Meet Me In New York: Mehran Khaghani
What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they're comedians? No, that's not it. It is a fact, though, that America's biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York's vibrant comedy scene. It's called Meet Me In New York.
I was pretty certain that Mehran had a huge crush on me when I first met him in Boston. Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that Mehran merely has so much love to give everyone in comedy – and if you saw him in this summer’s season of Last Comic Standing, then you know what I’m talking about when I write about this “Iranian homo.” Mehran Khaghani still gets back to Boston every so often to host his own renegade alternative to that city’s “Duck Tours,” but he’s becoming a fixture in New York City, too. He recently started a new monthly show at Rockwood Music Hall called “Hate Mail,” and you’ll likely see his face and booming with blooming personality anywhere there’s a Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival. So before the next time you see Mehran on TV, get to know him here, now!
Name: Mehran Khaghani
Arrival Date: July 23, 2014
Arrived From: Boston (Cambridge), Mass.
“Well, from Cambridge. I was in Boston forever, lived like in the Fenway (Shut up! No, it’s the wrong egg whites. Fuck it. I’ll get a couple. We are in Trader Joe’s right now.), and yeah, I was living in Cambridge with my partner, and opening for Eugene Mirman in Northampton. His manager, Olivia Wingate saw me. She was like, ‘I never do this,’ and then, like, got me shitfaced, and took me to the bar, we drank, she was like, ‘I’m signing you, and you’re moving to New York.’ And we had just moved. Noah and I had lived together in Cambridge, and then the apartment upstairs opened up, and I was like, we gotta take it. It’s a nicer porch, there’s an extra bedroom, we’re taking the upstairs apartment. Noah’s like, ‘I really don’t want to. I don’t want to become those fags who move every year,’ and I was like, ‘We’re those fags. I don’t know how, I hate to break it to you.’ So we move, and he hated moving. And then, that was during the summer, and he was like, we’re not moving again for at least two or three years, and then I come back from this gig in Northampton, and I’m like, ‘Guess what?! We’re moving to New York!’ And he was like, ‘Horseshit, we are.’ He went to get us breakfast sandwiches that Sunday, and what’s the name of that place? Flour. It’s like literally the greatest thing in the entire world. No. It’s like the most incredible food. So he went to get us breakfast sandwiches, he came back, there was a tattered note in the snow, and he collected the pieces and he brought them up. We had to put it together like a jigsaw puzzle on our kitchen table. And it was a note from our landlord saying he was selling the building, so I don’t know if you want to stick around. Rents are going to go up like 700 bucks. And we were like, well, if they’re going to, if rents going to go up 700 bucks, we’re going to New York.”
“This is my favorite thing, if you don’t know, Trader Joe’s on the Upper West Side is, how busy can we describe it? This is actually incredibly tame. But usually there’ll be a line that literally wraps around two-and-a-half city blocks.”
Well, we’re here on a weekday, not on the weekend.
“It still sucks. It sucks no matter when you come here almost, but you know, to save a buck! Right? In the Upper West Side, where else are you going to go?”
When and where was the first time you performed comedy?
“So I was working at Harvard. I got laid off, because George W. Bush cut public health funding, and I was looking at more jobs in that sector, and I just hated everything I saw. I was just like, I’m going to have to off myself. That’s the remaining option. I wasn’t actually suicidal yet. I hadn’t started comedy. I was like, you know, fuck it. I’m getting unemployment, I’m going to take a stand-up class. So I took the first class that came up on a Google search and it was taught by someone who had no experience in stand-up comedy. But it at least showed me that stand-up is a process of writing. And I had never thought that. I genuinely believed that you opened your mouth and sounded like Janeane Garofalo and were meant to do this. Or that this is simply not for you. So I took a stand-up class, I did my first five minutes – and literally, this is so crazy – it was Nov. 1 of 2007? Like I felt the world get smaller around me and the microphone and I was like, this is like one of those weird epiphany moments. And I’m not tripping! I’m not for once, I’m not on acid and realizing something. I’m just normal. And yeah, that was my first time. Then I had a paid gig the next night. My first real gig was a paid gig at Kennedy’s, Scotty Lombardo booked me. And it was like Dan Crohn, Selena Coppock, Mike Pincus, who was that heavy metal guy from Boston once upon a time? He had like curly hair. He stopped doing it. He like owns property in Dorchester and is perfectly happy not doing stand-up. Maybe it was a Doug something. But he was very into heavy metal and he would tell jokes about heavy metal that no one understood but real metalheads, so like two people in the audience were like, you’re a God! And everyone else is like, eh, bring back the blonde girl. So…but no, he was great. So that was Nov. 1-2 of 2007, my first gigs.”
What was your best credit before moving here? Was it better than that?
“Better than Last Comic, or better than Kennedy’s? I got 20 bucks for that gig. Do you know how many? That’s in like the top 10 of shit I got paid for.”
So what were you using as a credit when you moved to New York?
“A lot of times it was the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival, because I did like five of those. The Boston Comedy Festival I would use as a credit. I did an MTV webseries.” What was that? “It was something about social media…I played this depressed Russian with a cat problem. So I had to work with cat wranglers. But it was for MTV, so I was like, MTV! But I don’t think it’s aired, ever.” “And colleges and stuff. I did a lot of colleges.”
