December 6, 2016
By Iman Sadri
Iranian American comedian K-von is as unique of a talent as there is in Hollywood. His name, very Iranian. His looks (fair complexion, blue eyes and light hair), very Abercrombie. He’s shaped a comedy career shedding light on both perspectives. Bridging cultural anecdotes from Middle America with a Middle Eastern flavor. K-von is truly Iranian American, in the literal sense of the definition, having an Iranian father and an American mother. An upbringing in Reno, Nevada exposed him to both worlds.
K-von has been doing standup comedy for nearly a decade after spending a brief but lucrative stint in the world of medical sales. Prior to that he graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno. Leaving the Biggest Little City in the World with a Bachelor’s in Business and Marketing, a pragmatic degree for a touring comedian.
K-von has built a formidable comedic resume that would make any standup hopeful envious. He’s appeared on NBC’s Last Comic Standing, hosted his own show, Top 30 on Fox. Had a role in the films: Guardian Angel and The Gingerbread Man 2, and took on the role of the lifeguard in Maz’s Jobrani’s film Jimmy Vestvood : Amerikan Hero, to name a few. He also has an upcoming show on MTV entitled Acting Out.
The whole time he has also toured the country with regular performances at college campuses, comedy clubs, and headlining prestigious venues across the nation.
To catch up with K-von we sat down at Rock n’ Roll Sushi across from the Laugh Factory in Hollywood.
Iman Sadri: Thanks for meeting with us. Congrats on your Fox show Top 30. How was the experience of the show ?
K-von: Top 30 was great because I was able to be a reporter for three months. Very challenging. It required waking up every day at 3am. Into the studio and going over the news stories at 4am. Writing out my own news while reading what others had prepared for me.
6 a.m was makeup then straight in front of the camera with something like, “Good Morning, today we’re going to talk about Elon Musk. Tesla stock has just gone up.”
The key is you don’t just ‘read’ it. The prompter may be going, but you have to ‘know’ it. Reading it is not good. You have to make it your own. When the stress turns on or if you mess up three times, then you see who does well under the pressure. Can they hit reset and be themselves again? You can’t be melting down, crying on set, and saying, “I just need five minutes to regroup and gather my feelings please.”
I miss that experience. I was able to thrive in that environment and that’s something I’d definitely be interested in pursuing again.
Side bonus you become really well informed on global issues. Makes you more fun at cocktail parties. Someone may say, “What do you think about guns?” And I can reply… “Well there’s really two ways of looking at this…” then break it down.
Most people have a good idea of their side but have given the opposing view very little thought. It helped make me more aware of that personally.
IS: What age did you move to Los Angeles?
K-von: I was 23. Right out college. I worked for one year in Nevada after college. Then came out here.
IS: When did your dad moved to the States ?
K-von: In the 1970’s before the revolution. He was in his 20’s and did not know a whole lot of English except what they teach you at the High School level. Which is pretty fascinating that he married an American woman during the height of the Iranian Hostage Crisis. He must have had good game.
IS: What were you doing in L.A. prior to doing standup from 23-26 ?
K-von: I was doing medical device sales. I would be in the operating room. The patient was cut open. Bleeding. And I was like, ‘Doctor, you might want to use this product in their lower right abdomen.’ And the doctor would be, ‘Alright.’ And I would get commission every product they would use. My territory was from Long Beach to San Luis Obispo.
IS: You were probably really good at sales because you’re outgoing…
K-von: I was a young guy. I probably looked too young for the job. I would be like, ‘Doctor, let me tell you, this product is made up of porcine mesh, some of the best pig-skin available.
IS: You’d probably also be good at real estate too with the Hollywood looks, sales experience and public speaking prowess.
K-von: I think I would enjoy that also. Now that I realize if you’re good at real estate, you can be President Of The United States. It’s great. So why not? People say with Donald Trump, he sounds ridiculous when he talks about everything being amazing or huuuuge… No he talks like a real estate agent. It’s like (Speaking in a Trump like voice), ‘When you see this house, it’s got the best foyer. You’ve never seen a foyer like it. It’s the nicest one I’ve ever seen.’ He’s always painting big pictures about how something is amazing. And if you don’t like it then he’ll show you the next one and say, NOW THIS FOYER is the REAL DEAL. You’re thinking, “huh, what about the last one?” That’s Donald Trump. He’s a real estate agent.
