Although it's a fairly new show, talk about Shahs of Sunset has been around for quite a while. In 2011, news broke that reality TV honcho Ryan Seacrest would be creating a new series described by many as a "Persian Jersey Shore"—something that most likely prompted a million eye rolls 'round the world.
The series, which premiered earlier this month to impressive ratings, is nothing of the sort. Instead of a beach house in Seaside, the setting is West Los Angeles, an area known for its high volume of residents who are of Iranian descent. Instead of overly tanned party animals, the cast is made up of 30-something, successful adults, most of whom are a part of the so-called "Persian Real Estate Mafia" in L.A. Rather than long nights spent drinking at Karma or Aztec, most parties in the show are held in popular clubs along the Sunset strip, or at a cast member's immaculate home.
Given the differences between the shows, and the fact that Shahs of Sunset was marketed as something completely different than what it is and has remained a solid performer on the Bravo network, the show is likely here to stay.
The show's strength is its cast, which is made up of six Persian friends who all have lived in Los Angeles—mostly Beverly Hills—for the better part of their lives. One of them is Reza Farahan, who has quickly become a fan favorite among viewers for his vivacious personality, out and proud lifestyle, and, of course, his mustache. He's outspoken without apologies, and has even inspired a web series titled "Reza's Rants" that sees him stating his opinions on everything from Republicans to sales. (Spoiler alert: He hates both.)
We talked with Reza recently about his newfound fame, how he feels about the criticisms that the show has prompted, and how it was for him growing up as an openly gay man in the Persian community.
Interview by Tanya Ghahremani (@tanyaghahremani)
How did you end up on the show?
I wasn’t cast. I got a phone call one day from MJ, who had had gotten a phone call from Sammi, who had gotten a phone call from a friend of his at Ryan Seacrest Productions, and MJ said, “Listen, Sammi and his friend from Ryan Seacrest Productions are coming over, he wants to toss around this concept about a Persian reality show. Do you wanna come over?” MJ, being one of my best friends of over 20 years, and Sammi being one of my very closest friends, a) I wanted to go and hang out, have a glass of wine with them, and b) it sounded interesting.
I went, sat down, had a glass of conversation and from that moment it happened very organically. It was broad strokes, not any real concrete idea of what they were doing, but he was throwing this concept around, and he kept calling me. Like, he would call me to say, "This is something that’s in the works,” and I just put it on the back burner, and it came to fruition.
So you guys were all cast as an entity?
Yeah, it was like one person referred another person. You know, we all knew each other, it wasn’t like all of us came together one day in a board room. It was these great conversations of referring the friends. They talked to us, and they really dug our vibe, and it just kind of went from there.
Have things changed for you a lot since the show has begun airing?
Yeah, I mean, when I’m in Starbucks, usually people are cruising me because I’m cute, but now they’re cruising me because they recognize me from a show. So, that aspect of it—people telling me they love me because I’m on the show, or wanting to take a photograph with me—that’s different, but other than that my life is what you see on the show. Not that much has changed.
Was it tough getting used to having cameras around all the time, and showing so much of your life so openly on TV?
First and foremost, I’ve felt like cameras should have been following me around my whole life! So, now that they’re actually there, I kind of don’t realize that they’re there. For me it wasn’t really a big adjustment. I might have realized them the first day for a few moments, but when you’re around a bunch of friends that you’ve known for years and years, you lose yourself in what you’re doing, you don’t have an awareness of the cameras anymore.
What about all the comparisons of the show to Jersey Shore? I’ve heard people referring to the show as “the Persian Jersey Shore” on more than one occasion.
The funny thing is, I don’t even know if the people who are doing those comparisons have actually seen both shows. Because if you watch both shows, the concepts are very different; we’re all living our real day-to-day lives in our own homes with our family and our friends. The Jersey Shore is its own show.
I don’t care about comparisons, they don’t affect me, but I feel like that comparison started early on and it had no basis. People were comparing it before they had seen it; it’s like comparing two glasses of wine when you’ve only had one. Like, how are you comparing me to something when you haven’t seem me yet? If you watch it and compare it, great, but if you see both shows and you still think our show is like that, I would be confused. I wouldn’t understand it, but it’s your opinion, and you’re entitled to it.
I think because it’s a minority living in the United States, it’s chronicling their lives, and there’s no other show like that, they just automatically – it’s like default comparison, unfortunately. Or, fortunately! Not unfortunately, it’s just the default comparison because there’s nothing else to compare it to.
