Maz Jobrani's friend warned him that he'd better have a good show when he played L.A.'s Wiltern theatre, "or else the headline will be 'Iranian Bombs Wiltern.'" This joke kicks off the special, I'm Not A Terrorist, But I've Played One On TV, and his friend needn't have worried. Before the curtain rises, Jobrani tells us, the audience watching at home, that he is going to open the show with a Persian dance, and that's what he does. In an age of ironic and snarky comedy, this is an unabashed celebration.
Jobrani does skilful crowd work here, using open-ended audience questions to guide him back to his routine. An exchange with an audience member of Mexican descent leads into his routine about faking fluency in any language by just repeating words you know with conviction ("Burrito adios, burrito adios, burrito adios"). A back-and-forth with a Korean Danish attendee segues into how Iranians love their chandeliers. The audience is Jobrani's springboard, never the butt of the joke. Likewise, as he pokes gentle fun at cultural foibles, nothing is pointed or cruel.
Repetition is a major component of the bits here ("Iranians take forever to greet you. 'Hi hello hi hi hi,' every time they see you, 'Hi hello hi hi hi.' That's why they take forever to negotiate, 'Hi hello hi hi hi'"), as are simple, clean jokes ("I told my mom I had a 401K, she thought it was a new Mercedes"). But these are not crutches to bolster a weak act, or one-liners to be tossed off. Cutaways to the audience show people falling out of their chairs hysterical, standing and applauding, wiping away tears of laughter. Relatable premises and recurring motifs are undoubtedly Jobrani's strengths, and he plays to them well.
After a funny if slightly naughty sex joke, Jobrani becomes a surrogate audience member. "Maz, you shouldn't joke about that. I brought my mother to this show! I have to translate!" He also tells us that grandparents come to his shows, millennials come to his shows, some people even bring their children. It is this bit about his audience that helps to explain his appeal. His expressive, relatable jokes can transcend age, culture, and even language. If not every joke is a belly laugh, not every gag made better by constant repetition ("Hi hello hi hi hi"), Jobrani nonetheless appeals to a bigger audience than most.
In her review of his other Netflix offering, Brown and Friendly, Exclaim! contributor Mirali Almaula explains Maz Jobrani's appeal by calling the hour, "a great special that may teach you several things about [the Iranian] community and its rich culture and history." The same is true of I'm Not A Terrorist…, though he addresses not just his own heritage but several cultures and nationalities with a mix of knowledge and good humour. Unlike other comics with so-called "international" appeal, Jobrani never relies on stereotype. He's having fun, never at anyone's expense, and if you give I'm Not A Terrorist, But I've Played One On TV a chance in your Netflix queue, you will too.
Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here.