Nahnatchka Khan is the showrunner of the ABC sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat,” which is currently in its second season. The show has won kudos for its smart, subversive take on first and second generation American-immigrant experiences. She celebrates her own immigrant dad and his funny bone.
Nahnatchka Khan: Hi, my name’s Nahnatchka Khan, and I’m here to talk about my father, who inadvertently launched my career in comedy.
So, my parents are both born in Iran. My brother and I were born in the United States, in Las Vegas, and then we moved to Hawaii. And, growing up, you start to understand what’s funny based on pop culture, like Eddie Murphy’s stand-up, or Chris Rock “Bring the Pain.” Kind of the stuff that you see on TV, that you come into school the next day and you reference.
But my dad, he never sort of shared in any of that, because American humor doesn’t really translate into other cultures. But, he did have a great sense of humor. And he wanted to share that with my brother and I. So, here are three routines that made my dad — and maybe only my dad — laugh.
Gleefully basking in the wonders of Hawaii’s suburbs
The first thing he would do, you know, we’re in Hawaii, it’s beautiful. People fly from all over the world to come here and, you know, enjoy everything Hawaii has to offer. But my dad, he would take us to these little like, suburban streets that could have been in any town. You don’t even see the ocean. And he would just have us driving around, kind of looking at houses and looking at parked cars. And he would ask us questions like, “How much do you think they pay in rent in that house?”
And I of course had no idea, I mean I’m like 11 years old. I think what he found funny was that, we were trapped in this mundane routine, guessing how much houses cost to rent, and how much cars cost. And the more we hated it, the funnier he thought it was.
“Rocky” or Persian music?
OK so, the second bit he would do is: my dad would drive my brother and I to school in the mornings. And, he would hold up two cassette tapes, and he would say, “You can either listen to the soundtrack from the movie ‘Rocky,’ or Persian music.” You know, I don’t see a good choice there.
So, nine times out of 10, we’d be driving up this hill, all the windows down, and the soundtrack to “Rocky” is just blasting. And all of your friends, they would just all turn, and just stare at us, like that’s the last thing that you wanna be blasting. ‘Cause it’s also so dumb, you know what I mean? You’re not like trying to get ready for the big fight, you know? It’s like, you’re going to math! But my dad, couldn’t stop laughing. Like he just loved it so much. Every day, like that was his morning, enjoyment.
Zoolbia with a side of fries
So the third bit my dad loved to do was go through fast food drive-thrus. Which you know, you would love, you’re 12 years old, everybody wants to go to McDonald’s. Of course! And sometimes after soccer practice or whatever we’d have friends in the car, and my dad, he thought it was super funny to order normal, and then throw like a Persian food item in there.
So we’d pull up to the drive-through, and he would be like, “Yeah, um, could we get two Quarter Pounders with cheese, a Big Mac, three large fries, two Diet Cokes, a Sprite, and some zoolbia?” And then there would be like this long pause, and the voice would come through, it’d be like, “Uh, I’m sorry sir, what?”
And he would repeat the whole order again. “Two Quarter Pounders with cheese, a Big Mac, three large fries, two Diet Cokes, a Sprite, and some zoolbia.” “Uh we, we got the whole order, but, we don’t have that last thing.” “Oh, you don’t have zoolbia? The Persian dessert. It’s sort of like a honey?”
“No no, we don’t, we don’t carry that at McDonald’s.” “Oh OK, you know what? That’s fine, uh, I’ll just have some doogh.” “Uh, we have apple pie.” “No, no, no, no apple pie, just doogh.” “Uh, what?” “Doogh! You know, the Persian, the drink with the yogurt, and the mint?” “So, I’m sorry sir we, we don’t, we don’t carry that. Uh, this is McDonald’s.”
I mean we, it would go on and on, and my brother and I would just be horrified, our friends, don’t know what’s happening. And my dad, loving it.
So these moments with my dad, at the time, were horrifying. But in retrospect, you know what he was right. Like, it was funny. The sort of uncomfortableness of having to go along with something, someone’s driving something, and someone’s in an unwilling participant to me is like a great comedy algorithm.
So, cheers to dad. Because, sort of the things that I find funny and the things that I don’t, I think you can draw a direct line back to being trapped in the back seat of his car and just having to go along with whatever bit he had in his head.