The Ayatollah’s Disarming Wit

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Every tourist who visits Iran has three common observations: The women are stunning, the traffic is maddening, and, after oil, humor is the major industry. 

On the streets and in taxicabs, political jokes abound. No one, especially the leadership, is spared, and no perspective is more telling or reliable than the anonymous satirist’s. A popular joke during the last presidential election invited Syrians also to vote: “After all, our president will be your finance minister, too!”

Even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose dour and scowling face is what many associate with the Islamic Revolution, was said to be a connoisseur of satire. In a recent interview with the website Jamaran, one of Ayatollah Khomeini’s close confidants, Mahmoud Doayee, revealed that the leader demanded to hear the jokes about him, even laughing heartily at times. To him, they were the sociocultural weather vane of all that needed “correcting,” which at times meant “eliminating.”

The New York Times International Weekly, January 13, 2014