When the bubble burst on the housing market in 2008, Amir K decided it was time to stop waiting on his dream of performing stand-up comedy. He moved to Los Angeles, California, hustled his ass off and made his dreams come true.
Amir came to the United States when he was five years old, after his father brought his family from a war-torn Iran—a sacrifice that caused Amir to postpone his true calling in life, comedy. But don’t fret, because this story has a happy ending. The actor and writer is perhaps best known for his roles on MADtv and 2017’s Hollywood Said No. CULTURE was fortunate enough to sit down with the energetic comic, and he was very candid about his comedic beginnings, his delay in entering the scene and his experience with cannabis. Spoiler alert, you may never look at LEGOs the same way again.
You’ve been doing standup for over a decade now. How did you get into it?
I was always a funny kid, and my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Smith, encouraged me to do some performance things for the class. But I didn’t know what it was, because we’re immigrants. I came here with my family when I was five years old. I was transplanted into this whole new world, and I had to learn how things worked culturally and how people interact. The miscommunications in those situations provided me with a lot of material. I loved making my friends laugh. It helped me fit in, if we were all laughing, because we were all together. I learned that my connection to other people was through laughter, because humor can cross all borders.
How did your family react to your comic aspirations?
I kind of had to skirt around the issue. My dad brought us from Iran, through a war, sacrificing so much so that his family could have a better life. So, I felt I owed it to him to go to school, so that’s what I did, and I put my real dream and passion on the back burner. I would do the occasional open mic while I was at school at UCLA, but after college it would be another eight to 10 years before I would get back into it. And it’s funny, in hindsight I don’t think they would have ever had a problem with me doing stand-up if I just talked to them. They were just looking out for me and wanted me to be happy and make a decent living.
Why the lengthy delay?
After I graduated, the real estate market was booming, so I decided to do that. I made a bunch of money and eventually started an appraisal company. The whole time making up excuses not to do stand-up. I would always say I was going to get back to it, but I had a good job. Then the market tanked in 2008, and I was like “Fuck it! I’m going all in.” I moved up to LA, and I would pass out fliers to get people to come into the comedy clubs. If I got enough people to come in, they would let me do a set on the late show.
Society and its acceptance of comedy have changed significantly in the last 10 years. Have you had to augment your performance?
It really depends on where you go. I don’t mind playing anywhere, because I feel that if you’re funny, you’re funny anywhere. It transcends everything, and of course some places are more sensitive than others, but I don’t think you should change your show in any way if you are trying to pursue comedy for your personal satisfaction. I don’t want to do a stand-up set that I don’t enjoy because I’m afraid to upset somebody. I’m doing this because I love doing it, not to fit into somebody’s pre-conceived notion of what I should do or say. Most comedians have felt it, but I think there is a pushback happening right now in comedy, and in a couple years I think it will go back to normal where we are allowed to say whatever we want. Because we should be, we’re comedians not politicians. I think we are moving past the hypersensitivity. If you don’t like the stuff, don’t go. That’s why I prefer to work comedy clubs. Because the audience knows that they are there for a show and to be entertained. They are paying to hear stories from a different point of view, and most adults are okay with that.
Can you tell us about the first time you were introduced to cannabis?
I had a cousin who was a few years older than me, and we would always skate together. We were skating at a gas station when I was in sixth grade, and he had a pipe made out of LEGOs, actual LEGO pieces with a piece of foil as a screen. Super unhealthy way to smoke, but we were just dumb kids trying to get high. I remember being super hyper-aware of everything going on. I was transfixed on watching my foot push my skateboard as I went around and around this gas station. One time my cousin got ahold of some hash, and we smoked way too much. It must have been a combination of the hash and my low tolerance, but I remember getting one of those big jugs of Gatorade, and shaking it after I took off the lid, not realizing what I was doing. So, there’s red Gatorade going everywhere in the kitchen, and I remember thinking that I was out of my mind. And as I got older, I remember a lot of my friends telling me I was the first person they got high with.
“That’s what makes cannabis the porthole to my creativity. It also lowers my guard on some things I might be hesitant to talk about on stage.”
What kind of role does cannabis play in your life now?
I use it now to deal with anxiety, or if I need to get a little extra creativity when I write. Or if I’m doing a late show at a club, I’ll smoke a little to get loose. Not so much that I’m out of my mind, but just enough to take a little of the edge off. It also helps me focus. My mind is like a rat’s nest, and sometimes when I smoke it helps quiet my negative thoughts and anxiety and allows me to be more present in the moment without worrying about a lot of other stuff. That’s what makes cannabis the porthole to my creativity. It also lowers my guard on some things I might be hesitant to talk about on stage. It lets my mind, just go. And when I’m really in the zone, the audience will go with me.