You can’t ask a Leo why they’re the fan favorite. I kind of knew going in.
After watching an episode, do you ever regret doing any of the things that you see yourself doing or saying, or have you been fine with everything?
I haven’t lived my life with regret. I think regret is a torturous virtue. It’s something that happened—good, bad, ugly, whatever—and it happened several months ago, you have to remember that what you guys are seeing now was filmed way back. It happened, it was what it was, and it was real, and if it was on there, it’s happening, and you guys get to see it.
I think I’m the wrong person to ask as far as that’s concerned, because I don’t have regret regardless of what I do. I may apologize for it, I may change my mind about it, but I don’t regret it. I feel like everything in life happens for a reason.
I’ve read that people are saying you’re the Persian Paris Hilton and GG is the new Kim Kardashian… What other comparisons about your castmates would you think there are?
OK…I feel like MJ could be a Lucille Ball kind of character. Sammi could be like the Fred Merc... [Laughs.] Mike is kind of like an Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Asa’s kind of like a cross between Googoosh and Joni Mitchell. You kind of have to be Persian to get that one.
Although, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Republican…
I mean, I don’t want to put Mike on blast for his political views, so I’ll let him answer that, but I’m going to stick with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Any rules to live by?
Look on the outside how you want to feel on the inside. You have a choice how you want to feel every single day, you choose how you feel—no one else decides that for you. And three, ride this bitch until the wheels come off, and enjoy every minute.
You’ve turned into a fan favorite. Why do you think that is?
I mean, come on now. You can’t ask a Leo why they’re the fan favorite. I kind of knew going in.
What sort of aspirations do you have for the future? What’s next?
I’ve always, always, always loved everything having to do with aesthetics. I love putting on the finishing touches, whether it’s on fashion, whether it’s on like hosting things, and the way I entertain in my home, which you’ll get to see in future episodes, and how I prepare things, I’m all about the details. Like, pocket squares, your socks, ties, and the plates you use, the flowers, I love stuff like that. So if I could get involved more in those fields, that would really enable me to express my artistic side, I would love that.
So, we might be seeing something in fashion from you?
You might see like a mustache tie, or a pocket square with the little mustache logo on it, you never know…
The mustache is very iconic.
Totally, I’m loving my mustache.
I saw that your mustache has a Twitter.
Yeah, my mustache has over a thousand followers. He’s very outgoing, he’s like me that way. He’s a little more bougie than I am, so he gets a little twisted up if I take him places that aren’t five-star, but, you know, he deals.
Do you know if anyone in Iran watches the show?
I do! I do know, because I get messages on Facebook.
What sort of feedback have you received?
People are losing their minds. They’re so excited, they’re flipping out. They want to savor the flavor, have something tangible to hold that’s Shahs of Sunset-related.
Have you heard from any openly gay Persian people?
That’s been one of the most phenomenal blessings, that I’ve been able to impact people’s lives in that way, because I’ve gotten hundreds of tweets and messages on Facebook, whether directly from someone saying, “Watching you on the show helped me come out to my family and friends,” or from people saying, “My friend is going to come out because of you, watching this,” or just “Thank you, I’m gay, and the fact that you’re putting your life out there on blast is gonna bring about some awareness in our culture that happens to be narrow-minded when it comes to homosexuality.”
So, that’s been... I can’t even put into words how amazing that has been for me, to read that I’ve impacted people’s lives in that manner, it makes all of the criticisms or whatever, it makes it insignificant.
Was it ever hard for you growing up as an openly gay Persian man?
I mean, whatever struggles I had were internal struggles. I wasn’t bullied or picked on or tormented or taunted or anything, because I’m not that type of person that that would happen to. I’m just not that guy, because…I don’t know. I have this chip in my brain that tells me if the world is against you, what you feel and what you think isn’t wrong. I was just programmed that way, and I know that not everyone is like that, and for that reason I wanted to be on this show. I wanted to be the shield; I’ll take all the heat for every gay Persian teen out there.
Give me the heat, let them have that sense of comfort and security that I had that is so valuable and precious. If I can help them by being on this show, that they can watch and say, “Hey, look at him, he’s 30-something, he’s successful, his family loves him, his friends love him, and he’s gay? Maybe I can do this thing.”
Absolutely. It’s very hard for everyone, but I know it is especially in the Persian culture it’s really hard.
Really hard. How can you turn your back on your child for something like that?
And oftentimes, their children are great people, and successful, and so smart, and just because of their sexuality, they’re rejected by their family.
