Iranian American offers Persian version of Kung Pao

Comedian Dan Ahdoot grew up a nice Jewish boy. But he doesn’t know from chopped liver, knishes or chicken soup. He’s more of a lamb kebab or chicken polo kind of guy.

Ahdoot is the son of Iranian Jewish immigrants, and it didn’t take long for this first-generation American to catch “American dream” fever. He turned his back on medical school to pursue financial security via standup comedy.

He will be one of the headliners at the 14th annual Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, held during Christmas week at the New Asia Chinese restaurant in San Francisco.

This is far from the first Jewish audience Ahdoot has faced, considering he built his career playing Hillels and Jewish Community Federations across the country. Kung Pao Kosher Comedy always brings out a big crowd, and Ahdoot says he is ready for it.

“I definitely give the Ashkenazim some grief during my act,” he says from his Los Angeles home. “It will be fun to see all the pale skin.”

Ahdoot introduces himself as an Iranian, though he quickly adds: “I was Iranian up until Sept. 11, and now I’m Puerto Rican. It makes life a lot easier.”

While he peppers his set with Jewish humor, Ahdoot prefers to think of himself as a comedian who happens to be Jewish, rather than a Jewish comedian. His act is a freewheeling commentary on modern life.

And it seems to be catching on. He was a finalist in TV’s “Last Comic Standing” and he been featured on Comedy Central, ironic in that Ahdoot used to work for the cable network as a lowly ad salesman.

“The great thing was,” he recalls, “when I was ready to make the jump [to standup], Comedy Central was laying people off. I got a sweet severance package.”

Long before he took that plunge, Ahdoot grew up in a kosher Sephardic household in the Long Island town of Great Neck, N.Y., his parents having immigrated a few years before. He was the quintessential class clown, a trait he developed out of necessity. “I was the smallest kid in school,” he recalls, “and was beaten up a lot. I had to fight back by making them laugh.”

He was also a good student. That led to pre-med at Johns Hopkins University followed by medical school at Cornell. “I had a breakdown,” he says. “I was filling out the application and crying. I thought I can’t be doing this.”

Ahdoot then launched his standup career, focusing on Hillels across the country. The gambit worked. In a relatively short time, he became the most-booked comedian on college campuses. He also took the “new media” route, with MySpace and YouTube Web pages helping build buzz.

“I’ve always treated comedy like a business,” he says. “It paid off in the end. My main rule is ‘Always be on time.’ A lot of people are not like that.”

It takes time to develop confidence in stage, but Ahdoot thinks he’s there now, and he doesn’t regret the early days of unappreciative audiences and hecklers either. “I don’t think a bad set is a bad set,” he says. “You learn from each, and you always get feedback. Not every job is like that.”

So far, Ahdoot’s career is unfolding nicely. These days the die-hard East Coaster is calling L.A. home, as he has joined the writing staff of an upcoming MTV sketch comedy show “Short Circuit,” starring Nick Cannon. He finds it’s been easy adapting his style to scripted television.

All things being equal, Ahdoot prefers a stage and an audience to a cubicle and a computer. As often as he can, he gets out on the standup circuit.

And no doubt his set includes observations about his Jewish roots, though, as Ahdoot is quick to add, “maybe not the traditional sense. Judaism comes up the way blacks make fun of blacks. If they can say the N-word then I can make Holocaust references.”

Kung Pao Kosher Comedy shows at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Dec. 22 to 24; 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 25, at New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific Ave., S.F. Information: (925) 275-9005 or online at

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.