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American Comedy Show Finds Lots of Laughs in Iran

  • Sahar Sarshar

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Comedy Central's Daily Show brings its brand of satire to Tehran

According to a recent poll by Time Magazine - most Americans watch "funny" news versus "real" news because they find it to be more honest and revealing. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a satirical news program, broadcasts on the Comedy Central network in the United States. Two weeks before the Iranian elections in June, The Daily Show sent a reporter and producer to Iran to get the funny truth about the country.

After almost a year of planning - Jason Jones, The Daily Show's senior foreign correspondent, and Tim Greenberg, his intrepid producer, traveled to Iran before the Iranian elections. They did what no other fake news show has ever done - covered Iran by actually going there. They came back with a series of reports.

"We were just trying to break some of the stereotypes that existed up to that point. Which was it's a terrifying place, the people all hate us, they're all terrorists, we don't have anything in common with the people of Iran," Greenberg said. "And so we were trying to break some of those stereotypes. Then subsequently, we did see that…"

"Subsequently, we couldn't break them because they were all true. Which was tough, Jones said. "We lied a lot."

"The thing that surprised me the most was that people very quickly seemed to understand our humor. Because we do a lot of things, where we're going out, we're asking people ridiculous questions. They have no idea what we're talking about, sometimes it can seem a little offensive. You know? But as quickly if not more so, the Iranian people sort of understood where we were coming from," Greenberg said. "At some point understood the joke, and were happy to sort of be a part of it."

"Well I get some criticism here from Americans on behalf of Iranians - coming up to me saying, 'How dare you make fun of them like that!' and I'm like… 'Well, I wasn't really making fun of them, I was kind of being ironic.' And she's like, 'I know, I get that - they don't.' 'Well you're kind of proving our point just there that you think they're stupid….. STUPID,'" Jones said.

"Right, which was the opposite - [the Iranian] people got it better than Americans," Greenberg said. "So if they get it better than Americans do, given the language barrier, I think it just goes to show that they're much more sophisticated people than Americans might like to think. "

"I assured my producer Tim Greenberg that as long as he was with me, there was nothing to fear," Jones said. "We've been talking about going to Iran for about a year. And it was a fascinating country to us. We wanted to sort of break down a few barriers.

"America knows very little about what goes on in Iran. So when we first landed, we were a little nervous about what to expect," Greenberg said.

"After every single interview and every meeting we had there was a tea session. And they would be offended if you did not sit down for tea. And we had jam packed day, so we had 4 or 5 interviews in a day after which tea was served for everything. And the crew during the day would also want to break for tea. And I was like, 'I can't drink anymore tea. I'm sorry. My teeth are stained. And I've already wet myself," Jones explained. "Cause I do not go into Iranian public bathrooms. I know it drains out apparently better when you squat. But I don't like it, I like to stand."

While their focus was on comedy and politics, Jason and Tim also had some moments in which they encountered the kindness and hospitality of Iranians.

"I had just spent this great evening with this family. And they were exactly like an American family. Same customs, same sort of sense of family. And then at the end, we kind of all went for a walk and went to this playground - where it was the most bucolic, beautiful scene you've ever seen.," Jones said. "There was a father actually teaching his kid how to walk. There was a woman in full chador on a see-saw with a little girl. And it was this brilliant moment, where tears came to my eyes. When I hear the war drum to bomb these people, I go, 'You're out of your mind. What is your problem? Why on earth would you think these people are out to get you? Because they're really just about something that we're about - which is having a safe, happy, prosperous life.'"

The total election fall out was a shock to Tim and Jason. They found it challenging taking a comedic approach during a serious and worrisome time.

"What we're equipped to do primarily is comedy; yes, there's content at the heart of it. But this definitely crossed over the line into some things that were not so funny," Greenberg says, "Events just sort of spun beyond our control. It was a little uncomfortable to suddenly be in a very serious place and still try to do comedy. When we went out there, you know everything looked like it was going to be a little bit easier."

Despite years of isolation between Iran and America, a comedy program was able to break some stereotypes by showing Iranians in a gracious, comedic, intelligent light. This duo is also hoping to send a message to all Iranians - particularly the ones they met during their trip.

"Thank you for being such gracious hosts. Thanks for opening your homes and your libraries, your schools and coffee shops and letting me in - and letting me do anything. It was truly some of the most accommodating people I've ever met in my life, over there. And I hope everyone stays safe. And I hope things work out cause clearly right now it's a terrible time," Jones said.