Iranian-American actor, writer and director Vahik Pirhamzei is of Armenian ancestry. He has come a long way from his humble beginnings in the suburbs of the 1970’s Tehran where as early as age 10 his love for drawing would grow into a journey in other forms of visual arts. His early talent for presenting stories and at times performing them for friends and family made him the local star. Vahik found himself preparing puppet shows based on favorite and sometimes original stories. However the civil unrest in the turbulent Iran of 1978-79, led to the fall of the Shah and the Pahlavi dynasty. This big change, and the rise of an Islamic republic now governed by clerics eventually caused many Christians like Vahik to leave their native land. Leaving his childhood home was an emotional and difficult task for Vahik who was just 16. Through the rough mountains of Iran he arrived in Turkey, where he had to weather many difficulties and move on towards peace and freedom. In 1988, after arriving to Mettmann, Germany Vahik had to familiarize himself quickly with a brand new culture, the language and his new surroundings while keeping his creative passion alive. In true artistic nature, where no boundaries can restrain it, he registered to attend painting classes in local German schools in order to continue expressing himself through the universal language of the arts. He soon found people responding to his talent end encouraging him on his path.
After arriving to America in 1989 Vahik settled in Los Angeles where he would find many of his Iranian countrymen and artists in exile. He engaged in auditions and freelance work on cable TV programs taped in Farsi for the large Iranian viewers in the southern California market. On these TV programs, Vahik started writing, directing and often starring in short comedic sketches depicting immigrant life in Los Angeles. The struggling producers of these weekly TV shows suddenly found their phones flooded with phone calls by happy viewers as Vahik’s brand of humor hit the airwaves, allowing him to have face recognition by appearing in over 300 originally scripted comedy skits. Now, in demand by Iranian playwright and theatre directors in Los Angeles, Vahik took to the stage in over 25 stage productions, performing in various cities across north America and beyond: Los Angeles, Irvine, New York, Canada and overseas in the U.K., contributing to the unprecedented success of Iranian theatre outside Iran.
Vahik soon began scripting his own plays, in Farsi and received great support both by the industry and the Iranian theatergoers. As his first original production called “Sky Blue” hit the stage in Los Angeles, offers and encouragement for more original work poured in. Continuing his growth as an artist, Vahik made time to get involved in digital editing and hone his craft, this time, behind the camera as the director of some of the most memorable music videos for Iranian, Armenian and other middle eastern artists. The major artists Vahik has directed to date include Iranian superstars: Moein, Googoosh, Kamran & Hooman, and Armenian pop sensation Armen, just to name a few. The success on stage and on TV was followed by the TV debut of The Richmond Comedy Club, a weekly one-hour, comedy show where Vahik had more artistic freedom to inject his views and topics in a tongue-in-cheek manner – a major success being aired, in syndication, on various Iranian TV programs to this day. To entertain new audiences and go beyond the comfort zone is a welcomed challenge to most artists and often an instinctive nature. In 2004 Vahik did just that by launching a weekly entertainment news and variety show called World Entertainment Connections, financed independently by him and soon after by eager advertisers, airing on cable the greater L.A. market (Charter / Time Warner cable) reaching over 200,000 cable homes every week. Most importantly, a loyal, English-speaking audience of Iranian and Armenian viewers were recognized and targeted while drawing from Latino and viewers of other nationalities by showcasing artists in world music and world cinema, plus one-one-one interviews with these major artists who would not typically get lots of exposure on corporate based American media. The show connected filmmakers, musicians, and many entertainers with their fans. Next door to WEC’s independent operations in Glendale, CA, the big American studios, such as DreamWorks SKG, Warner Bros. and surrounding entertainment companies took notes and started offering promotional items to WEC’s loyal base in order to generate interest for their own productions and releases. The show was launched on more zones and airs today in selected zones in its southern California cable market.
Enter Uncle Rafael
Challenging his boundaries yet again, Vahik returned to stage this time trying his hands on writing an entire play in Armenian language, something he had never done. A completely different language with a whole set of alphabets and different cultural codes to achieve both the uncharted and yet the very familiar waters of comedy. In his new play, Vahik would appear in multiple characters along side his real life wife, Anahid Avanessian, supported by a large ensemble cast, a first in many ways: big production, big sets, and even bigger comedy. ”Mez Lavootchoon Chi Egell” (“Kindness is lost on us”) hit the spot with its Armenian theatergoers demonstrating the struggle of keeping up appearances in an image-based Los Angeles where the residents of this melting pot are in constant competition for more. During the second act of this massive hit audiences came to meet and fall in love with Vahik’s most recognizable character to date, the straight-shooting, quick witted, Rafel Keri (uncle Rafael). For the role Vahik had to transform into a 68 year, limping Armenian senior from the old country now living in L.A., an old man who may seem out of his element but not out of touch with reality. The success of the play earned Vahik the prestigious Armenian Comedy Award in 2007 for best Armenian play, both inside and outside Armenia. Furthermore, two spin-off productions took the stage this time focusing on the daily life of uncle Rafael and his dysfunctional, hilarious family: “Rafel Keroo Gandzer’e” (“the treasures of uncle Rafael”) and its sequel, “Rafael Keroo Bardez” (“the garden of uncle Rafael”) both written, produced, directed, and starring Vahik, and a bigger cast. During their long and successful run all 3 productions were awarded numerous awards In addition, it was the first time in the history of Armenian theater where a special award was presented in a brand new category, an award recognizing a “character,” the beloved Rafael Keri for which Vahik was asked to take the stage as the beloved uncle, in full make up and in character, achieving a somewhat Chaplin~esque style of blurring the lines between reality and fiction. Uncle Rafael captured hearts and was catapulted to folk hero status where many Armenian organizations and TV programs requested his appearance in variety shows and news programs, requiring Vahik to become the elderly charming uncle sometimes on the drop of a hat, a transformation so intense that fans and even friends often forget that it is their own Vahik under all that make up. Blurring lines, indeed!
Today Vahik is busier than ever, maintaining his position as the executive producer of the World Entertainment Connections cable TV show while starring as Andy on the hit TV show “Immigrants,” an Armenian crime drama airing on USArmenia TV network, here in Los Angeles. In addition, Vahik is deeply involved in the pre-production phase of his American film debut where he will appear as the beloved uncle Rafael and his son Hamo, in English, and on the big screen for all movie lovers to enjoy.