Stand-up comedian Maz Jobrani spoke at the fourth annual Elena Diane Curris Lecture on Global Issues hosted by The Global Studies Institute. The lecture, titled “Growing up an immigrant in the U.S.,” centered around Jobrani’s life and experience immigrating from Iran to America.
“I would encourage [immigrants] to tell their stories as much as they can,” Jobrani said. “I think that, unfortunately, the word immigrant has turned into a negative word, but the truth is immigrants really help this country.”
Jobrani has made several television and film appearances such as “13 Going on 30” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” He has five comedy specials under his belt, the most recent being his Netflix comedy special, “Immigrant.”
According to Jobrani, the biggest stereotype he faces as an immigrant is the perception of people from Middle East as a terrorist or tyrant in film and television. In the past, Jobrani shared his desire to break stereotypes through his comedy.
“I think just seeing us laugh or … tell jokes can make a big difference [because] it helps show that there’s a lighter side to people from [the Middle East],” Jobrani said.
Jobrani’s Netflix comedy special was important for him because it was a dream of his to be able to do his comedy special in the Kennedy Center at Washington D.C.
“To do it in 2017, basically, in Trump’s backyard when I was an immigrant who was speaking up for immigrants, that’s kind of what made it special,” Jobrani said, “to be able to kind of be in the heart of the beast at the Kennedy Center and show a diverse audience present at the event as well.”
President Jane Close Conoley attended the lecture and said she thought Jobrani was both funny and insightful because he told his own personal story and related it to many students in attendance.
“I love that he had that dual perspective of the external pressures of being attacked, for example … world events, but also the internal side of it.” Conoley said. “I think his courage really shined out for me.”
Jobrani said he is lucky to do what he loves because it took him a while to discover what he wanted to do in life. His parents encouraged him to pursue other careers like law or medicine.
“[Now], my mom is very supportive … once she saw you could actually succeed and have a career,” Jobrani said. “My father passed away in 2009. But before he passed away, he saw a bit of that success too. I think for them, they came around eventually.”
Richard Marcus, director of the Global Studies Institute, said that each year they look for speakers from different disciplines to address global issues in new ways. They thought Jobrani would do a great job in communicating that through comedy.
“[We saw] the way in which he uses humor to tackle some very challenging issues and keyed into that very quickly,” Marcus said.
Last year, the Global Studies Institute invited former ambassador Cameron Munter to address the issue of diplomats; however, Marcus said they wanted something different this year.
Elaine Haglund, founder of the Global Studies Institute, said that they aim to internationalize the whole university.
“We’re trying to change the curriculum, student activities and faculty,” Haglund said. “I’m afraid that young people, because of their K-12 schooling, don’t learn much about the world. This is a chance for students to get their eyes open.”