Yeah, and that’s why I’m doing this. That’s why I’m on here. Me being on this show forces close-minded Persian families, it forces conversations to happen. You don’t think every single Persian family in Los Angeles is talking about this show? Everyone is. The ones who act like they don’t watch it, the ones that love it, the ones that talk shit about it, everyone is talking about it.
And, just by the mere fact that I’m on the show, they have to talk about it. Not only am I on the show, but I’m the one running shit, with the biggest mouth, the fan favorite, the blah blah blah. Like, look at the gay one regulating.
On the show, you talked a little bit about coming out to your family. Was that hard for you? How did that go?
Yeah, it was really hard, but it was hard in the sense that bungee jumping is hard. Like, you jump, not knowing what’s going to happen, but in actuality there’s a cord that’s gonna save your ass. It was the saying it that was the difficult part. I told my mom, and it was maybe two minutes of hysterical talk, ranting, and then, as soon as she was done with two minutes, she pulled herself together, looked me dead in the eye, and told me I was her son, that she’d be behind me until the day she died, and nothing would ever change our relationship.
And that was the end of it, period. And she’s been a super supportive and amazing mother, and nothing did change. She never changed. If anything, she loves me more.
The way that the Persian community was talking about the show before it came out, literally, my mom and my family thought we were going be bringing the universe to an end, the way people were talking about it.
What about your father?
He’s amazing, too! His old ass? Come on, like this old-ass Persian man, and I’m sitting there talking about my gay ass. He had his moments too where he wasn’t down with it, and struggled with it and all that, but he pulled himself up by the bootstraps and he’s, like, kick-ass supportive too. He’s like, “Go do your thing, go do the show. I support you a thousand percent. Who cares what people have to say about you? Anyone that ever does something that deviates from the norm is going to get criticism, but look at you, standing up for what you believe in. Go knock ‘em dead.” And my whole family, everyone. Aunts, uncles, cousins, all of them.
So your family’s been really receptive towards the show as well?
Yeah! Now that they’ve seen it and realized we’re not killing anyone on there, we’re not slaughtering animals—the way that the Persian community was talking about the show before it came out, my mom and my family thought we were going be bringing the universe to an end. And after my mom saw episode one, she was like, “They were talking all of that because of this? People have a lot of free time on their hands, people need hobbies! Some of these people need to go read books, do some volunteer work, like, something, because this is innocuous.”
I did read a lot of criticisms. I know that the former mayor of Beverly Hills, Jimmy Delshad, said that he was “afraid” the program would make Persians look like "undesirable people.” And the author Firoozeh Dumas said she just wanted to shout, “We’re not all like that!”
Are you talking about Charlotte Safavi?
No, it’s Firoozeh Dumas.
Oh, the girl that wrote Funny in Farsi, who couldn’t sell a book? Here’s my thing. If you’re going to talk down about the show to make yourself relevant...I mean, come on. First of all, Jimmy Delshad’s the age of my great grandfather. If you ask my great grandfather about reality programming, he’s not going to know anything either, bless his heart. And he has an opinion, and opinions are like you-know-whats, and some of them stink more than others. And what he has to say doesn’t impact me; he didn’t watch the show, and he’s getting out there, someone’s asking him to talk on TV or in the paper, and of course he’s going to jump at the opportunity.
So you’re saying the criticisms are stemming from them trying to—
Self-promote? Absolutely. If you can be in the paper and talk about yourself and plug your book? You and me are Persian, you know where that comes from. A lot of other people don’t understand it, but that is a cultural defect that we have, we can’t support each other.
Persians like to talk, especially about each other.
Yeah, this is my opinion on that: If we were all six-feet, six inches tall, they’d say, “Oh, look at these Persians, they all very tall, we don't like them.” If we were all three feet, eight inches tall, “Oh, these Persians, they’re so short, we don't like them.” If we were all super skinny, super fat, if we were all blue-collar workers, if we were all CEOs, they would find a reason to separate us regardless of who we are and what we’re doing. You can’t please everyone. We are entertainment value only, and we don’t claim to represent anyone other than ourselves.
Mind you, I think I’m fabulous enough to represent every Persian, and I think I would do a great job of representing everyone, but no one elected me to any official post. When you do, I’ll gladly do what you want and say what you want as long as you’re paying my way. But until then, I’m going do me, and I’m going be me, and that’s all I’m going to be.
Interview by Tanya Ghahremani (@tanyaghahremani)