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I Got My Pilot License!

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In sunny Los Angeles we have two seasons: early summer and late summer.  Early summer is January – April, or what the industry calls “pilot season.”  

When I first heard “pilot season,” I imagined a sky filled with planes twirling around awkwardly and crashing into each other as young pilots learn to fly.  Turns out that’s exactly what LA’s pilot season is!  It’s chaos and clutter, all of us scrambling around unsure of what we’re doing, networks and actors frantically trying to make fledgling scripts fly, and, at some point, almost everyone crashes.  Kale smoothie splattered everywhere.

It’s weird how airplane pilots are expected to successfully lead us to our destination, while TV pilots are generally expected to fail.  Thousands of new TV show ideas are written each year but only a slim few make it to the screen, and even less will continue to fly the skies of television.  The rate of failure in TV is about 99%, and thus pilot season is the time of year when all of LA competes to be the 1%.

And, as an actor, where do I fit into this?  That’s right!  Playing the token brown guy!  Indian, Pakistani, I can even do Guatemalan if you let me practice my accent.  “Ver ihs everibodhi??”  Wait, that’s Indian.  Or Pakistani?  I don’t even know anymore. Casting directors sure don’t.  One recently asked me if Lebanon was in India.  I wanted to reply, “Only when I’m sleeping with an Indian chick, right!?”
  
But it’s all good, I can also go for the ethnically-ambiguous comic relief role, like Fez from That 70s Show.  I wonder if they actually wrote his role as ambiguous or if the casting director just gave up trying to figure out what country Wilmer Valderrama was from.  If someone pulls some strings to get me a serious role, I could grow out my beard and play a terrorist on Homeland.  Alllahallahalah! [Throws bomb] And scene.  The possibilities!  By the way, I’m not complaining.  I love it!  I know I’m not a veteran actor and I don’t have the mainstream buzz to get considered for lead roles like “Jonathan” or “Dave” yet.  I have a “look” and a couple of stand-up gigs under my belt; right now, that’s all Hollywood has to work with.  Sure… And Hollywood is racist.  Systematically and shamelessly racist.  But as long as diversity on TV is en vogue, I’ve got a one-way ticket to the promised homeland!

Talk about being in the white place at the white time, am I white?  No?  Fifty years ago, American TV was FWBW (for whites, by whites), as were most things.  Not saying it’s “bad,” just the way it was.  Time went on, our nation became more diverse, and we developed movements like affirmative action and not calling people by their racial slurs.  As a byproduct, getting people of color on TV became important.  Not just to promote the look of equality, but to capture the views of the growing ethnic audience.  Because mo’ views = mo’ money.  And for networks, mo’ money is not a problem at all!

That said, TV diversity has a long ways to go.  America is currently as diverse and colorful as it’s ever been, yet the framework of television evolves slower than the population.  First off, consider America’s wealth distribution: In 2011, the median wealth of white households was 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households.  Even though they’re no longer the majority of the population, white folks still hold the majority of the bank. Networks know this, and since they’re driven by advertising, and those ads target the viewers with the money, catering to white audiences needs to be a top priority.  Anything else is ratings suicide.  Secondly, the CEOs and board members of the networks are still overwhelmingly white. I mean, why wouldn’t they be, it’s consistent with the distribution. Point is, even though there’s diversity at the bottom, there’s not really diversity at the top.  Check it out: even the CEO of Univision is white.  Univision!!  Ayiyiyi! (Guatamalan dialect)

Please don’t mistake this for a piece about why I should be a CEO. (Though that would be really, really awesome and I do check Craigslist daily for openings!)  All I’m saying is that when the priority target audience of TV is still white, and so are the top decision-makers, television “diversity” tends to be as ethnically authentic as Taco Bell.  Maybe Chili’s on a good day.  It’s FWBW diversity, like a diversity training handbook for beginners.  Consequently, it’s rich with stereotypes of what we think people of other ethnicities are like, avoiding horrifying stuff like sharing actual culture.  God forbid we’d even learn some of their weird languages!   Sure it’s funny to be ignorant of other nationalities, but you can only pull the Fez trick once. Early in my comedy career I wrote a joke that didn’t fit my voice, but could be done well by a black comic:  ”ABC!  All ‘Bout Crackas!  NBC?  Nothin’ But Crackas.  CBS?  Cracka’ Bull Sh*t.  FOX?  Focusin’ On Xenophobes, you feel me?” 

