media. While it's true that internally based channels face stringent restrictions and strict censorship, there are a number of satellite channels, such as Farsi1 and Manoto, operating from outside of Iran, that produce more western style content and programs, slightly less boundaried and able to demonstrate greater creativity and progressiveness.
So it came as no surprise when Sina Valiollah, a seasoned media specialist with more than 20 years of experience in TV and radio, decided Iranian viewers needed more than just dubbed soap operas and movies - it was time for the birth of the first ever late night show.
So in the fall of 2013, he produced, hosted and launched Chandshanbe Ba Sina (meaning 'Whichday with Sina') the first weekly Farsi speaking Late Night Show on Farsi1 TV.
'Chandshanbe Ba Sina' just celebrated its 4th seasons and it has made huge waves in the region by critically questioning cultural/social norms through comedy and satire. Sina is often referred to as the Iranian Jimmy Fallon with the sarcasm of David Letterman. Through the show, he has contributed to shaping the entertainment landscape of Iranian media as well as inviting people to revise their norms associated with humour. An example of this is evident in his opening song and main motto of the show, which is, 'we must learn not to take jokes seriously.'
'I've always watched and loved American late night shows and I knew we never had such a thing. Most of our interviews with celebrities and artists are very serious and cut and dry. So I wanted to change that. I wanted to make people laugh and to help them, even if for a few hours a week, to forget about some of the hardship they face. But I also wanted to challenge some of our cultural and social ideologies, in a non-political manner, that may be contributing to personal or professional problems. Such as the way we communicate with one another or our ideas of beauty and plastic surgery or our usage of social media and online behaviour. I think when you approach these subjects in a humorous way, people are more receptive to it and less defensive. So it's like we can laugh at ourselves, and learn and grow wiser together.' Explains Sina.
Like with most new and progressive concepts, it took time for some Iranian viewers to understand and accept the 'Late Night' way of viewing things since for the first time, Sina is challenging traditional ways of discussing current events and conducting interviews. Today, the show is loved for artistically tackling psychosocial topics relevant to everyday lives, without the usual strict censorship, and for it's informal interviews with the greatest Iranian artists such as Ebi, Navid Negahban, Maz Jobrani, Max Amini, and Mehdi Norowzian.
'I know that some of the American late night greats like Johnny Carson and David Letterman were on air for decades, which is amazing and a testament to their popularity and success.' Sina says. 'I'm not sure how long 'Chandshanbe Ba Sina' will air but so far, I'm really happy and thrilled to be able to pave the way for other satirical variety shows that have the potential to shift mind-sets and entertain people of all ages and backgrounds.'