Prince of Persia

ACTOR AND COMEDIAN Peter the Persian (AKA Peter Shahriari) visited Dubai recently for a one-off performance with his friend and colleague Mike Bateyah at the Dubai Shopping Festival’s Comedy Cafe.

By David Light

Published: Sun 15 Feb 2009, 9:50 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:26 PM

Despite being a trained attorney with a juris doctorate from UCLA, Peter longed to be on stage making people laugh from as far back as his school days. His antics in the classroom combined with the constant study of comedians at the time brought him close to his desired career path but led to an almost painful experience when his studies took him away from the clubs and into the courtroom. Thankfully the dream never faded for Peter and he kept working at his chosen vocation until he was successful enough to drop his day job and go into show business permanently around six years ago.

Born and bred in Tehran, Peter’s comedy centre’s around his Middle-Eastern heritage but he is also deemed an innovator by his peers when it comes to voices, character humour and accents. He has performed all over Los Angeles at such comedy venues as the Ice House and the Laugh Factory, and is currently a Comedy Store paid regular. Peter has also hit the road or rather, the airport in recent years, having been invited to entertain audiences across the globe. He hosted the comedy variety series Zeus TV and has become a favourite of the Levantine Cultural Centre’s satire/comedy series, Middle East Comic Relief.

This was Peter the Persian’s first time performing live in Dubai and City Times caught up with him just before he was about to go onstage last week.

How are your first impressions of Dubai?

I travel the world when I can and I was expecting a thriving metropolitan area but I had no idea it was going to be this intense in terms of sheer Herculean effort to get these buildings up so fast. You guys must drink a lot of Red Bull! I don’t know how this happened. It’s nice to see the Middle-Eastern take on modern architecture. I’m from Iran and I think fourteen floors is the tallest building we have. It makes me proud to be a Middle-Easterner when I see all this.

How does it feel to be performing here? Did you have to doctor your routine at all?

People in the US tend to think anyone from the outside is a little less astute or informed. I don’t think that is true at all. When I was tailoring my routine in the States I always knew there would be a big market for this stuff abroad. I always try to make a routine that has got broad base appeal. Even if you don’t speak English you can understand what I’m saying or know the cultural reference points, you will get a kick out of the voices. Everyone thinks the Chinese talk funny!

Do you rely heavily on your cultural heritage for material?

Whereas others try and wave the flag for Middle-Easterners and rally support, I wave the flag for short womanisers. No, with this job there is more than an opportunity to make people laugh, there’s an opportunity to be a cultural ambassador. But I don’t talk about my heritage as much as I should really. In America if you put yourself in “the Persian box” they won’t laugh sometimes. So I actually tend to make fun of everybody except myself. There is an opportunity to make a political and cultural statement up on stage but I love comedy because it means I don’t have to if I don’t want to. I think it’s better to come up with something that is funny rather than has a political message. I feel blessed, I can just be hireable.

Why did you choose the stand-up path?


Did it work?

No. Girls come up to me all the time after shows but most of the time they say, “You were so funny, so good! Me and my boyfriend thought you were so good.” I found out a little late that it didn’t work but I had already chosen the path. I had to do something to get noticed in school as I wasn’t a jock or musician so I made people laugh.

Why did you get into law then?

It was a bit of a side job just to pay the bills. I did that and it paid well but I was never happy. You can do a lot of jobs for the money but dying of hypertension at the age of forty was a scary thought and one that confronts a lot of attorneys. Stand-up is difficult because unlike acting, which I do too, or any other job it is a totally individual effort. In anything else there is a team working together for an ensemble result. In this job it’s all about you and trying to carve out your individual bit which makes it interesting.

What do you get out of stand-up that you can’t find in any other job?

After a while, when you know what you’re doing you get rewarded for talent. Unlike any other industry where pretty mediocre people can do really well, with this job it requires audience participation and only the top percentile succeed. It is a unique art form in that respect. I could name you some very not good singers who have sold millions of CDs, the same with actors, but if you don’t make an audience laugh for over ten seconds you’re finished. That’s why when you can do it it is it’s own reward.

Are there any crowds that strike fear into your heart?

Only if they’re armed.

Do you have any advice for those who want to get into the industry?

There is a plague that is going through comedy and that is people doing what they think a stand-up routine should be. You have to do something unique, something no-one else has done before. For a while you can ride on other peoples’ coattails but it won’t last forever, you will get found out. Find an angle.

What are your plans after this gig?

I’m going to spend more time acting and a little less doing stand-up. I hope it’s going to be fun.

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