Friday, 6 June 2008

Meet America's only Gay, Fat, Iranian Stand-Up Comic

When it comes to offering himself as a sacrificial target for bullies, Ali Mafi was the perfect storm: gay, overweight and an Iranian Muslim.

Someone could have just painted a bull's eye on Mafi's back.

Good thing he had a sense of humor. Eventually.

"I got picked on when I was a kid," says Mafi, a stand-up comic who grew up in Novato. "First, because I was gay. And then because I was Iranian and, of course, my people kill people for no reason."

It's no wonder that Mafi, now 22 and living in San Francisco, spent a lot of time looking over his shoulder and dodging insults.

"Marin is not exactly the most diverse community in the world," says Mafi, a 2003 San Marin High School graduate. "It was open season. That's why I got into comedy. I needed a quick answer to shut people up."

Yes, says the former 300-pounder who has dropped to 180, "It was survival of the fattest. I had to learn to be smart and funny."

Mafi returns to his Marin roots Sunday when he performs at "Another Evening of Lie Down Comedy" at Mary's Futons in San Rafael. The 7:30 p.m. show includes Karen Ripley, Brian Malow, Carla Clavy, Lisa Geduldig and the funny futon seller, Mary Hughes.

"It's interesting," Mafi says. "I feel like whenever I walk around Safeway or a drug store in Novato or Marin, I'm the one people look at. Then I'm on stage and people laugh.

"There's such a strong hypocrisy in America. Love the sin and hate the sinner. But I'm excited to go and do the show. Everyone who comes will have a great time laughing at all my gay jokes, then go home and tell their kids to hate gay people. At least they'll take home a message."

If one listens to the Iranian government, there are no gays in the country. Mafi is living, laughing proof that boys will be boys and yes, even like boys.

And now he won't return to Iran. He can't. When he didn't enlist in the Iranian armed forces, he was banished. Sure, he had a darn good reason.

"I was getting my nails done," he says with a laugh.

"I am, technically, a citizen because I was born there," he adds. "But I can't go back into the country. If I did, they'd throw me in jail."

Or worse. A gay Iranian's partner was recently killed while the Iranian outcast gained asylum in Great Britain, according to Mafi, who dedicated an appearance in Berkeley for the Iranian Council of America to the man forced to flee.

"I did the show and 'killed' for five minutes. Then I told them I was gay," Mafi says. "They booed me."

Then there are the fat-phobes, who were uncomfortable with Mafi when his weight scale screamed for mercy as he hit 300.

"I grew up big," he says. "My first meal was rice and beef and I had no teeth. I'm not a binge eater. Where I come from, it was a sign of wealth to be big."

Even as he slimmed down, Mafi is antsy.

"For a straight person, 180 is a good, normal weight," says the 5-foot-8 Mafi. "In the gay community, I'm 5,000 pounds."

In comedy, timing is everything. And so his sexual orientation disclosure. Until Aug. 31, 2001, Mafi remained in the closet. Not a good year to come out for Iranian Muslims. "I was gay for a week," he says.

Then came Sept. 11. At best, Mafi got sneered.

"It was open season on me," Mafi says. "I was no longer just the gay kid."

Thanks to his supportive mother, Mafi survived mostly intact. He ended up in Marin because his mother, a coffee shop owner in San Francisco, believed the schools in the city wouldn't be a positive experience for her son.

Though Mafi's mother was comfortable around gays - her store was near the Castro District - it was an adjustment.

"It took her a while to get over the fact I was gay," Mafi says, laughing that "now, she tries to talk 'gay' to me. But she supports everything I do, and I do a lot of crazy things."

Although Mafi wished he could trash the "gay, fat, Muslim" description, it's all about separation from the herd of other stand-ups, he says. As for his chosen profession, there's nothing like it to escape the realities of life.

"I'll have a rough day every so often and be pissed off at the world," he says. "I don't have to worry about anything if I'm on stage having a good time. And I haven't given anything to comedy. Comedy has given a lot more to me."

Source: Marin Independent Journal

Ali performing at Under San Francisco


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