If marriage is salad, Paul Farahvar will have the fries!
Sunday at 8:00 pm
Paul Farahvar is a catch. But good luck catching him! This accomplished comedian and attorney in his forties will not be walking down the aisle anytime soon and maybe never. But dating is another story. He has cornered the market on funny, honest relationship tales in his podcast Singles Only. He also uplifts hearts and minds with the shows he created and hosts at Laugh Factory: Drink, Date, Laugh and Everyone’s A Lawyer and his live Instagram show Stuck with Paul.
In all these venues, digital and live, he’s an inspiring interviewer, revealing stories that are legendary, insightful, funny, and inspiring from the resilient, the spurned, the adamantly single, the divorced, the dumpers and dumpees, and from the phoenixes risen from the ashes of romantic catastrophe to thrive another day. On Singles Only, Paul includes a “Voice of Reason,” usually a married comedian who argues the other side.
Shedding light on love’s perils and pitfalls is only part of this intriguing comedian’s material. His parents immigrated to the United States from Iran in the 1970s. In his stand-up, Paul says, “I talk about [my family background] onstage nearly as much as being single.” As he says, he’s “leaned in” to his Iranian heritage even with right-wing red-hatted audience members in the front row.
Paul was named one of “Top 40 Up and Coming Comedians in America” and was one of “Top 40 under 40” lawyers in Chicago. When the COVID shutdown began, he was quick to support Chicago’s hard-hit comedy community with funds and pro bono legal counsel. The pandemic forced him to postpone his long planned stand-up tour and raised the question of what to do with all the merch he hoped to sell along the way. He is still selling it, but now all proceeds go to Chicago comedy club staff and comedians in need.
Paul kindly spoke with me by phone about making the leap from court to comedy club, the beauty of Baha’i, and some personal insights into life, dating and marriage. (Don’t tell my husband about Paul’s seven-year free agent theory!)
Teme: I love hearing about your family’s roots in Iran, a place I’ve always wanted to go. When did your family arrive here?
Paul: My parents moved to the United States in 1970, way before I was around. My dad had a [medical] residency here. They were thinking of going back, but then the Iranian revolution happened in 1979. My parents aren’t Muslim, and there’s no religious tolerance in Iran, so they could not go back. My dad is Jewish and my mom is Baha’i, both persecuted pretty heavily in Iran.
Teme: Do you ever go to the Baha’i Temple in Wilmette?
Paul: I do. It’s one of the seven wonders of Chicago. When people come to Chicago, right after I talk about Portillo’s, the next place I tell them is the Baha’i Temple which I think is beautiful. It’s just a peaceful place. It’s open late, too, and you can walk around at midnight.
When we were kids, my parents let us find our own faith, so we did a little of everything. The great thing about the Baha’i religion, is they believe in inter-faith marriage and all the prophets. My parents let my older brother and me go to the Temple for classes. I don’t practice it, unfortunately, but I do think there are a lot of cool things and the Temple is amazing. I love showing it off to people. The Baha’i Temple was a big part of why my parents moved to Chicago. We moved to Chicago, actually Lincolnwood first. I remember when I was a kid they were thinking about moving up to Wilmette to be near it.
Teme: I’ve noticed the tattoo on your arm. What does it say?
Paul: All my tattoos are a symbol of a memory for me. I have a microphone on my right arm. My goal when I started comedy was to perform at The Laugh Factory in Hollywood. When I became a regular at Laugh Factory, including Hollywood, I got the tattoo. On my other arm I have “esquire” because I used to be a lawyer. After I had tried twenty jury trials in the federal and state court, I got a tattoo to remind me that I was a lawyer.
Most recently I got a tattoo across my arm that says, “Nobody else can live the life you live,” which is a Mr. Rogers quote. I’m fascinated by Fred Rogers. Any time a book comes out about him I have to read it. He restores faith in humanity every time you’re down.
On my lower back I have shoe prints. I used to manage and play in bands. My music company was called Shoeshine Boy Productions. I got a shoe print every time one of my bands got signed to a label. I was going to have them go up my back, but after two, I was like, “I should probably stop this.”
