Prolific Persian : Q+A with Iranian American Comedian Melissa Shoshahi

By Iman Sadri

March 26, 2018

Melissa Shoshahi is a rare and unique talent in the Iranian-American community. And one who merits acclaim. She is a stand-up comedian, actress and writer. A trifecta not associated with most Middle Easterners, male or female. But, being female she is one of only a handful of Iranian women doing stand-up comedy today. And by handful, more accurately, the total number of Persian female comedians could be counted on one hand. But it’s not just that Melissa Shoshahi is noteworthy due to her abbreviated company of fellow Persian comediennes. Its her on stage vivacity, humor, and originality that makes her a singular talent.

Shoshahi hails from the Emerald City, aka Seattle, Washington. Touring all over the country and globe, bringing her witty personality to the stage and knowing no limits when it comes to comedy. Culture, politics, race and gender are all fair game in her act. She is best known for her spot-on Kim Kardashian impression.

Shoshahi has been doing stand-up comedy for almost a decade, and has been featured on Laughs on FOX, All Def DigitalNetflix, Hulu, Nickelodeon and has acted in a myriad of independent films. She has accumulated millions of views online with sketches and stand-up clips that have gone viral. Shoshahi also uses her platform to raise awareness about epilepsy.

Melissa Shoshahi at a Farhang Foundation event.

Iman Sadri : Could you elaborate on your upbringing and early life ?

Melissa Shohshahi : I was born in Iran, and my parents and I moved to Seattle when I was a baby. I always loved to imitate my parents growing up, especially at gatherings and family events, instead of showing off how to play the violin (as a cousin would do) – I would imitate my dad, then my family would put in requests on who I should imitate next. This is what we did pre-internet.

Melissa Shoshahi hosting a recent Farhang Foundation fashion show.

IS : What was the inspiration for you to pursue a career in comedy ?

Melissa Shoshahi : The approval from my parents of course! Just kidding, that will never happen. What inspires me is how I am able to make people laugh, it truly is healing in this crazy world we live in. Another big aspect is that this is such a male dominated industry with such few women, especially Middle Eastern women; and I wanted to break that barrier. I truly hope to inspire others to follow their dreams as well.

IS : Did you have any other careers prior to comedy ?

Melissa Shoshahi : I worked in retail cosmetics in college, that was soul sucking, never again. I used to work for Persian TV that was fun, expect I would get complaints every week that my Farsi sucked…hahaha. One of the worst jobs I’ve ever had, I had to help my mom out at her waxing salon….I enjoy getting waxed but I don’t think it’s healthy for a mother and daughter duo to wax your pubes. I’ve failed terrifically at these jobs and it’s made me a better comedian for it so, thanks mom.

Melissa Shoshahi with Max Amini, Rob Schneider and Jon Lovitz.

IS : Who were some of your favorite comedians growing up ?

Melissa ShoshahiEddie Murphy and Ellen Degeneres were some of my favorites.

IS : How did you get started in stand-up and when did you start ?

Melissa Shoshahi: I started around 8 years ago, kind of accidentally. Nobody ever told me ‘Hey, you’re funny go be a stand-up!’ Yeah that never happened. I had a lot of friends that were doing stand up and I went to their shows, and I would watch in awe and never would think I’d have the guts. Until somehow, half a Xanax later I did, and here we are now…no Xanax. Just chocolate.

Melissa Shoshahi performs regularly with Max Amini.

IS : Who are some of your favorite comedians that you would like to collaborate on a project with ?

Melissa Shoshahi: There’s so many! Chris Rock, Whitney Cummings, Trevor Noah, Donald Trump hahaha. Just kidding.

IS : What do I think about the fact that you are making history being one of the only Iranian American females who has broken into comedy?

Melissa Shoshahi: I feel very honored and I can’t believe how far I have come, and trust me…there has been many moments where I wanted to just quit and give up because of the inequality in the field. The problem is there’s still so much reservation for women in comedy, ‘Is she funny?’ … ‘Can she headline?’ … ‘We won’t pay her as much as this male comic’…etc. I may be making history but there’s a lot of work to be done!

Melissa Shoshahi performing stand-up in front of a live audience.

IS : What do you think can be done collectively as a culture to inspire Iranian Americans of the next generation to pursue careers in entertainment?

Melissa Shoshahi: I believe it all starts with the parents, maybe changing the conversations from ‘You have to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer’ to ‘What are you good at and enjoy doing?’ Also schools have such excellent programs now where you can try new workshops, see a show, volunteer your time somewhere and see what you like. It’s not about inspiring our next generation to go into entertainment; it’s inspiring our youth to find things that awakens their mind and soul, that excites them and challenges them…if it’s becoming a biomedical engineer, great! If it’s an actor, superb!

IS : Do you think it’s time for a sitcom with Persian American characters on TV?

Melissa Shoshahi : Yes absolutely ! I’ve pitched projects in the past, I know Funny in Farsi was a great pilot that didn’t get picked up, but the time will come.

Melissa Shoshahi performing stand-up at Pechaga Resort.

IS : What were some of your favorite sitcoms growing up ?

Melissa Shoshahi: Friends !

IS : What are some of your favorite TV shows and sitcoms today ?

Melissa Shoshahi: I’m currently binge watching Jessica Jones, so that’s my favorite. Every time I wear a leather jacket and jeans I feel like I am her, then I trip on something and hurt myself and realize I have absolutely zero superpowers. I’d like to star in as a new character on Jessica Jones, my superpower would be in my eyebrows, I haven’t figured out the logistics of it yet, but they will be lethal.

Melissa Shoshahi performing stand-up.

IS : Can you elaborate on hosting the Farhang Foundation Fashion Show ?

Melissa Shohshahi : A couple months ago, Farhang Foundation asked me to host their very first fashion show held at the SkySpace in DTLA and it was such a memorable night. One of the fashion designers, Jila Atelier dressed me in an exquisite gown that was backless which required me to shave my back. I love working with the Farhang, Foundation, Alireza Ardekani the Executive Director of the foundation works so hard to throw these beautiful events, and this is the second time I have worked with them, the first time was this past September when I hosted the Farhang Short Film Festival.

” It’s not about inspiring our next generation to go into entertainment; it’s inspiring our youth to find things that awakens their mind and soul, that excites them and challenges them. “

Melissa Shoshahi’s stand-up comedy is insightful and hilarious. The Iranian American community is most fortunate to have her as an ambassador for comedy blending culture, politics and gender roles. We see great things on the horizon for this prolific Persian.

Melissa will soon be going on tour to New York, Canada, Iceland then Europe, from April to June 2018. Watch Melissa live at her next show by visiting her website :

Watch Melissa’s clips on her Youtube page :

Follow Melissa on Instagram and Twitter @MelShoshahi

Iman Sadri is the founder of @ThePersianObserver and @LASmileTV