Sure, there are numerous people of color performing on and writing for TV as well as shows that transcend racial division.  “Funny’s funny” (probably first said by a white person).  I’m not saying that we need to perfectly balance the diversity on TV so it’s proportional to the population.  In fact, I believe that’s a bad way of going about it.  If we cast all our shows so that there’s a white, a black, a brown, a gay, etc… It’s going to taste like artificially synthesized rainbow candy.  Unfortunately, a lot of the roles I go out for feel like this.  Like they just added a brown guy for the sake of adding a brown guy.  “Hey, there’s our friend Raj!”  Raj: “Hello friends!  Just eating some samosas and certainly not cows!”  “Oh Raj!”  Good shows are about good characters and relationships.  When diversity becomes a focal point, our characters and relationships become skewed and unnatural.  How many groups of friends have one sole brown guy?  Last I checked, brown guys most often come in packs. (“Ver ihs everibodhi?!?!”) Same with Asians, Blacks, Mexicans, and gays; there’s rarely a token anything. Humans roll like birds of a feather, so how real is it to have a cast of three white guys, a token black, and a token brown?  Not very real to me.  At the same time, I could write a show about five brown guys that would be very true to my life, but would anyone in Kansas watch it?  Well, if it has solid characters, relationships, episode ideas, and a killer production value, maybe.  Who knows, Five Browns could be the new hit on ABC, and ABC could stand for All Brown Comedy, and I could host all the game shows!

Again, I’m happy with the opportunities that I’m granted because of the need for diversity on TV, it’s just a bit overwhelming to be using my race as an audition VIP pass day after day. We live in a world where politics, race, economic status, education, and skill are inherently intertwined.  So, end of the day, this doesn’t have to do with my race as much as it has to do with social structure.  There’s no single person to blame, but I will say that showbiz has this tendency to side with ignorance over learning.  The moment you inject something educational into a TV show, people start to lose interest because it reminds them of the news, or school.  Sure, the problem is society, but we in the TV industry are the gatekeepers and master influencers of society.  With the right effort, we have the potential to make learning about other cultures both funny and entertaining without perpetuating the same stereotypes over and over, feeding the masses what they want like they’re animals, incapable of evolving.  And I know this because the same principle holds in comedy.

I guess I just forget that a lot of people in this industry aren’t college-educated.  And I know I should probably keep my mouth shut until I write an award-winning TV show. But seriously, if I hear one more casting director ask me if there’s a difference between Middle Eastern and Indian, I’ll pull out a map and show them what 3,000 miles looks like: a flight from Hollywood to New York.  Which is what I’m hopping on as soon as this godforsaken pilot season ends.

Ver ihs everibodhi?!?!

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Joke Thievery: How to Know if You are a Hack

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Joke thievery is a very sensitive subject amongst comedians.  Altercations break out over joke stealing, and a few comedians have even been killed.  Yeah, I know! … No, just kidding, no deaths.  At least I hope.  Friendships amongst comics have definitely been killed.  As well as careers.  All in the name of trying to kill on stage. Often we call someone a “hack” if they steal jokes, though it can also simply mean that they are unoriginal.  It’s important that we realize that most cases of hackery are not deliberate, but rather a product of inexperience.  It’s not like we get mad at fledgling surgeons for copying the moves from their textbooks.  So let’s distinguish. A Level 1 Hack is someone who’s just not that original.  It’s not like they’re flat-out repeating someone’s jokes, but they re-use tired premises or apply common mechanisms that other comedians use, whether … Continue reading

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SHOCKING Secrets I Learned About Utah, Mormons and Your CREDIT SCORE!

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Some people hear “Utah” and think of Mormons, polygamy, and mountains.  Some people hear “Utah” and quickly think about something else.  Some people never hear “Utah.”   Today I’m going to address all three types of people. Let’s work backwards for simplicity. If you’ve never heard of Utah, it’s a state in a country called America.  Yeah, America.  Not North America or South America, just America.  WE OWN THE WHOLE THING.  Utah is the 50th state (if you count it last).  It’s somewhere between New York and California. If you’re traveling across the country by wagon, Utah is where you might start munching on your family! Okay, now onto the people who don’t find Utah interesting enough to think about:  first and foremost, it is physically attractive.  It’s filled with snow-capped mountains, red rock formations, rivers, and wildlife that likes to come out and say ‘hello’ as it … Continue reading

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3 Simple Steps to Find Love

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I am no more of an expert on love than Dr. Drew, though I definitely talk less about molestation.  My background is not in psychology or biology, but If there is a mathematical formula for love, I could teach the proof to children.  My credentials: UC Berkeley Applied Math’06,  3.91.  That’s GPA, not inches. I may not have the best track record with love relationships, but then again, who does?  That’s right, your old high school friends Dave and Suzie, who dated at 16, went to prom together, got married at 22, and now they live on a farm somewhere.  Or their house feels like a farm because of all the kids and animals.   Look, not everyone can be Dave and Suzie.  But there’s a valuable lesson we can learn from them: they simply gave up early.  There’s a fine line between committing to someone and just giving … Continue reading

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The Realities of Traveling the World

