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The Tehrangeles Series | Tehran Von Ghasri

Writer

Brownbook Staff

Photographer

Monica Nouwens

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What is an ‘Afro-Iranian’, culturally speaking? What has been the result, in your case, of a meeting of African-American and Iranian cultures?
I’m half Black, half Persian. My father is Iranian and my mother is Black American. African Americans have their own culture and heritage, which is very much rooted in America. Iranians are usually a very homogenous community. They stick to themselves and don’t usually mix. By definition I’ve solved the race problem [laughs]. My dad can never hate African Americans because he can never hate me, and my mum can never hate Iranians because she can never hate me. That’s what the American dream is, really – the coming together and blending of different cultures.

What was it like growing up Afro-Iranian in the US?
When I was growing up, being mixed wasn’t as popular as it is now. People didn’t know how to react to me. Sometimes Iranians would say something offensive in Farsi around me, not knowing I could understand them. African-Americans would come up to me and ask what I was. I learned early on I could either succumb to prejudice or be confident in who I am and what I believe. I’m very proud to be Persian and I’m very proud to be Black.

Is that a source of inspiration for your comedy?
Because of my mixed identity, I can relate to everybody. I am a little bit of everything when it comes down to it. My comedy is an expression of that. I want to bring people together and to show that no matter how different we seem, we are all very much the same in many ways. My mum and dad come up in my comedy a lot. For example, with a Persian dad and a Black mum, it’s a surprise I speak English at all. My dad thinks he’s speaking English if he speaks in Farsi really slowly. He only uses English when he’s talking about someone. ‘Say it in Farsi!’ I tell him.

Tehran is quite an unusual name. Can you explain your stage name, SoParvaz?
My actual name is Tehran Von Ghasri. My mum wanted me to have a Persian name that sounded Black. Tehran set the tone for who I was going to be. My last name is a mix of my parents’ last names. They are both very proud of their cultures so they wanted to make sure I grew up with both. Parvaz means ‘fly’ in Persian, so my stage name translates to ‘Tehran so fly’, because I’m so fly. Get it?

What first brought you to Los Angeles?
I used to host a Persian talk show in DC that was bought by a station in LA, so I started flying out here to host that. I started performing stand up and a year and a half ago the Laugh Factory gave me a weekly spot every Monday night and I became a comedian. In LA I developed a radio show called ‘Imperfect Gentlemen’, which I host with Lebanese-American George Khouri. We talk about the issues of the day, from relationships to style. It’s like a magazine on the radio.

What does the term Tehrangeles mean to you?
Tehrangeles is like Tehran away from Tehran. When they say Tehrangeles they don’t mean all of LA. Not a lot of Iranians go to east LA. You find them mostly in Beverly Hills, Westwood and Calabasas. That’s where they live and prosper, waking up to perfect weather, shopping at Century City or on Rodeo Drive, riding around in their black Mercedes, going to get some kebab and then heading to a pool party. That’s everyday life here. It’s a perfect day for anybody.

You have said that it’s become very hip to be Persian nowadays. Can you elaborate?
Right now, with the new generation, it’s become very trendy to be Persian. The Iranians run the clubbing scene – they are getting noticed on television and on fashion runways. People used to think of Iranians as scary foreigners and now they think of them as young, hip entrepreneurs. Rappers rap about Persian girls; guys want to look like Persian men. They are setting the style and tone of Hollywood.

Tell us an Afro-Iranian joke.
I always let everyone know that, no matter what the situation is, I am never scared because I am always the scariest person in any room. Carjack, hijack, as an Afro-Iranian I am capable of anything.

This article appears in the issue41Buy Now