NOWRUZ : LOST & FOUND
IS: Congratulations on your film Nowruz : Lost & Found. What was the inspiration behind it ?
K-von: Persian New Year was never on my radar. Around the age of 24 I started going to some parties and hearing about it. And after two or three years I had built a good hour of jokes. And I thought what better than to go to a Persian New Year event and do the standup. Having comedy at a Persian event is pretty new. It’s an American thing. I am very lucky because I get to go all over the world. Canada. New York. Florida. Iowa. Oklahoma. Georgia, even the Middle East. No matter where you go, there are Persians everywhere. And it’s been a really good experience. Nowruz was a great way to learn about the culture through the best holiday of the year.
A CAREER IN COMEDY
IS: Starting out was comedy your career goal ?
K-von: My goal was to be an entrepreneur of some sort. After college I went into sales. Life was good. Company car. Expense Account. Medical and Dental Insurance paid for. And then I started doing comedy and you’re forced to make a choice. Am I going to be a comedian or an employee? I took the riskier path.
IS: At what age did you start doing standup comedy and what were the those first few years like ?
K-von: I was 25. The first two, three years were grueling. You make $10 a night. They would be like, ‘Hey you want to come perform? It pays nachos.’
IS: How was the Jimmy Vestvood experience like ?
K-von: Jimmy Vestvood was great. I lifted a lot of weights to get ready for my 10 second scene. When it comes to shows, I’m really lucky. I worked hard for the last eight to ten years. And lately I’ve been able to let the calls come to me.
In the beginning it was night after night of searching for comedy clubs, Googling, and emailing. It was a lot of me hunting for work. It may go back to that as well, but for now I’m booked more often and looking forward to that one night off for the month.
THE BUSINESS OF COMEDY
IS: You run your own business. Can you elaborate combining comedy and business ?
K-von: Well comedy is really several jobs. Writer, performer, and then I produce sketches and video clips for online. Then the administrative stuff… taxes, paperwork, and I act as my own travel agent, which is a big job. You book all the flights, cars, and hotels, then you land another gig and now you are coming from a different city. You have to undo everything you already did. And not mess up so you actually end up in the right place at the right time!
So if you want to be a comedian, it takes being well organized.
IS: Which sound like being more productive than most comics right ?
K-von: Some comics are go with the flow. They just sit behind the comedy club smoking pot, making friends and that works well for them. I never tried that approach.
IS: What’s good about these national tours now is that you can be entrepreneurial, right ?
K-von: Sure. Los Angeles is about being seen and getting on movies and TV. That’s great but there’s nothing better than being with the people and performing standup making them laugh. I like grabbing a bag full of t-shirts and DVDs and heading to Nebraska. I’m renting cars, staying in hotels, and seeing the whole country. It’s amazing if you love travel and adventure.
THE PUNCHLINE IN POLITICS
IS: The past election seemed to give comedians a lot of material. Do you plan on incorporating the new politics into comedy?
K-von: I find that the Republicans have a better sense of humor. You’re allowed to make fun of them. Could you imagine if you make fun of Barack Obama every night. People are going to get offended. It’s very good for comedy.
IS: Are the Mid-Westerners who are probably majority Trump voters open to jokes ?
K-von: They’re not all Rednecks, but the ones that are most definitely are able to make fun of themselves. They’re like minorities in that they don’t mind a good joke. They love to laugh. Bush was a punching bag for eight years and Trump will likely be as well.
IS: Who were some of your comedic inspirations? What inspired you to get into comedy ?
K-von: Growing up I was really into sports and school. I would love watching The Late Show with David Letterman, reading Mad Magazine and watching George Carlin on TV. They would always make me laugh. And my Dad would come home from work and tell jokes and make us laugh. Jokes from the casino he worked at. Adult jokes far too inappropriate for me! After that, it’s really what I wanted to do.