My last name is Zoroastrian, an ancient Persian religion, and means “eternal life,” essentially, “winged man.” So I got that tattoo on my upper back as soon as I found out what my last name meant. I was in my early 30s when I found out what my last name meant and then I got a tattoo, that’s how smart I am.
COMEDY AND CULTURE
Teme: One of the things I loved learning about Iran is that the history of spirituality there is extraordinary.
Paul: The culture influences me significantly. If you look up the stats, we’re one of the most educated immigrant groups contributing to the economy and holding “essential jobs,” and yet the administration would impose this travel ban. I know a lot of people, family friends who are doctors, who are medical students, who have been American citizens for years that were affected by that ban and it was really sad.
Teme: How would you say the culture has influenced you?
Paul: When the travel ban happened or when anything happens in Iran, I lean into it onstage. There’s a lot of misinformation. I’ve been in towns where I’m the first Middle Eastern person they’ve seen. So I try to waive the flag in a white flag-ish sort of way to say, “Hey, there’s no need to freak out.” I have had experiences where people are scared. I was in Reno, Nevada doing shows when the Trump administration shot and killed the Iranian general earlier this year.
I would start, “Hey, so I’m from Iran” and watch the crowd react. A couple times there were people in the front row wearing Trump hats. I didn’t make eye contact with them because I was actually a little scared, but after the show they all bought my shirt.
COURT TO COMEDY
Teme: How did you decide to stop being a lawyer and become a comedian full-time?
Paul: I had done everything I wanted to do with law. I tried cases. I was a partner at a law firm. Then I had my own firm. I was getting more work as a stand-up comic and I felt that I wanted to take a chance and go at it full-time. I had my own firm until right before COVID. So I stopped taking new clients and I just started working full-time as a comic. I had accomplished what I wanted to in law and I got burnt out. Comedy gave me a creative outlet and I got to make connections with people on a nightly basis. It was where my heart was.
Teme: Is there anything you’ll miss or won’t miss about law?
Paul: I won’t miss waking up early. I’m not a morning person. I hated court in the morning. If court were always in the afternoon, I probably wouldn’t have minded law as much. I won’t miss the lawyers that made the job harder than it was. There are a lot of great lawyers and I always gave people the benefit of the doubt, but once a lawyer did something shady or to screw me in court, then it was over. I won’t miss that.
I will miss going to court. I loved trying cases. I loved defending my clients and I’m a big advocate of justice. I will still get involved in things as a lawyer if need be. I definitely help my friends with their cases and encourage people to message me or call me if they have legal questions. I still love the law, but I love comedy, too.
Teme: Did you ever have a chance to make a joke in court?
Paul: I did. I always tried to get the jury on my side with being lighthearted. I did civil litigation, but we had serious issues. If there were just judges and lawyers, I would try to make the judge laugh or make the jury laugh with me. But it’s hard because they’re not happy people. Juries aren’t happy to be there and judges aren’t happy.
Sometimes I’d be self-deprecating. I was always late if there was an early morning call. A lot of judges knew that I did shows late at night, and so a 9:00 or an 8:30 call was always hard for me. So I would make jokes about being late like, “Hey, can we make this a 10:00 next time?”
AN INVITATION FROM BOB SAGET
Teme: I read that you started out in improv. How did you move to stand-up?
Paul: I never thought I would make a career in comedy. I was just taking improv classes for fun. I thought it would make me a better lawyer and it was a fun way to meet people. My coach at Second City, Kate Duffy, took me and a couple other people aside, and said, “I hope you keep doing this because you guys are good.” That encouragement was all we needed.
Then I had a friend who was opening for Bob Saget at a sold out casino show. I went backstage with him as his manager, just to keep him comfortable and then my friend was too nervous to talk to Bob Saget. So I was talking to Bob and I started telling him something, and then he just looked at me and goes, “Is this a bit? Are you doing this tonight?” And I said, “Oh, no. I’m not the comedian, I’m just a friend of his.” And he goes, “Do you want to go up and do some time?”
