The Funhouse Mirror Effect of Rahmein Mostafavi
September 30, 2022 @ 12:00pm
On a crowded night at DC Improv in 2014 — long before local NFL Team Owner Dan Snyder finally conceded to an overdue name change to the Washington Commanders — comedian Rahmein Mostafavi made a joke about the “name.”
“Who thinks the (team) should change their name out of sensitivity to Native Americans?” asked Mostafavi, whose words were greeted with moderate applause by nearly half the audience. “Who thinks, under the protection of the Constitution, the name should stay the same?”
A few loud and prideful cheers exploded from comedy-goers across the room. Immediately, the room was divided.
“Hell yeah,” Mostafavi said with sarcastic vigor, taking on the voice and perspective of those who jeered. “There’s not enough of them left for us to care about their feelings.”
Mostafavi continued mockingly and proceeded to lead the room in chants for white power, which he jokingly noted usually picks up steam in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Great laughter united the room once again, but soon the laughs came in waves while the true intention behind the joke began to simmer.
The moment Mostafavi created that night is a skill the Iranian-born comedian has become infamous for: his seemingly effortless yet charming ability to deliver nuggets of self-reflection, gift-wrapped in laughter.
With more than two decades of live performance experience, Mostafavi, a theatre major from George Mason, spent countless hours honing his craft and improving his comedic timing and charisma on the stage. He’s performed with some of the most prestigious theatre groups in the area, including the Shakespeare Theatre Company and The Kennedy Center, where he spent time exploring his improv abilities as a longtime cast member of “Shear Madness,” the acclaimed comedy whodunit.
What makes Mostafavi a standout in comedy clubs and festivals across the nation is his skill for satire. He doesn’t shy away from comedic “danger zones.” His material often addresses social and political taboos, including racism, immigration and queer rights.
“I’ve never been in a fist fight in my life,” says Mostafavi, who has the ability to deliver edgy jokes and consistently come out unscathed. “I told this to a friend in college and he said, ‘How is that possible when you’re such an asshole?’ I laughed because, honestly, I don’t know. On the stage, I try to deliver material in a non-threatening way that lets people know I’m not there to fight. I keep that twinkle in my voice to let them know the irony is present. I realize I push the limits and maybe irritate some people. I recognize those people may not laugh as hard because they’re a little upset, but one way or another, I get away with a laugh.”
One must have a strong moral compass to pull off satire. That’s not to say one must have an authoritative viewpoint on what’s right or wrong, but rather clearly identify their truth and hold to it tightly — but not tight enough that they can’t be enlightened by the truth or perspective of another.
Mostafavi — a teacher of stand-up and host of his own show “Couples Therapy,” both at DC Improv — traces his roots for satirical performance art and his quest for truth back to his junior year at McLean High School, where he ran for student body vice president as a joke to mock student government’s faux democracy.
“My whole speech was a joke,” says Mostafavi. “I was playing a character, just goofing around, but somehow I won by a landslide. I was like, ‘Crap, I’ve got responsibility now.’”
He recalls one moment of honest motivation to action when the school banned wearing all baseball caps. Mostafavi gained the support of almost the entire student body to directly oppose this new mandate. However, just before he was scheduled to give a speech against the new rule, Mostafavi had a tense interaction with another student wearing a baseball cap that shielded his eyes.
“I’m a people person, but even I was scared because I couldn’t tell if he was being aggressive or playful,” Mostafvi says. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘If I could just see his eyes, I could know the truth.’”
In that moment, motivated by the desire to protect others who might encounter such an intimidating situation, Mostafvi changed his opinion that once added to his popularity.
“I remember turning to the student body and saying, ‘Sorry guys,’” Mostafavi says. “I felt the disappointment from them, but earned the respect of the teachers that day.”
As a lifelong advocate for civil rights, Mostafavi’s activism does not only come in the form of jokes. While he recently produced a comedy show at the DC Comedy Loft to raise funds for Planned Parenthood after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Mostafavi also actively participated in a campaign to rename Confederate street names in Fairfax City.
On the stage, Mostafavi’s willingness to explore both sides of an argument allows him to walk the tightrope between opposing viewpoints, by both appealing to and challenging ideologies. He can either rally audiences in laughter or with pitchforks, red hats and tiki torches. (Only former presidents choose the latter.)
Mostafavi’s work has a funhouse mirror effect: He becomes a reflection of his audience’s beliefs and encourages them to notice areas of distortion in a digestible way. The laughs he garners aren’t hollow, but rather filled with personal perspective as his takes on socio-political issues feel more like a guided tour through the inner workings of his subconscious.
In the joke about “the name,” Mostafavi, questions whether he, or anyone else, has the right to determine if something is culturally offensive while being an outsider of said culture. Through a hilarious example of how his own immigrant mother decided to correct her language after inadvertently using a slur to reference her children, Mostafavi suggests that ignorance is only an excuse we can hide behind until awareness is introduced. At that point, we now have a responsibility to reevaluate our actions and make decisions based on empathy.
“And now more dick jokes,” Mostafavi adds, releasing the tension of the solemn moment of self-reflection.
To keep up with Rahmein Mostafavi and get tickets to his shows you can visit rahmein.com. Follow him on Instagram @rahmein88.
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