A Conversation with Mike Shouhed from Shahs of Sunset

I am a fan of Shahs of Sunset. What separates this cast from other reality show casts is the fact that they are really friends. They have long standing friendship and though they may fight, we know they will always work things out because they are family. Reality TV may be responsible for breaking up a lot of marriages, but this group is not going to break up, and as fans we take comfort in that knowledge.

I have been writing about this show since it started. I engaged them on social media, interviewed a couple of them, and thought they were fun. A colleague of mine at the Jewish Journal wrote a scathing review of their show in the beginning but she is Persian so her take is different. As a fan and addict of reality TV, I thought it was a funny, sexy, blessed, humble, and hardworking group of Persian Americans. I was hooked.

At one point I wrote I thought Mike was behaving like a douche and he told me to “get a life”, then blocked me on Twitter. I didn’t take it personally because I block a lot of people on Twitter. Attacks come swiftly on social media and much is brutal. Mike has had a tough week. On a recent episode the cast went to Turkey. There was a scene where the call to prayer was happening and he wouldn't go in a Mosque.

His refusal to enter the mosque brought on a firestorm of hate. People accused him of being anti-Muslin, intolerant, a bad Jew, a hater, and those were the nicer attacks. He got nailed for his reaction to the call to prayer and I felt bad for him because on my own personal level, I understood his decision and felt it should be respected. Mike reached out to the Jewish Journal and that is how this interview came to be.

Mike arrived 30 minutes late. He wrote to say he was running behind, but still, 30 minutes. I was not sure what to expect since he was clearly wanting to talk about his experience and coming to see someone he did not trust. The fact that he was coming at all said a lot about him. He was willing to put aside his ego and talk to the woman who called him a douche because he wanted to be heard, so he had my respect.

Mike is handsome and better looking in person than on TV. He has kind eyes, super white teeth, perfectly coifed hair, and he smells divine. He was dressed all in black and even without the Playgirl photos in my head, you can tell his body is quite fabulous. He even wore a blue and white pocket square in tribute to Israel he said, which was charming. That is the perfect word to describe Mike. Charming.

Mike is the only Jew on the cast. It is a show about Iranian American’s, but Mike was labeled the Jewish one. In terms of religion, the other cast members are Muslim. Mike defines himself as a Jew more than he does Iranian. He was born in Iran, but moved to the USA when he was one month old. His connection to Iran is more about the food and stories of his parents than a connection in his soul to his place of birth.

At the time of the revolution in Iran, Mike’s grandfather was worried about what was happening and opted to get his family out of Iran. He moved them to America so they could build lives should the situation in Iran not get better. Mike’s grandfather is now in his 80’s and living in Beverly Hills. This man should write a book. To hear the stories of what this remarkable man did for his family is fascinating

Mike has no memories of Iran of course, but he knows the stories he was raised with. He has grown up with the memories of his parents and grandparents and the revolution. He has been raised hearing of their fear and disappointment. It is important to note that when he went to Turkey with his friends, they were going on a pilgrimage of some kind to be close to Iran, but that was not the case for Mike.

He was simply going on a trip with his friends. There was no great pull to the Middle East, he was not returning to see the country he left behind. Mike was raised being labeled Iranian while having no connection to Iran. He spoke no English as a child because his parents did not, so Farsi was the language spoken at home. This was a child raised in America who had a difficult childhood as an immigrant.

He had issues at school with bullying, language barriers, and parents who wanted to build lives here, all the while hoping they could leave and go home as soon as possible. It was a life of flux and feeling like you didn’t belong. To hear Mike speak of it is compelling. He struggled as a child, not sure who he was, or what he was, all the while hearing stories of the struggles in Iran for his family.

All those memories from his childhood came to the surface when he was in Turkey and he heard the call to prayer. We watched as he panicked, unsure what to do, and it was heartbreaking. As he stood in front of the Mosque, there are thousands of people around him, he is not sure what is happening, and all he can think about are the stories of his childhood from his parents. We watched as Mike cried at the moment he was overtaken by fear.

At that exact moment he thought of a million things and he was scared. It is that simple. There was no hatred, no anti-Muslim feelings, no intolerance, and no ignorance. It was simply a man, reliving a life of memories, and being scared. He did not go into the Mosque for no other reason other than fear, and the fear was personal. Mike was fighting his own internal battle and for people to assume the decision was based on hate or religion, is not logical or fair.

When Mike spoke to me of his time at the Mosque he was transported back to the moment and cried. I don’t want to embarrass him, but it is important for us to understand that this is a man who feels badly to have offended anyone with his choice. He now not only struggles with the feelings he had then, but the feelings he brought out in others. Mike Shouhed is a man who feels deeply.

Mike became emotional when speaking of the hate mail he has received. It hurts his feelings. Interesting to note that Mike reads all the things written about him, good and bad, because he learns from it and becomes better. When speaking of the episodes where he stood up for Sasha, he is able to relate his own childhood as an immigrant to that of Sasha as a gay man finding his way. Listening to Mike speak of Sasha made me love him.

I didn’t think I would like him as much as I did and when I told him I thought he was lovely, he said it was because of his parents. To hear him speak of his parents made me tear up a little bit. I want my son to speak of me when he is 35 years old in the same way Mike speaks of his Mother. This is a man who has feelings and emotions far beyond what we see on TV, and I wish his haters could spend 5 minutes with him, as opinions would change.

He is a compassionate human being. He is not perfect, and I don’t take back what I have written about him on the show, but I have seen a different side. He loves his girlfriend in a way that makes you believe in love and want it for yourself. He loves his parents in a way that makes me excited for my own son to become a man. He loves his faith in a way that inspires him to pass it on to his children. He is simply a nice Jewish boy, doing the best that he can.

This is a guy you want in your corner. He will lift you up and support your dreams for yourself because he supports you.  He cheers for the underdog, wants peace, prays for equality, and does it all through a very Jewish heart. His girlfriend Jessica is in the process of conversion and although not yet engaged, they plan to marry. To hear him speak of her is quite moving. He loves her, but there is a part of him that I sense feels lucky to have her. That is a great thing.

There are qualities in this man I hope my own son will have. He respects his parents, girlfriend, work, family, and faith. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, he did wink at me a lot when speaking and stared right into my eyes when I spoke, so perhaps it was that combination that has made me all mushy. I was crushing for a second so I want to reserve the right to call him a douche if I feel it necessary while watching the season finale of Shahs of Sunset next week.

I asked Mike to use three words to describe himself and he chose sensitive, determined and loyal. Mike told me he was excited about our interview and could not sleep the night before we met because he was nervous about speaking with the Jewish Journal. He is not as thick skinned as we think and the criticism hurts him, so he thought a lot about what he wanted his message to be to both fans and haters.

Mike said: “I am a person who believes in equality, peace, and love.  Was I always this way? Absolutely not.  I was a knucklehead and thought I was a tough guy, but I grew up and shed those layers as I grew older and gained wisdom. Now I want to live a life where I am leaving a legacy behind of helping others to live a life of abundance and happiness. To uplift and inspire. That is what I want to do. I want to be that person.”

I enjoyed speaking with Mike. He is sweet, funny, kind, sensitive, and aware. There is a video message below from Mike. My message to Mike is that I am proud of you. You are impressive and I wish you health, happiness and continued success. I look forward to coming to your parent’s home for Shabbat dinner. We better plan it quickly incase my blog pisses you off again, which it may, as I'm always keeping it real.