I was like, “No! I’ve never done standup before. I’m just goofing around here.” Everyone in the room was saying, “Just go up and do a couple of minutes!” And I was like, “I’ve never done stand-up. I’m not going up for the first time at a sold out show!” I don’t know if they were serious or not. I didn’t go up, but the next day I went to an open mic and tried that same bit and I had a blast, and I thought, “This is what I want to do.”
“SINGLES ONLY” BEGINS!
Teme: Of course I want to ask you about Singles Only! What inspired the podcast?
Paul: Jamie Masada, the owner of Laugh Factory, gave me my own show called Singles Only where we had single comics. The people in the crowd were single and we did interactive stuff and games. I love interactive stuff and I love competition where people come onstage at the end to compete. That show became Drink, Date, Laugh and it’s open to everybody.
The podcast initially was a way to promote the show. I ended up liking the podcast so much that it became its own animal. I’m talking to everybody about dating, being single, their goals, their journey and why they’re single.
Because I’m single, I leaned into that aspect of my life thinking, “I’m an aging single person. Should I get married? I think marriage is an outdated institution. Show me that I’m wrong.” I thought [my guests] can help me figure out where I am. Over 200 episodes I’ve learned from my guests what I want in a relationship and why I’m single, and it’s been fun hearing everyone else’s story.
THE LIFE-CHANGING WISDOM OF “SINGLES ONLY”
Teme: What did you learn from the folks you’ve interviewed?
Paul: Initially, the podcast was supposed to be lighthearted, but some of the episodes become really heartfelt. We’ve had people come on after a bad breakup and people who have reinvented themselves after divorce.
I’ve learned that personal growth is important to people. I’ve learned when I’m dating not to waste people’s time. I learned something from Jim Cornelison that I incorporate in my dating life to this day: if people want to get married and have kids, and they’re in their thirties and they haven’t had kids, he doesn’t date them. I do that now, too. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time because I don’t think I am going to have kids and I don’t think I am going to get married. Sometimes when I say that, people say, “Oh, you’re going to change your mind,” but here I am in my early forties and I haven’t changed my mind.
My friends who are married say, “If you don’t want to have kids, don’t get married. It’s a lot of work.” I didn’t know if I wanted to have kids until my brother had kids and I became an uncle. I was like, “I love being an uncle, but I love leaving when I want to go.” I don’t have any responsibility. I love that aspect of it. Once I knew that, it changed my outlook on whether I would ever get married.
I tend to date women who have kids already, who are divorced and share my outlook. A lot of people who have been divorced say they’re never getting married again. It’s becoming a more popular cult-like opinion. I’m trying to make the podcast eventually into a cult. That’s the goal.
Teme: That would be a good cult! How do you choose your podcast guests?
Paul: I like to have different opinions and backgrounds, people who are interesting to me. Mostly comedians and musicians. I’ve had a few divorce lawyers and politicians. Renato Mariotti from WGN was a guest. I like to have athletes. Anyone that has a unique journey, whether they’ve always been single or they got divorced, or they’ve discovered something about themselves that makes them different.
Teme: What were some of your most memorable podcasts?
Paul: My favorite podcast was with Joe Kwaczala. He had such a funny story of a date gone wrong. It still hurts my face when I hear him tell stories about that. The one with Geoffrey Asmus was really funny. Joe McMahon, who’s now married. Jen Zanotti was a fun one, too. Her story was embracing and empowering. It’s not a funny one, but it’s one of my favorites because she talks about how her life changed after she got divorced and she lived her best life. She’s a Jiu Jitsu champion now, a passion she found after she got divorced. Now she’s in a successful relationship again. It’s a story for people who are in a marriage that’s not working and they’re afraid to leave. It’s empowering.
MARRIAGE IS SALAD: GET THE FRIES!
Teme: Congratulations on two hundred episodes of Singles Only! You’ve said that you were thinking of stopping at 200, but I’m happy you didn’t.
Paul: Thank you. I didn’t think I’d have 200 episodes, but here we are. Maybe we’ll get to 250 and then decide I’ll get married.
