Imperfect Gentleman Says Being Persian Is Hip
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
You can find our next guest on most Monday nights at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, where he is part of Comedy Bazaar. And he offers his signature riffs on his particularly interesting cross-cultural dilemmas.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY ROUTINE)
TEHRAN VON GHASRI: My name is Tehran. It's like the capital city of Iran. You're like, wondering what were my parents thinking, naming me Tehran - right? But I'm half-black, half-Iranian, which comes with a lot of advantages. I have a lot of fun at the airport.
VON GHASRI: It's true. Homeland Security knows me on a first-name basis.
MARTIN: And, somehow, he managed to get through the screen, and Tehran SoParvaz is with us now. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.
VON GHASRI: Thank you for having me because I really love NPR, and I love you.
MARTIN: Well, good. Well, thank you. I'm so glad. And we love you, and we invited you to learn more about you, but also because today is a special day. It's Nowruz...
VON GHASRI: It is.
MARTIN: ...or the Persian New Year. So (foreign language spoken) to you.
VON GHASRI: Merci, merci.
MARTIN: And it falls every year on the first day of spring. It's celebrated in Iran and also parts of Afghanistan, Turkey, the Caucasus and so forth. So what are you going to do to celebrate?
VON GHASRI: Well, what people traditionally do is, they get together with their families. It's a big time of family celebration. They sit around. We have a table called the Haft Sin. OK. That's like the Persian version of the Christmas tree, and we decorate the table with various things that begin with the letter S. There are seven things and they have to be on this table.
And here's the thing about Persian New Year's. It's not as convenient as American New Year's, which is at midnight. Persian New Year's this year was at 7:01 and 56 seconds AM. So we all had to get up. We all had to sit around and it's exactly at the time of the spring equinox and that's how it's figured out. And I don't know how they knew this thousands and thousands of years ago, because I have no idea how they figure it out now.
MARTIN: OK. Well, but it was a good time?
VON GHASRI: It's always a good time.
MARTIN: It's always a good time.
VON GHASRI: We get together as a family. Other people come over and we enjoy ourselves, so in my family it's like we blend. We mix the Iranian and the black cultures together, so it's like having, I guess, like Quanza and Nowruz at the same time.
MARTIN: So could one of the S items be a sweet potato pie or is that not part of the mix?
VON GHASRI: Oh, it could be. That would - see, that was it.
MARTIN: Could be hot. That could be hot. But how did you get the name, Tehran? I understand that really is your first name, but your mom is the American part of the duo?
VON GHASRI: My mom is black and my father is Iranian, and here's the thing. Tehran is not an Iranian name. It's not a Persian name. No one has that name. And when I was born, everyone thinks that my dad named me Tehran, but that's not true at all. My mom named me Tehran because she thought it sounded black enough where I could be black, but it was still Iranian enough where I could always retain that part of my culture as well.
MARTIN: And your stage name is SoParvaz, translates - it's a stage name. That's not your real last name.
VON GHASRI: It is a stage name - yeah. My last name is Von Ghasri. SoParvaz means fly in Farsi, so I'm Tehran So Fly. Get it? Because I'm so fly.
MARTIN: OK. What - you know, there's so much one wants to ask about this, but given subsequent events, I mean is it hard to carry your name? I mean do you ever wish for Terence?
VON GHASRI: I've been Tehran since I was born and I'll be very candid right now. When I was five years old - being mixed in America has not always been as accepted as it is now and in such a homogenous people as Iranians, being mixed, especially with black, was very difficult growing up. When I was five years old, my father came to pick me up from school one day and the kids there and one teacher made a comment that actually made me feel - I guess it would be a sense of shame, you know, that I did not look as much like my father as other kids. White kids had white fathers. I look black. I looked black and yet I had an Iranian father, and at that time they didn't even know what Iranians were. They thought he was Mexican.
So ever since that day when I was five years old, I decided I would never feel that sense of shame ever again and that I would be completely proud of my ethnic background, my heritage, the hard work that my father and mother did and the love that they had between each other, and I would never be ashamed, and from then on I was very proud to have the name Tehran. Capital of Iran or not, it is my name.
MARTIN: All right. Well, good for you. Bravo, you. And you've also turned that into a job.
VON GHASRI: See? As a little kid, my dad would always be like - I would do things and my dad would be like, you need to stop doing them. You can't do this stuff. And then I would be like, no, Dad, I'm me and this is what I do. And he was like, when you grow up, nobody's going to pay you to be you and now they pay me to be me.
