If comedy is a weapon, then the Iranian regime is doomed

Dec 4, 20090 comments

My husband is a night owl. He crawls into be sometime after 2 each night and usually makes some strange statement that I either ignore or sleep through. The other night, while I was suffering from jetlag, he asked, “How do Iranians make a joke out of everything?” For some reason I launched into a long explanation about how years of oppression (think “years” as in back to the days of Genghis Khan) means that Iranians (and Jews, I added) had to find indirect ways to say things, which leads to really clever storytelling, word play, and comedy. “That’s why the Dutch aren’t that funny. They can say whatever is on their minds.” (I can hear my Dutch friends protesting already. Trust me. You’re not funny. You’ve had fairly free speech for centuries now!) Why do I bring this up now? This week, I had dinner with the Persian Three Stooges. By the end of the evening we were laughing so hard that tears were coming from our eyes. I got to hear great impersonations of Iranian personalities, political celebrities, and cultural archetypes. I heard stories of teenagers urging their parents to attend late night prayer sessions so that they could play poker in the empty houses, of taarof and subversion. Comedy itself is subversive… I remember riding in a minibus in Iran while a man in his late thirties did an impression of a cleric. The passengers laughed while Kamran explained to me that only recently that passenger could have faced extremely serious punishment for doing that impression. “He wouldn’t have dared to make those jokes in public a few years ago,” Kamran told me. Humor threatens those who see enemies at every turn, as Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari can attest to. Here is an excerpt of the conversation Bahari had with his interrogator about his appearance on the American comedy news program, The Daily Show:

“Why is this American dressed like a spy, Mr. Bahari?” asked the new man. “He is pretending to be a spy. It’s part of a comedy show,” I answered. “Tell the truth!” Mr. Rosewater shouted. “What is so funny about sitting in a coffee shop with a kaffiyeh and sunglasses?” “It’s just a joke. Nothing serious. It’s stupid.” I was getting worried. “I hope you are not suggesting that he is a real spy.”

If comedy really threatens the Iranian regime, then they are surely doomed. Anyone who has been in Iran knows that people can make jokes about everything, especially the powers that be. Right after Ahmadinejad’s first election, a friend told me, “In a country where turtles can fly and fish fall in love, is it any wonder that a monkey is president?” (If you did not get the joke, follow the links.) In Amsterdam, we have included the Greek-Dutch comedian, Soula, in our line-up for Saturday, December 12. Comedy is her weapon, and it will be ours too.