The Gold Standard: How the movies -- past and present -- changed our lives

Having founded L.A.’s venerable Laugh Factory 28 years ago and overseen it ever since, Masada has watched some of the last quarter century’s best comics grace his stage. Yet none of them has equaled the collaborative performance he witnessed as a 6-year-old in Tehran: his father and the Three Stooges.

“The first time I ever saw a movie, it was the Three Stooges,” he recalls. “Because I’d been a good boy, my father took my hand, and we walked four or five miles to this store that had a black-and-white TV in the window, and they were showing a Three Stooges movie. We were standing outside and couldn’t hear anything, so my father started making up the story.

“They were onscreen hitting each other on the head, and my father was explaining, ‘Oh, OK, the reason he did that was …’ He made up the best story, the funniest story, and I just stood there on the street and laughed and laughed. Then he looked at me and said, ‘Making people laugh is a great mitzvah.’ And I always remembered that.”

Masada left Iran for Los Angeles at age 14, alone, determined to break into comedy even though he was broke and could hardly speak English. Through chance encounters and friendships with local comics, he managed to get by and immersed himself in American films, becoming particularly enamored of Woody Allen’s “Bananas” and the works of Richard Pryor, whom he remembers with great respect. When Masada opened the Laugh Factory (just after his 20th birthday), Pryor was his first headliner; after his set, Pryor declined his cut of the night’s meager profits, instead offering Masada $100 to pay his rent.

As voracious a fan now as he was then, Masada praises Laugh Factory grad Jamie Foxx, who stars in “Dreamgirls,” and Sacha Baron Cohen.

“When I saw ‘Borat,’ I was laughing loud, and everyone else was laughing loud, and it just gives me such a high to hear that,” he says. “I don’t know how else to put it.”

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