Iranian Comedy

Psychoanalysis for The Village Idiot

What do Parviz Sayyad and Hadi Khorsandi have in common? They are both renowned Iranian comedians. Ten years after their first joint show, Sayyad and Khorsandi have decided to go back on tour again. Shanli Anwar sends us this portrait of two Iranian artists in exile

Parviz Sayyad, left, and Hadi Khorsandi (photo:
Comedy in exile: Parviz Sayyad, left, and Hadi Khorsandi are again on tour with their "Hadi & Samad" programme

​​Although Freud's psychoanalysis has its roots in Europe, it is particularly popular in the United States. Now, however, two Iranian artists have built an entire comedy show around this form of therapy. Despite the fact that both Parviz Sayyad and Hadi Khorsandi have been living in exile since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, they are both well known to several generations of Iranians.

They will be touring Europe and North America with their Persian-language two-man show until February 2008. But who is actually giving the therapy here and who is receiving it? A glance at their biographies reveals the significance of these two comedians to Iranian audiences.

An Iranian Chaplin

As an actor, Parviz Sayyad helped shape the early days of Iranian television entertainment in the 1970s. From 1970 onwards, he appeared in numerous films, some of which he also directed and produced. Even during the reign of the Shah, Sayyad found it difficult to get his films distributed.

The film Dead End (1976), for example, was not shown in Iran because it highlighted the work of the Iranian intelligence agency, SAVAK. However, life did not get any easier for Sayyad after the revolution. Following clashes with the country's spiritual leaders, he went into exile in the USA in 1979. To this day, he works as an actor, theatre director, and producer in Los Angeles.

Samad, the village idiot

He is best known to the Iranian public for two roles in particular: firstly, that of the clumsy Hassan Kachal from the eponymous music film made in 1970 and secondly, that of the village idiot Samad, a character he first played in the 1970s and will replay again in his stage show with Hadi Khorsandi.

Samad is a simple man who wants nothing more in this age of urbanisation than to stay in his village. He is violently, but unrequitedly, in love with the mayor's daughter, Leilah, and is competing with another man for her affections. It is not only his simplicity that makes audiences laugh, but also his resolute, energetic behaviour whenever he considers himself to have been hard done by.

As a result of the many Samad sketches that Sayyad has performed over the past 40 years, Samad has gained a significance for Iranian audiences that is similar to that of Charlie Chaplin's tramp in the West. It must be said, however, that Samad is not universally loved; there are those who are critical of the character because they consider him to be an insult to the common people.

The melancholy satirist

In 1960, at the age of 15, Hadi Khorsandi began writing for the Iranian satirical magazine Tofigh. He later wrote for a variety of Iranian newspapers. While his articles were barely political prior to the revolution, things soon changed and he was forced to leave the country for his criticism of the new regime.

Now based in London, he began working as an editor and writer for the satirical journal Asghar Agha in 1979. In 1995 he was presented with the Hellman-Hammett Award, which is presented to writers who are victims of political persecution, in recognition of his published works on Iran and life in exile.

Focussing on socio-political themes

Nowadays, Khorsandi is primarily known as a poet and a stand-up comedian who tackles socio-political issues that are relevant to Iranians, whether in exile or not. Although the main target of his criticism is the regime in Teheran, he also takes side-swipes at all opposition groups living in exile.

His daughter Shaparak (Shappi) Khorsandi has followed in her father's footsteps and is also a successful stand-up comedian, albeit one who performs in English.

Ten years ago, Sayyad and Khorsandi toured together with a two-man show. Back then, Sayyad slipped into the role of Samad who was asked by Khorsandi about the situation in Iran and about the backward state of society in the Islamic Republic. But the intellectual writer could not get the better of this shrewd "simple man".

This time, he is giving it another shot and hopes that psychoanalysis will help him treat the village idiot and get a handle on his personality.

As far as Samad is concerned, one cannot seriously consider him to be the personification of the "simple Iranian man". That being said, he does offer some revealing insights into the Iranian soul. Whether this soul can be captured by psychoanalysis is another matter altogether.

The show's programme says that the performance is "for those who just want a laugh; for those who want more than just a laugh." This is the ideal way to sum up the atmosphere of joy and melancholy that is created when a stroppy village idiot meets a pensive poet.

Shanli Anwar

© 2007

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

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