Then on TV they had Comic Relief with Billy Crystal, Whoopie Goldberg and Robin Williams. They don’t do that anymore. They should bring that back. Watching Comic Relief, I was like, ‘What a cool job.’ I wanted to be a part of that. I asked myself, ‘How do I do that?’ How do you go from a kid in Nevada sitting on a couch to being a professional comedian?! I like Daniel Tosh. He’s very sharp witted. Sarcastic. He says things he’s not supposed to say in public and he gets away with it.
IS: What other career would you pursue if you weren’t a comedian ?
K-von: There is a lot of things that I like to do. A newscaster. A salesman. Running my own business. I love working with kids. These are all things I want to do. I would love to be like The Rock or Kevin Hart where you’re so popular you can do all of the ideas floating around in your head. And people congratulate you. As of now I want to show that I can really do the comedy thing. And concentrate on the comedy videos that I’ve been making. Every year I add to that. A new skill. A new weapon in my utility belt.
IS: Comedy seems to be a great platform for all of that, right?
K-von: If you’re good with people and good with public speaking, I feel that the sky is the limit for you. I give talks to students from Junior High up to college. I tell them to master public speaking.
If you’re a dentist, cool. But if you’re a dentist who can do a great job with public speaking, you are of more value. You can give lectures oe corporations will seek to hire you to do demonstrations, pitch their products, or give them advice on improving their current devices. Then you’re making big bucks all because you’ve mastered communication.
IS: What were some of your favorite sitcoms on TV ?
K-von: My mom did not let us watch TV. Part of the reason I wanted to be on TV all of the time is that I was so removed from it.
I enjoyed The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Seinfeld. My mom let me watch one show per week, and it couldn’t be The Simpsons (ps: I do like The Simpsons a lot).
So I picked Seinfeld. My brother picked, Alf. But when he was watching Alf, I would do my homework nearby. I’d peek around the corner. Mom knew what I was doing but let me get away with it. When I was watching my show my brother would do the same.
IS: Can a comic do well without an agent or is an agent a necessity ?
K-von: We don’t need an agent anymore but I like to have one for colleges and cruise ships. The rest I can handle on my own.
People don’t realize how many separate genres there are to perform. When I do Persian shows, they maybthink, “Oh so all you do are these types of shows right?’ When I do college shows they say, ‘I’m guessing you only perform at colleges…” It’s so funny how limited awareness for the standup scene is considering everyone loves to laugh.
IS: Do you hang out with other comics ?
K-von: We can’t get away from seeing each other even if we tried. We are friends but the road removes you from that until you return. The college tour is a pretty isolated thing. I could bring someone with me but I have to do the math and decide on that or pocket an extra few thousand. And it’s close quarters… One year I brought someone who snored so loud I never got any sleep. But I did stay up writing more jokes so maybe it was a good thing.
IS: Are you doing auditions these days ?
K-von: It came to a point where I was upset with what was going on in my career. This was about two years back. No one was calling. And I’m looking at peers and they’re doing well. So I said, “This is what I’ll do.’ I’ll make one video every week for a year. 52 videos.” That was my whole plan. Simple. Well here we are two years later, 104 videos posted to my social media and it turned the tide. People know I’m out here working consistently and that begets more work. Facebook gets the biggest views.
I started getting 1000 views. Then 10,000 views. 20,000 views. 30,000 views. Now almost every video consistently garners from 5,000 to 30,000 views on the regular.
Some of the better ones, over 300,000. The content ranges from Persian material to just standard funny comedy or acting.
IS: Do all the comedy spots you travel for pay for your travel ?
K-von: Yes. They pay for rental car, hotel, airfare and fee for the show. And I try to make a good deal if it’s a charity or something. You give them a little bit of a break.
PERSIAN CHARITABLE EVENTS
IS: You had great repport with Rudi Bakhtiar at the PAAIA events you did. Had you known her for a long time prior to that ?
