An Iranian-American comic takes on Nowruz — the Persian New Year celebration

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Spring is here so go ahead, put on new clothes and play some gold fish on the table. Not your usual Spring ritual, I know. Those are two ways to celebrate Nowruz. That's the New Year's holiday celebrated in Iran and throughout Central Asia, starting on the first day of Spring. If you've never heard of Nowruz, not to worry. Neither had the Iranian-American comedian you're about to meet. K-von Moezzi says it took moving from Arizona to L.A. for him to find out about his own culture's holiday, so he decided to make a short documentary about it. It's called "K-von Presents: A Splash of Nowruz." Thanks for joining us, K-von, good to meet you.

K-von Moezzi: Thank you for having me and I want to say Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak today and right now marks the Persian New Year, so we are celebrating on the air together.

Werman: Happy New Year. I want to start with our listeners getting a taste of what you do by playing a clip from the film where you're doing stand-up for an Iranian audience. Let's start there and we'll come back in a second.

Moezzi: I want to apologize. None of my comedy will be in Farsi tonight, not even a little bit. I know, it's a shame. If you want to blame someone, don't blame the organizers, don't blame me, blame my dad. I'll give you his email address. You know where my dad raised our family? Reno, Nevada.

Werman: Okay, so many that has something to do with why you're not doing any Farsi in your stand-up. So you're joking, you're blaming your dad, but what was it like growing up Iranian in Reno, Nevada of all places.

Moezzi: Well that's the whole point, I didn't even grow up Iranian because my dad was trying to lay low. He had moved from Iran a little before the revolution and he wanted to raise his family all American, so he bought a cowboy hat and a pickup truck and we had the non-Iranian, traditional lifestyle and just regular stuff.

Werman: How much did you actually know about your culture?

Moezzi: I knew very little, other than the food, which is always a good place to start because it's delicious. That's why I made this documentary. It's kind of like if you never knew about Christmas and then all of your friends tell you about it when you turn 25. You would be pretty upset too, Marco.

Werman: Yeah, I can imagine. It's kind of confusing because your name sounds very Iranian. K-von Moezzi, that's Iranian, right?

Moezzi: Right, and my dad picked my name to be K-von so I could go by Kevin growing up. My brother, Shahin, could go by Shawn growing up, so it was a way to kind of fit in. Once I got into stand-up comedy, because of my name, to a lot of Persian or Iranian events and I had to tell jokes to people - the only people I knew who were Iranian when I was growing up were my aunt and uncle - so I had a whole new world of people to try to please and they're kind of a tough audience sometimes. We show that in the documentary, how sometimes you can't crack them, the Persian grandma, she's wearing her hijab, you can't even tell by her facial reaction if she's laughing because it's covered up. That kind of stuff. So there's some challenges there.

Werman: Tell us a bit about Persian New Year, Nowruz. It begins on the first day of Spring. How did you first learn about it?

Moezzi: I first learned about Nowruz because I was at a stand-up comedy show and they said "and by the way, it's a Nowruz event, so keep it clean." I said "what is that?" and they couldn't believe it.

Werman: This was like an Iranian stand-up show?

Moezzi:: Yeah, it was like an Iranian event. It looked like a wedding but no one was getting married, I was kind of confused. They had grass on the table and a fish on the table and I said "what is this?" Well, basically it's like a Christmas tree. Here's what I realized about Nowruz. If you quit thinking of it as a foreign holiday and compare it to what you already know, it's actually pretty understandable.

Werman: What does it look like in terms of an American holiday?

Moezzi: Nowruz predates Easter and Nowruz has painted eggs on their table to represent fertility. Nowruz is like a birthday party for Mother Nature, but it's also a New Year's party, but it's also like Thanksgiving, there's a huge feast. It's really what I call a "Great Hits of all holidays." You've got to love Nowruz.

Werman: You have these tables with grass and goldfish. What's up with that?

Moezzi: Everything on the table has a meaning and it's kind of nice. There's seven things on the table. It's called Haft Sheen, which means "seven things that start with 'S'" and in the language of Persian or Farsi. "Seeb," is apple, that means health. "Sabzeh" means regrowth and rebirth, that kind of stuff.

Werman: You get new clothes, I'm told?

Moezzi: That's one of the great things, is you're supposed to clean the whole house, that's where we think Spring cleaning might've come from, and then you have to go buy new clothes and look your best. You can't beat a holiday that forces you to go shopping.

Werman: What does your dad think about your quest to learn about Persian culture because he was kind of trying to pull you into the melting pot.

Moezzi: I always joke about it, like "you were trying to keep Nowruz from me, save money and not buy me new clothes." But I don't think it was a conspiracy quite like that. He just wanted me to fit in and get along. I think he's kind of excited, as is the whole family, that I took an extra interest in the holiday.

Werman: Before you go K-von, how do you say "Happy Nowruz"?

Moezzi: You can say Nowruz Pirooz and you can say Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak.

Werman: Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak, how's that?

Moezzi: There you go.

Werman: K-von Moezzi, a comedian who lives in Los Angeles. He recently directed and starred in the short film "K-von Presents: A Splash of Nowruz." Thanks for your time K-von.

Moezzi: Thank you for having me.