Watching Dallas-based comedian Aaron Aryanpur on stage is somewhat of a master class in the art of stand-up comedy. He’s controlled, engaging, open and vulnerable; ultimately, he’s relatable and very funny.
His act is built around some common themes of being a young man, striving towards his calling on stage who still has the responsibilities of supporting a young family. Finding the balance in life between performer and father, traveling comedian and provider is not just part of his act but part of his existence. Finding equilibrium in life is thematic throughout both.
Being born and raised in a half-Jewish American, half-Persian Muslim émigré family is where the roots of this struggle grow deep, “I always thought my father was passive aggressive, but the more I learn about Persian culture the more I realize it was not just him, it seems to be something genetic,” says Aryanpur. “There seems to be a plausible deniability factor built into every Persian.”
As a country of deal makers from before the time of Marco Polo and the spice trade, the Persian culture (Iranian to some) is full of contradictions that never seem to be quite explained, fully. For Aryanpur, he was raised in the Jewish side of his upbringing but identifies fully with the Arabic side and has instinctively sought the praise of his Persian father who never seems to quite be able to deliver such approval.
In part of his stage presentation Aaron wanders deftly from stories of corporate frustration, fatherhood, and being married young. He returns repeatedly and skillfully to stories about his interactions with his own father, Sam. It’s amazing watching people in his audience poke and elbow each other as his stories hit close to home.
His dry, near arid humor, has evolved and been influenced by early “British Comedy” icons like Monty Python’s John Cleese, George Carlin and others who never hacked it out telling mere “jokes,” but created thought provoking observations with surgical accuracy.
“I had seen lots of stand up comedy on TV and went to see big theater shows like Carlin, but around 2000, I started coming regularly to the Improv to see the comedy live,” says Aryanpur. A skilled visual artist and graphic designer, Aaron began bringing caricatures he had drawn of the headliners hoping to get an autograph on his artwork. This ultimately pulled the curtain back reviling a view of the Grand and Masterful OZ that compelled him to push further into the world of stand up comedy.
“Because I was a regular, and got to know the wait staff, they would take my drawings back and often the comedians would invite me back to the greenroom. I was lucky to get to meet Mitch Hedberg a few times, and I also got to know some of the local comedians,” he explains. The bug was planted, and Aryanpur started reading everything he could get his hands on about the craft, and he then signed up for Dean Lewis’ comedy workshop.
It was under Lewis’ tutelage that Aaron began to find his voice. “I was lucky, I started at around the same time as Paul Varghese, Raj Sharma, Jason James and a couple of other local guys.” They all were supportive of each other and their desire to stand before the brick façade of the Improv. “Each of us had a different voice, a different delivery but we were all the ones who persevered,” says Aryanpur.
With his graphic skills, Aaron would create the flyers for his counterparts, and when one was working, the others would show their support. Together they moved up the local comedy ladder. “When I was starting out, all the books and people I talked to kept saying the same thing; to become a comedian you needed to ‘go up’ and get time on stage. I always found it frustrating because in order to go up, you had to have been up and getting up only happened if there was an up to get up for,” explains Aryanpur.
Also, his ability to find humor in the complexities of the English language shows some of that early George Carlin influence. “There’s a rule of thumb with comedians that it takes ten years to develop into a real comedian. But when I started, I couldn’t believe that.” Aaron continues, “I thought there was no way it could take that long but here I am ten years later.”
The friendship with the other local headliners like Jason James, Paul Varghese, Mark Agee and others has helped keep each of them on their toes as well. “When you have guys like this who you respect, it drives you to avoid the easy joke, to really work on the craft.” Given Aryanpur’s upbringing in Hebrew school, with a Muslim father at a time that having roots in Iran became somewhat problematic, you can guess he has heard every two Jews and an Arab walk into a bar joke, but Aryanpur doesn’t really tell jokes as much as he tells stories.
Early on in his stand up career, Aryanpur noticed an online video of another “Persian” comic, Maz Jobrani. “I realized I was using a joke that was very similar, so I dropped it. but out of the blue I decided to send Maz an email because I really liked his stuff,” recalls Aryanpur. That random email lead to Jobrani taking a risk on the young unknown, making some phone calls and helping Aaron get some stage-time in some clubs in LA. The two stayed in contact over time, and when Jobrani was headlining with Ahmed Ahmed and Aron Kader, on their Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, Aryanpur was asked to be the opening act in this area.
With some top comedians like Jobrani taking interest, and his getting the chance to feature for national touring acts like John Lovitz and Michael Winslow, Aryanpur keeps making impressions on comedians who have seen his talented delivery and insightful humor. “It is all about networking and making the right contacts. Some of these guys are fantastic, I mean Maz had never met me when he put himself out there for me,” Aryanpur admits. “Another one who was just fantastic to me by making calls and helping me get stage time was Al Madrigal. He called quite a few club bookers and got them to give me a chance.”
It’s a sign of professional respect for Aaron’s abilities when comics who are true professionals and masters of the art take notice of a young man from Dallas, and then take the time to push him forward. Such performers don’t just stick their necks out for anyone.
While featuring this past weekend at the Addison Improv, Michael Winslow was listening to Aaron’s act. He was impressed with his stagecraft. “He is good,” said Winslow.
When others began to notice his talent, and respond to his act, Aryanpur has delved deeper into relationships, family and work with his eye on his craft. “When the audience responds to my stories I really get a charge, then after the show, when people come up and say that my story about something happened to them too, it makes me think I’m on the right track.”
For the most part Aryanpur’s act is clean, perhaps squeaky clean, even, but he’ll modify based on the audience. “When I’m playing a college, I know the stuff about being a dad is not going to play as well because there isn’t a point of reference for a room full of 18-20 year olds. But being able to work clean opens up so many other opportunities like corporate gigs or opening for comics who insist on having clean acts on their show.”
Recently Varghese and Aryanpur were invited to a showcase for “Industry” in Los Angeles. “Nothing has come of it, yet,” Admits Aryanpur. But, the more people who see him the more likely that balance he has maintained will begin to shift favorably.
“I really couldn’t do this if my wife wasn’t so supportive. She can tell if I haven’t been up in a while, there is something gnawing at me.”
If you watch his headlining act this Sunday at the Addison Improv you may get the idea the thing gnawing at him is the double-edged faint praise of his father’s voice as he quotes on his own website, “Surprisingly, he didn’t suck”
The Sunday show also includes friends and fellow local headliners Mark Agee and Jason James on the under card. So, if you’re looking for something to do this Sunday evening, The Addison Improv is definitely going to be the place-to-be, as this line up is second to none in North Texas comedy.