Why did you pick New York over Los Angeles or anywhere else? I think you answered this already.
“I got recruited here. I had lived in New York from 2000 going into 2001, and within five months, it destroyed my savings. I worked for the mob three times. I had maybe eight jobs. I was fired constantly. It kicked the shit out of me. Took all my money and then sent me home. I went back to Miami. I moved back to Miami. So I knew that I was never going to move to New York again unless I had a concrete invitation. Do you know what I mean? I wasn’t going to come here and just tough it. I needed someone to be like, ‘Come to me and I will give you work here!’ Like, I needed that promise. And my partner very generously agreed to come with.”
How is the comedy scene better/worse/different from where you lived before?
“Oh God. Boston comedy scene is tiny, and there are three clubs, and you know where you’re going to go, and where you’re going to run into the same people all the damn time, and you kind of develop with this group of people. You run with a certain pack. And New York is just a huge city. You can spend an hour-and-a-half on the train to get to a gig – that’s like to Providence and halfway back. You know what I mean? It’s just so much bigger. There’s sprawl. It’s a much much bigger scene. It’s not just a scene for the people who are local, it’s also a scene for like a destination. So New York is gigantic. It’s not like – in Boston you can go to five gigs and latch onto the scene if you think you’re going to do comedy. By that point, you know where to go, who to solicit gigs from, all of that. And New York, it’s harder. Like the open mic can be very open mic-y, where people are paying to get stage time. That doesn’t happen in Boston, God bless it. Except for like bringer shows, which I never did. So I think finding your footing in New York is a lot harder. It’s much wiser to develop in another city before you get here. Much.”
What’s an “only in New York” experience mean to you? Do you have one?
“Like a man actually shitting on a bird. Only in New York.” Have you seen that? “No, but close enough. Or a man rotting in a train station, like no one’s doing anything about it.” What experiences have you had, other than working for the mob? “Well, running into celebrities is kind of fun, and weird, and cool. Noah did it forever before I did. He would go out – he ran into Anna Wintour, Will Ferrell, Dianne Wiest – he was seeing like A-list people, and then I went and saw one of the Real Housewives ex-boyfriends rollerblading by the dog park I was in? He managed to see Tina Fey, who’s like my neighbor?! Like, he’s seen everybody and I saw nobody. What else is only in New York? Only in New York, the reality is I was doing a gig at UCB one night and it so happened that a producer for IFC, the Independent Film Channel, was there and she was like, we want to work with you, let’s do something! That never happened in Boston. Literally never. If there was industry coming, there would be like an 18-person showcase and everyone was fighting tooth-and-nail to get on that one showcase. And in New York, I was just doing a gig – (aside) I just made like a masturbatory gesture! – not to say I phone it in, ever, onstage! But like, I was just doing, whatever, and there was industry there.”
What tip would you give any comedian who moves here?
“Get good before you get here. I think it’s a lot harder to get noticed. The open mic scene, I get the sense that it can be a years-long affair. It’s a harder open mic scene here than in Boston. I’ve seen 100-person lists. You know what I mean? You’re person 121 on the list, and it’s like, no one’s ever going to get to that. People stay there until 3 in the morning, just for stage time. So the advice would be to get good elsewhere. In a supportive environment where you have lots of opportunities, where you can get lots of stage time, where you can start your own thing, and it’s not that hard. You can call on your pool of friends to come and support you. All of that stuff. Get good elsewhere. Then come here. Because this is the market. I don’t think you want to go to the market, and then research, what am I going to sell here? You should know what you’re selling before you get here.”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
“Oh my God, questions I never – because my philosophy has always been like, you walk through the doors that open for you. That’s always been how I approached comedy. I’m doing stand-up and there’s a Boston Comedy Festival, so yeah, I’ll put my hat in the ring, or whatever. And then I advanced in that, and people saw me, and they gave me gigs. That sort of snowballed. And then that eventually led to me opening for Eugene, and then coming here! So in five years what would I be doing? I’d love to be doing something on television. I’d love to host something on television. Hosting is like my favorite gig in the entire world. It’s my favorite gig in the entire world. A lot of comics, as you know, hate it. Right? I love it. It’s my favorite thing in the world to do. You guys have permission to have fun! And here’s the next person who’s going to do that for you! That’s what gives me good energy. Is that right?”
There is no wrong answer, unless you don’t see yourself in five years. That’s a wrong answer.
“That’s the other thing. I could very well overdose. That was the other thing. Yeah, likely, likely – no, I’m not going to overdose!”
Yeah, let’s go for hosting.
“Or overhost. Do you know what I mean? That’s another thing that could happen to me. Just. He died giving it his all! You know? I would do that. I would die giving it my all.”
Mehran Khaghani hosts “Hate Mail” monthly at Rockwood Music Hall -- this month's show is tonight! -- and appears as a competitor on this 2015 summer season of Last Comic Standing.
Here he is performing as part of IFC’s Comedy Drop webseries:
And in the “Comics To Watch” showcase at Carolines on Broadway:
Which NYC comedian would you like to see me style and profile next for Meet Me In New York? Send your nominations to: thecomicscomic AT gmail DOT com