Teme: Is it a possibility?
Paul: I know this is an unpopular opinion. I just don’t think people want to get married anymore, it’s just something you end up doing because it’s the right thing to do.
It’s like when you go to a restaurant you want to get a steak or fries, or something big and greasy, and just eat gluttonously. But then you get the salad because you know it’s the right thing to do. Marriage is like a salad. It’s healthy and it’s a thing you should do every once in a while. You’re at Portillo’s, do you get the burger and fries or Italian beef, or do you just get a healthy salad? These are the decisions that I think people make when they’re in a relationship.
Teme: What inspired your seven-year marriage contract theory?
Paul: The “seven-year itch” is when a relationship hits its downturn. If marriage was a seven-year contract, then there would be less pressure on both people to decide. It’s like a contract in sports. When you’re up for your contract year, you’re either going to get in shape and have a great year, or you’re going to say, “I’m ready to go to a different team.”
Marriage was until “death do you part” when it was created, but at the time, people were living until they were 35 years-old but with science, people live long lives. You can’t expect people to stay with the same people for their whole life.
Watching my parents has shaped my opinion more than anything in life. They’ve been married for over fifty years and it’s been hard work. I know all fifty of those years were not happy, but now they have each other and there is something to be said about that. So I do see the other side.
COMEDIANS DATING COMEDIANS: GOOD IDEA OR DISASTER?
Teme: You say that dating other comedians is not a good idea. Why?
Paul: Oh, it’s the worst idea. They tell you not to shit where you work. You’re going to see and work with that person. Comedy adds another element because we’re kind of all damaged in some way. We’re sensitive and if [the relationship] goes wrong, it’s going to be twice as hard as if you were working at an accounting firm together.
Teme: Are some professionals better to date than others? Like are accountants better partners than lawyers?
Paul: Dating lawyers is the worst. Two lawyers do not work together especially if you’re both litigators. I’ve done that and that’s not healthy at all. The arguments were epic. I’ve dated lawyers in the past and that was bad.
Comedians are unique people. We have crazy hours. We’re emotionally unavailable and physically unavailable during normal hours. I always push comedians to date musicians or other people in the arts or service industry because they have similar hours. Or date someone comedy adjacent, like a stand-up comedian who dates an improv person. You’re not on the same path necessarily.
Teme: That makes a lot of sense; compatible but not on a crash course.
Paul: Right. But dating people that are 9:00 to 5:00 jobbers is hard. They don’t understand what we have to go through. It’s so important for us to go to a show even just for a five minute spot. You have to hang out at the clubs to get booked. People that have a 9:00 to 5:00 job don’t understand that or they say they do, but when you cancel a dinner date last minute because you got a last minute slot at Zanies, they don’t seem to understand as much.
It’s a hard situation to explain to people. I’ve dated people who have 9:00 to 5:00 jobs. I haven’t dated a musician, so I think that’s probably my next goal.
FORWARD FROM COVID
Teme: Has COVID impacted your perspective?
Paul: Definitely. It makes you think about what you want out of life. In terms of dating, I’ve taken a step back to think about who I want in my life, like people that are going to help you grow and not people with negative energy who are sucking energy out of you. In terms of dating, nothing has really changed in terms of me wanting to get married. It hasn’t made me want to get married. In fact, I think most people who are together during this time are going to evaluate their relationships significantly.
There are going to be a lot of breakups and divorces on the other side of COVID because you’re with people more often than you ever were in your life. Three months in COVID is like three years in dog years. If you can survive living with someone during COVID, I think you are made to be together.
Teme: So if you could go on any date with anyone, who would it be and where would you go?
Paul: My ideal date would be with Heather Graham. She’s my crush. We would go wherever she wants to go. I would take her to Chicago … maybe to Portillo’s and the Baha’i temple.
Singles Only podcast episodes here!
You can find Stuck with Paul on Instagram.
New videos every week on Paul’s YouTube channel, including Singles Only and clips from Laugh Factory shows and stand-up.
Paul also hosts the podcast Make Us a Mix Tape with Marty DeRosa.
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