October 24, 2007
Dan Ahdoot: Iranian Jews have a stand-up comic too!
“It sucks being Iranian these days,” a Jewish comedian of Iranian heritage Dan Ahdoot jokes in his stand-up act. “People ask me the dumbest questions; “Yo, Dan, level with me. Are they making the nuclear weapons or what?” Like there’s this big e-mail list that goes out every month to anyone who’s Iranian, that reads, “Greetings from Tehran. Everything is going according to plan. Soon all the Americans will die! And now birthdays: Mahmoud from Virginia is celebrating his 34th!’”
It’s no secret that Iranian Jews living in America have attained substantial success as doctors, lawyers, real estate developers, professors and entrepreneurs. The final frontier in careers that we have yet to conquer is in the entertainment field—and Dan Ahdoot is slowly but surely making a name for himself and our community in the industry. I first interviewed the Long Island native two years ago for an article about Iranian Jews getting into the entertainment business. I was literally in tears laughing at his hilarious routine which is based on growing up as a child of Iranian Jewish immigrants in America. I think his comic take on the challenges of trying to please his Iranian Jewish parents who have high expectations of their children not only resonates with younger Iranian Jews but other young Americans. Though not necessarily for the reasons he outlines in his onstage routine, life has not been without its
difficulties for Ahdoot. In 2000, after graduating pre-med from Johns Hopkins University, he was set to enter medical school. But before he could even crack open an anatomy book, he decided to change course and take a shot at becoming a professional comedian. He took this brave step despite the opposition he faced from his family. So far, the gamble has paid off and Ahdoot has achieve some success after becoming a finalist on Season 2 of the NBC reality show “Last Comic Standing”. He has opened for such well known comedians as Lewis Black, Jay Mohr, and Dave Chappelle. He was awarded first prize at the Philadelphia Comedy Competition in 2003 and the 2002 first prize at the NYC Triad Comedy Competition. He currently tours colleges around the country sharing his humor and I recently had a chance to catch up with him about his career:
What’s been going on with your stand-up career since we last spoke?
My work at the colleges have really taken on a life of its own. For two years in a row now I’ve become the highest booked comedian at colleges across the country. So that’s really taken off and been good to me. I’ve signed on with new managers that are very successful in L.A. I finished writing for a show for MTV called “Short Circuit” with Nick Cannon and its airing now. I’ve been traveling non-stop across the country and I did a really cool benefit for a charity called “Patha Community” up in San Francisco. It’s a charity for community services for the Iranian community in the Silicon Valley. A lot of corporations are hiring me to do shows.
How has your stand-up material you’ve been doing changed? Are you still focusing on your life as an Iranian American Jew?
I think that as long as Ahmadinejad continues to say stupid things, I’ll have a wealth of material. I don’t know if my material is centering around the Iranian stuff anyone, I’m writing more about myself as an individual. I consider myself a comic who happens to be Iranian and Jewish not an Iranian Jewish comic, I think that’s important because a lot of people are identifying themselves by race as opposed to who they really are.
Your family has been supportive of your career as a stand-up, unlike many Iranian Jewish parents who discourage their kids from getting into entertainment. Are they still on board with your career choice or have things changed?
No, they’re still on board, they realize that I’m still doing well thank god. Now they’re nudging me to get married, it’s getting on my nerves that my job causes me to be out of town all the time and I can’t meet up with any of the “khasetgars” (Persian word for a person who wants to get married and goes through a formal courtship). No khasetgar action going on in north-western Missouri where I am now!
How do you feel about young Iranian Jews who look up to you as a source of inspiration for not getting into a traditional career in medicine or law?
I still feel that there’s still a big gap in our community of what people want to do and what they end up doing. It doesn’t take much to be an inspiration to the Persian community—if you do what you want to do instead of what your parents want you to do, you’re suddenly an inspiration. I don’t feel like I’m that inspirational, but think it strikes a cord with them when you’re doing something that you love and you’re successful at. A lot of people in our community think that’s impossible to do something you love and be successful at it. They think you’re either going to be poor doing something you love or rich doing something you don’t like. As a community we’re so successful in everything we get into medicine or the law, that people fear that (the arts) is because no one has really given it a shot. I feel that many Iranian Jews that are getting into the arts, are realizing that they can use that know-how, that drive that we use in business in show business as well.
What reaction do average folks in the Iranian Jewish community have when you tell them that you’ve chosen a career in stand-up?
I feel that a lot of people in the community don’t take what I do seriously. They think it’s a joke— no pun intended. It’s funny because Americans who book me, they treat it with so much more respect.
So what is it really like working on the road constantly as a stand-up?
It’s become more of a job, which is really my dream come true. Last night I was in Kentucky, I did a show till 10 o’clock and a meet and greet till 11. I went to bed, then got up at five o’clock in the morning, drove two hours to the airport, got a plane to Missouri and here I am exhausted in the hotel room talking to you. I have to be on stage again in about an hour and be funny and cheery again. I’m on the road now doing 70 colleges a semester in three months, so it gets really exhausting after a while. But that’s what I’m in it for and I get exhilaration when a crowd gets my jokes.