UC Berkeley alumnus Maz Jobrani, an Iranian-American comedian and actor, is set to deliver the campus’ spring 2017 commencement speech May 13.
An Iranian immigrant, Jobrani came to the U.S. when he was 6 years old. He studied political science as a campus undergraduate student, deeming this time “four of the best years of my life.” Jobrani is known for being a founding member of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, which was created in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
A childhood Eddie Murphy fan, Jobrani said he always wanted to go into comedy and acting. Coming from an immigrant background, however, he found it difficult to overcome the career expectations expressed by his parents.
“When you have immigrant parents, they want you to be a lawyer or a doctor or something like that, so my parents were really encouraging me to take another path,” Jobrani said.
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Jobrani enrolled at UCLA’s doctoral program to become a professor of political science, but he later decided to drop out and pursue a career in acting.
“I don’t regret that experience at all, but I’ll never forget the day when I had a lightbulb moment and decided I had to live my life for myself and not for my parents,” Jobrani said.
Jobrani is well known for his stand-up comedy specials, which draw humor from stereotypes commonly associated with immigrants from the Middle East while bringing attention to the experiences they face.
Jaleh Pirnazar, a campus professor of Persian studies and one of Jobrani’s former professors, said Jobrani challenges stereotypes against Middle Easterners and opens up the conversation through his comedy.
“I like that he can take serious, complex topics and make them easy for people to understand by adding a comedic spin to them,” said campus junior Negin Shahiar, chair of the Iranian Students Cultural Organization.
Campus junior Roya Chagnon said in an email that she believes that in a “post 9/11 and now Trump-led America,” it’s important to have someone raising awareness of the prejudice against Iranian Americans and other Middle Eastern Americans in a lighthearted and humorous way.
The Senior Class Council, or SCC, ultimately chose Jobrani as the keynote commencement speaker because it felt he embodied the diversity and ambition that campus students identify with, according to SCC President Marisa Fong.
“We are delighted to have someone who’s been in our position and experienced some of the same struggles we’ve faced through our time at (UC) Berkeley share their wisdom and life advice with us as we graduate,” Fong said in an email.
Campus senior Eric Meikle said he hoped that Jobrani’s speech would give him some “forward-looking advice” that was universal and impactful.
Jobrani said he intends to entertain people with his speech, but that he also hopes to use his own story to encourage people to find and pursue their interests.
“It’s a great way to deliver a message of acceptance, tolerance and hope, as well as positivity and pro-immigration,” Jobrani said. “It’s a good time and place to give that message.”