VON GHASRI: That is exactly what I do.
MARTIN: And tell your stories. And one of the things that you talk about a lot is the - kind of the being between the two worlds. Let's - we have a fun clip of you talking about dating in one of those worlds or trying to kind of learn the ropes, and here it is.
VON GHASRI: You want to get a Middle Eastern girl? That's fine. First, you go to medical school for about three years. Real easy. It's real easy. Then you email her dad. Actually, it's better if you have your dad email her dad your resume and then your friends become friends with her friends and after six to 10 years, boom, you've got her.
VON GHASRI: It's an easy process.
MARTIN: I'm a little frightened to ask if you do a black version of that...
VON GHASRI: Oh, I do.
VON GHASRI: I do. I...
MARTIN: I'm not sure I want to hear that, but...
VON GHASRI: I like to cross - I really talk about the conflicts of the two cultures, and you know, it's become very hip to be Persian nowadays. It's become very hip with shows like "Shahs of Sunset" and other programming. Persians are in.
MARTIN: You've been a guest on "Shahs of Sunset."
VON GHASRI: I was. I was...
VON GHASRI: I played myself, again, and I was on "Shahs of Sunset," and those people are crazy. And that's the thing. A lot of people criticize that show. It's on Bravo, people. It's not on the Discovery channel. It's not about Iranians as a culture. It's about those particular Iranians and they're all good people and good friends.
MARTIN: I understand that you're working with Ryan Seacrest on a show based on your podcast, "Imperfect Gentlemen"?
VON GHASRI: "Imperfect Gentlemen."
MARTIN: You want to tell us about that?
VON GHASRI: We have a show, ImperfectGentlemen.com, and Ryan Seacrest has optioned the show for a reality show and we're in talks about having a talk show, and that's very cool.
MARTIN: So you do get paid to be you?
VON GHASRI: I really do. I really do. And our podcast is very interesting - and we do talk about relationships and the modern-day gentleman because that seems to be like a dying breed. Instead of shopping at Armani, most of us shop at H&M. We talk about ballin' on a budget, and living life in a metropolitan city, and it's actually very interesting. It's nothing like your show.
MARTIN: Well, I think my show is very entertaining.
VON GHASRI: I love your - that's what I'm saying.
MARTIN: Well, thank you.
VON GHASRI: Your show is actually entertaining and educational.
MARTIN: Well, thank you.
VON GHASRI: I have written some reports based on your show.
MARTIN: (LAUGHTER) Well, thank you for that, and thank you for visiting us briefly at this busy time of year. Thank you for sharing some of your family time with us. Before we let you go, I did want to just kind of loop back to where we started. We are living in a time when there is more acceptance of people from different backgrounds, people who are biracial. Obviously, you know, our president is biracial, but it isn't always easy to be from a certain background. I just wondered if you had any little last words of wisdom for people who might have felt the way you felt when you were a little boy before you came into your own place of saying, you know what, I'm not going to apologize for who I am, I'm going to be happy.
VON GHASRI: Wow. When you have to check a box that says your race and you only get certain options and by checking one box or the other, you deny either your father or mother, and that's the thing. I refuse to be boxed in and I hope that all the biracial children out there - and this has become a thing. In 50 years there will not be black, white, yellow, brown. We will all be beige. OK? Everyone's mixing, whether we want to or not. That's what America is about. It's about the melting pot. Somewhere along that line it became a mosaic, but we're getting back to the melting pot.
And my last words to any kid out there that has ever felt the way I felt or grew up the way I grew up is remember to be proud of yourself. Proud - being proud and having pride are two different things. Being proud of your family, being proud of your parents - especially your parents - putting in all that hard work, and being proud of who you are, because who you are and where you're from is going to lead to where you're going to end up.
MARTIN: Well, thank you so much once again. Happy New Year once again.
VON GHASRI: (Foreign language spoken).
MARTIN: Exactly. Yeah, like that. Like he said.
VON GHASRI: (Foreign language spoken) - it says - it's like...
MARTIN: (Foreign language spoken)
VON GHASRI: Exactly. It's like have a victorious new year.
MARTIN: We know you will be doing that.
VON GHASRI: I will try.
MARTIN: That was Tehran Von Ghasri. You can find him most Monday nights at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles. You can also download his podcast, "Imperfect Gentlemen." You can find that on iTunes.
Thank you so much for joining us.
VON GHASRI: No. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.