K-von: That was the first time I’d met her. Now I’m happy to say she’s my friend. One of the things you want to do while you’re hosting is look like you have a natural chemistry. Make it seem like you’ve known the person well for the last ten years. I used that tactic to land the show “Top 30”. We go into the audition for the newscaster positions. I told the cohost, ‘You want to land this role?’ Now, she’s 24 years old so I don’t want to freak her out, but I say, “We’re going to do something really weird. Put your hand on my shoulder. I’ll do the same. Now just stare at each other and make faces.”
IS: Let’s say your 80 years and you’re writing your Wikipedia profile with a list of your accomplishments. What would be included on that list ?
K-von: I would say, ‘K-von is best known for being the host of his own late night talk show with many years of great laughter. He delivered funny monologues and interviewed iconic guests. When the nation needed laughter most he would always deliver.
This went hand in hand with his sold-out standup tour dates. He uses what little free time that he has to put on charity benefits for children and make them laugh as well.’
Actually this question you asked makes me think… when I was that young kid in Nevada sitting on the couch, wondering, ‘How do you make it as a comedian?’ …Well, I haven’t thought about it since. But now I just realized I’m like 75% of the way towards my goal and couldn’t be happier. Aim for the stars and even if you only reach the moon you’re still ‘out of this world’
IS: Do you feel that happiness comes from achievement or the act of doing something ?
K-von: I think when first start doing standup, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s the most exciting. Because what’s the most exciting part of skydiving? When you jump out and start free falling. And then if you’re successful, it’s like you’ve pulled the rip-chord to the parachute. I imagine it’s still nice but perhaps it’s lot a little of that element of danger.. Like Seinfeld. Ten years he had his show but eventually he’s like, ‘I don’t even want to do this anymore.’ They offered him a check for like $10 Million per episode. He looked at it and said, ‘Nah… I don’t have another year left in me.”
His parachute was open, he already knew he’d made it. He wanted to go pursue some other challenges. I’m still free falling. The chute is halfway open. I definitely keep having fun and like to keep challenging myself in the career. There is still a lot of growth potential.
IS: Do you watch comedy films ?
K-von: My life is surrounded by comedy so much, it’s so odd that we went get home we like to watch a thriller or Forensic Files: How to Catch a Murderer. It’s so funny because you’d think we’d watch more and more comedy. We’re ready to play video games instead.
IS: Are there any comedy roles on TV or film that you would like to portray ?
K-von: I feel like I could have played one of the characters on The Office. Because it’s all awkward silences.
Or parody sketches on Saturday Night Live… “Ladies, why pay for Uber when there are men that will drive you for free. There are nerdy men everywhere that want to give you a ride. Now there’s “Guber”! Gubers are always available.
IS: Is the writing you do more for standup comedy or for sketch comedy ?
K-von: If I have an idea it goes in the notebook. It has many different categories. New jokes. College jokes. Persian jokes. A category called, Try These Jokes Tonight.
IS: Do you ever have ghost writers?
K-von: Nope. Only my own writing. A comedian is like a cross-country runner or a swimmer. You may have a lil team but at the end of the day, it’s an individual sport. If you land a sitcom you hire a couple of writers to work with you. But with standup, I thought there would be more cohesiveness and it turns out we mostly do our witing on our own time.
THE KEY TO MEMORIZATION
IS: What’s the key to memorization ?
K-von: My key is go over it the night before. I record it on my phone, hit loop, and go to sleep. As I sleep I’m memorizing this five page script like hypnosis. The next morning I go over it again with a friend. And by then I should have it down, and go into the audition. The best thing you could do in an audition is to not give a damn about it. Once I didn’t need another dollar from Hollywood, I started landing more roles.
IS: Like the movie Office Space. When the main character stops caring and then he gets the promotions.
K-von: Hollywood is the kind of place where if you are nice, genial, and smiling all the time they brush you off. If you have some edge they are more comfortable around you. They’ll say, that guy doesn’t smile a whole lot. He’s the one for us.
K-von has used his unique upbringing to his advantage. Drawing on comedic inspirations from both American and Iranian cultures, he has made a name for himself in Hollywood. Check him out at a show near you, or better yet, on his popular YouTube channel.
www.K-vonComedy.com • YouTube.com/KvonComedy
Iman Sadri writes for Persian Media outlets and is the founder of @HollywoodSmileTV