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I stand in line at airport security in Portland, watching the priority boarders pass us up like hot girls in a VIP line at the club.  Ah, the feeling of inferiority in the morning.  Reminds me of high school.  I can hear the guy behind me reading a sign: “Wow, so 12 year-olds don’t have to take their shoes off? I had no idea!”  What, were you born yesterday dude?  What are you thinking, that we go back in time and be 12 again so we don’t have to take our shoes off?  As if that’s an option.  Shut up.  Man, I’m grumpy today.  We split into two lines for two different conveyor belts for our luggage.  I always end up in the extra slow line… The one with the family that’s flying for the first time and tries to walk through with a can of hairspray in their … Continue reading

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The Last Month of my Twenties

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It’s fairly human to not appreciate your youth until it’s gone. I’ve never met a five year-old who says, “Wow, I’m so thankful to be young and taken care of. This is the time of my life! Y’all other ages ain’t sh*t! High five! Get it, ’cause I’m 5?” No, the five year-old wants to be the twelve year-old, who wants to be the 18 year-old, who wants to be the 21 year-old, who is confused and puking on his/her shirt. By the time many of us reach our mid-20s we realize we’ve burned our youth and then we start the stupid “I’m old!” speech. I admit, I’ve done it throughout my 20s, and it’s annoying to anyone older who hears it. Because the 20s are still young. In this country, at least. The median age of the world is 29– that is, about half of all people … Continue reading

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Booed off the Stage at my Home Club

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There’s a story comedians will often tell each other after a bad set, and that is the story of Dave Chappelle getting booed off the stage at the Apollo Theatre, back when he was a teen in the early 90′s. It’s a comforting story to a comic who just bombed, because Chappelle became such a huge success after what sounds like a bombing way worse than anything you or I (until recently) have experienced. Even back then Dave was funny, but he was young in comedy and this Harlem crowd was merciless. He recounts the experience as being one of the defining moments in his career, that shaped him into the comic he became later on. And thus, as a comedian, you hear this story and think, well, “Even if a crowd boo’s me off stage, I just might go on to be the next Dave Chappelle!” Sadly … Continue reading

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2013: Worst Year of Life, Best of Career

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What can I say about 2013 other than it was a huge mindf*@k. The year that kicked me in the nuts when I was down, but then made my dreams come true. The year that I accomplished the one thing that I put more heart and effort into than anything else in my whole life, was also the year that almost killed me, inside and out. Yet, leaving 2013 I feel nothing less than strength and fearlessness. My whole paradigm has flopped after what this year has put me through, and I now understand what’s most important in life…uhhhhh NUTHIN. Here’s the highlights: 1/1: Celebrate New Years alone in my car, no phone calls, and one mass text from some Indian dude I don’t really know 1/6: Jump in the Pacific Ocean naked with a bunch of random Europeans 1/14: Get my first commercial ‘on avail’ for role … Continue reading

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To Find Your Voice, Lose Your Voice

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A common tradition in comedy is when older, more veteran comedians scare younger comedians by telling them how horribly long it takes to really get good and be respected. I’ve heard legends of ’15 years in the game’ before you can actually call yourself a comedian, or that don’t even find your comedic voice until at least 10 years in. So who am I up until that point? Just a confused college student trying to figure out my sexuality? ‘Finding your voice’ can be a perplexing, even frustrating idea to grasp. Find my voice? When did I even lose it? Last I checked, people hear me and respond when I talk. Even if I’m talking just like Daniel Tosh. It’s true that when we begin comedy, we most often emulate others…whether it be one certain comedian, or a synthesis of many. And as time goes on, we tend … Continue reading

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I Just Signed with the Great Brian Regan!

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A good name goes a long way in show biz. My name is Sammy Obeid (pronounced ‘Oh-bade’), and phonetically, it’s a complete sentence. The cop yelled ‘put the gun down!’ Sammy obeyed. Yea, that’s right, I carry guns. There’s a lot of great comics out there, and one of them is Brian Regan. He’s clean, clever, and successful. If you haven’t heard of him, look him up. If you work with him, it’s an honor and a sign that you are doing well. Now, I’ve never met him personally, but I recently hired an assistant with the same exact name. That’s right, Brian Regan is working for ME! A few months ago I decided I could use an assistant due to both the extra money and responsibilities that the college circuit has granted me. I hate booking flights, rental cars, hotels, etc. It’s so time consuming, and I … Continue reading

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How to Tell if Your Career is Impressive

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I’ve tried a lot of new things this year, 2013, from skinny dipping in the ocean to personal training to seeing a therapist. But one that really stuck, is sharing rides with strangers. I’ve met all types of folk this year, driving up and down highway 5 between the Bay and LA. Some of them inspired me, some of them became fans, and one of them even puked in my car. But today, on my last trip down to LA for the year, I picked up a guy who just came to America two months ago. His name is Alok, and he is from India. Coincidentally, I did a ride share with his sister about exactly six months ago, and now he is going down to visit her. His sister, who is in a medical research program at UCLA, didn’t really consider comedy a real job. “So when … Continue reading