Dan Ahdoot is a hit on the West Coast comedy circuit. Here he tells SFgate.com what it’s like to be part of an Iranian-Jewish family, the hazards of being of ‘Middle-Eastern appearance’, and what a Jew does at Xmas. (With thanks: Albert)
Your family are Sephardic Jews. How does that differ from growing up in an Ashkenazi home?
I guess the biggest thing would be that we have flavor in our food [laughs]. And, of course, we have thicker eyebrows! It’s very tribal. Sephardic Jews tend to be very family-orientated. My family gets together every Friday night for Shabbat [the Sabbath] — my grandparents and all of my cousins. There are about 60 of us. And we do that on all the Jewish holidays.
What do you do when you’re together?
We hang out, talk, eat. There’s a lot of debate and a lot of loud conversations about politics and stuff. It’s kind of a crazy scene, but it’s all very loving — men kissing one another on the cheek and stuff like that.
When and why did your family leave Iran?
My family left in the early ’70s because they saw that things were not looking too great for them. Religious persecution has been sort of status quo there for thousands of years, at least since the Islamic invasion. It was normal that Jews weren’t allowed to go outside while it was raining, because people said they were going to dirty up the streets and stuff like that. At the time they left, it was starting to get a little crazy, with religious extremists getting more power. It was time to get out.Some relatives weren’t as lucky as we were and left in ’78 or ’79. They had to escape through the mountains. There are still family members there, but most of them are here now. (…)
So your ethnic background isn’t front and center in your act?
It’s definitely a big part of it, but it’s not the whole thing. I have things that happen to me every day that don’t even relate to me being Iranian or whatever. But pretty much every show I have some material about being Jewish and Iranian.I think people have a lot of misconceptions about both groups. I’ve done shows in the middle of the country where people think Jews are just people with black hats and curlicue sideburns. And they assume most people from the Middle East are terrorists. I’m not kidding. I like to think I show them that’s not the case.
You once said that “I was an Iranian up until Sept. 11, and now I’m Puerto-Rican. It makes life a lot easier.” Is it difficult to be part of a cultural heritage that isn’t universally beloved?
I was joking, of course. But it’s true that sometimes people misjudge you based on appearance. I’m actually very pro-American, and I’m pro-Israel, but physically I look like I’d be pro-Taliban.
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