'Shahs of Sunset' star Reza Farahan: It's not National Geographic
He dubs himself the Ricky Ricardo of 2012 (aye yai yai!): Reza Farahan is the breakout personality of Bravo's newest reality series, "Shahs of Sunset," thanks to his over-the-top personality and impeccably groomed whiskers.
If he's not hosting Champagne taste-testing parties or shoving intoxicated friends into bathtubs, Farahan is serving as the peacemaker among the women in his posse of friends. The series, which comes from Ryan Seacrest's production company, premiered to just over a million viewers last month and has inched its way up in viewership since then.
In this week's episode, Farahan reunited with his estranged father — which inevitably results in an ugly cry. Show Tracker caught up with Farahan to discuss the reunion, the 'stache, and the criticisms that come with reality TV.
Full disclosure: as I'm talking to you, I have the Twitter page for your mustache open on my computer screen.
Oh my God. That's awesome. My mustache gives you a big shout out.
I think it's hilarious that my mustache has its own page. And then there's the sinister side of me that thinks, 'Well, it's about time.' I mean, if I'm going to be honest, I just have to put that out there.
How long have you had it? Also, just FYI, I'm fully aware this is already the most absurd interview ever.
The mustache is going on two years now. I've been very much a chameleon when it comes to facial hair. I've rocked a goatee, I've rocked a beard. I was just getting really attached to my mustache — we developed a fondness for one another and I felt bad about the possibility of getting rid of him so he just kind of stuck. He and I have formed this lasting bond that seems to be going really strong right now.
He likes to be called Little Reza. He gets pissed if people don't acknowledge that he's part of the tribe.
Given how into your 'stache you seem to be, I have to ask whether you consider yourself an intergalactic Persian priestess — or in your case, priest?
No. I am the king of the world. I'm the ruler of all things. I'm omnipresent. I'm the overseer. The war lord.
What did you make of Asa's diamond water?
Did it take much time for you to get comfortable in front of the cameras?
I mean, I don't know if from our conversation so far you can tell what type of person I am and what kind of personality I have, but I'm really open. I don't get uncomfortable or shy. I'm very much out there in my own life. What you see is what you get. Maybe for the first day, the first few minutes, I realized cameras were around, but by the seventh or eighth minute, I forgot that they were there and life just went on. As far as I'm concerned, what you get from me and the rest of the cast, is what's going on in life.
Your family, though, must have had reservations, right?
My mom put the kibosh on it before it ever began. She put her foot down and was of the school of thought that this would be something that would exploit our culture and our family. Before I was able to complete my sentence, she put the kibosh on it. But once she realized why I wanted to do it and what my message was, she's been nothing but supportive from that point on.
So she's seen it, I would think. Is she still supportive? What was her reaction?
Her literal reaction was: 'They got upset because of this? I thought you guys were doing horrible things the way people were talking about the show' — the Persian community and stuff. My mom was prepared to see ... you name it: animals being slaughtered, people being murdered. She was thinking the world was going to be coming to an end when the show premiered. She was pleasantly surprised. Her one comment was, she'd like to see less drinking. I explained to her that she was seeing several months of shooting sliced down to a few hours. I wasn't always walking around with a cocktail in my hand.
What did you make of the negative attention the show received prior — and even after — the show debuted?
Actually, I was a little bit shocked and disappointed that people would compare two glasses of wine that they hadn't consumed yet. By that I mean, I have no problem being compared to anything.
I might be, or any other reality show. If you're going to compare me to something — it's like comparing two glasses of wine: Why don't you drink both before you make comparisons? I feel like people in my community, especially, were comparing us — even the community at large. I was like, why are you comparing us before you've had a second to watch it? After you watch it, compare me to whatever you want to compare me to. It doesn't change me or my life one bit. Everyone has an opinion — they're like you-know-whats. Some of them stink more than others.
But, so, why expose yourself to the sort of criticism you received?
Why? For one reason and one reason only: about a year or two ago, I just started ... I don't know if it was happening more because I was living in a bubble and didn't have enough awareness, but I'm a very strong person, so it never was in my realm of possibility, but I was watching TV and reading newspapers and magazines and the Internet, and it seemed like there was one suicide a day of a young, gay teen killing themself because they were being bullied in school. It literally broke me down and brought me to tears. I don't know if it was happening a lot before and I was just catching wind of it and I was living in my own bubble in my amazing life I was blessed to have or what, but it just seemed like it was happening way too much. And in my culture, there is such taboo around sexuality, especially. I thought if I participate and put myself out there, I'm strong enough to take whatever criticism or heat may come with it. They can call me whatever names they want, they can trash me up and down and all around. It will not impact my life one bit. But if it helps one gay teen to come out to their family or it forces one family to have a conversation, my job in life is done. What I set out to do, I did.
But were you wary of perpetuating any stereotypes?
Not at all. First and foremost, I'm not anyone other than me, myself and I. I represent no one else and I knew by me being out there, I would perpetuate the stereotype of a young, successful gay Persian man living in Los Angeles. The only thing I thought was, if I can perpetuate awareness of homosexuality, and perpetuate a real stereotype about Persians and Middle Easterners: that we love our families, we love our friends, and we work very hard. There's a million stereotypes out there, most of them are negative. I'm perpetuating positive ones. From my journey around the world, most people think Middle Easterners are thrown into this big pot labeled "terrorists." If I'm going to perpetuate a stereotype, let me perpetuate one that is actually true. I love my family, I love my friends, I work very hard and I love beautiful things — whether it's gold, marble, columns. Those things are true. The one that isn't true is that I don't love and adore this country, that I want to blow things up.
Let's talk about this reunion you have with your father in this Sunday's episode and how it compares to the petty drama we've been seeing on the show.
You have to remember, audiences want to see a certain amount of my life and I am multi-faceted so to assume over a six-episode run, you're going to get every aspect of what makes Reza Reza — you're not. You're getting little snippets. Shooting occurred over a certain number of months and whatever was happening in my life was catalogued and you guys get a fraction of what was catalogued. But it just so happened that when we were filming, I did make a trip to New York and the cameras happened to be with me and I had one of the most important, powerful, transformational conversations I've ever had with my father. If you seen the little teaser for it, you see me doing the ugly cry and I'm horrified. But it's going to bring about conversations in people's homes and it's going to have an impact and a lot of people are going to be able to relate to it. It's crazy that one of the most important conversations I've had with my father was filmed and I'm going to relive it as an onlooker. That blows my mind.
We get a sense of religious clashing, in terms of the Jewish vs. Muslim dynamic, in the Persian community. The cast itself is a mix of the two ...
Yeah, my mother grew up and was raised by a Muslim family and my father grew up and was raised by a Jewish family. It created drama almost 50 years ago that, as you see, never really went away. It can be an issue, depending on how religious you are. But for us in our group, we’re Persians, we’re friends, we love each other, and that’s it.
What do you want the takeaway message from this show to be?
That we are like any other minority, except we love gold, marble a hell of a lot. I'm joking. It's just a tiny window on six friends who happen to be Persian. This is not a National Geographic documentary about the plight of the Persian people from Mecca to Medina to Beverly Hills.
— Yvonne Villarreal
Photo: Reza Farahan, a featured member of "Shahs of Sunsets." Credit: Bravo