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Persian Looney Tunes

Written By Roger Sedarat
Cover Art by


Torn between the constraints of old tradition and the radical modernism in a box set of Looney Tunes dvd's brought to him by a cousin visiting from Miami, Amir reconciles the tension of his background within intransigent, punk art.

Editors’ Note

The comical outlandishness of Amir's "play" combined with the story's Islamic, Middle Eastern backdrop cleverly personifies Edward Said's concept of otherness. As Sedarat writes: "In the spirit of the ubiquitous pun in Persian language and literature, the protagonist Amir serves as 'a mirror' of American popular culture that invades his native Iran."

Though everyone credited the rooster Amir first painted in 4th grade as his great beginning, his first real artistic turning point occurred even earlier, around his performances of the Looney Tunes. At 10 years old his favorite teenaged cousin Shideh came with her family from Miami to visit him in Shiraz. As her parents unloaded the extra suitcase filled with gifts from America, she raced over to him with a box wrapped in paper with what he’d soon learn were pictures of Tweety Bird and Sylvester the cat. “This one’s for you, Amirjan!” 

He watched them with all of his parents along with his aunts, uncles, and cousins, who cracked seeds so loudly and commented over each 7 minute episode that Amir already longed for a time when he could have the show all to himself. How crazily wonderful were these animals. Of course they were funny—the cat from the wrapping paper so tragically doomed to failure and the rabbit outsmarting the bald hunter proving among his instant favorites. But as the grown-ups laughed and pointed out obvious ironic moments and the kids younger than him applauded and fell over as the giant dog he would soon learn was a coyote fell several kilometers to the ground, he already felt somehow superior in his understanding of it all. 

It was more than mere antics or the idiosyncratic voices funny even to those who didn’t understand English (like many of his generation his parents had thankfully immersed him in the language since preschool). There was something special—miraculous even—in the totality of the aesthetic experience. The tension of the classical music his father always played as he painted in his studio positioned against such absurd scenarios played out with characters drawn so perfectly simple that they seemed to him more interesting than any humans he’d grow up to meet for the rest of his life. 

That night he set his alarm before the first call to prayer beyond his window, imagining instead of the muezzein on the loudspeaker he hears the rabbit and the duck singing the song to their dance steps. He only remembers one phrase from it, “On with the show this is it,” but it played throughout his dreams with the rest of the cast—from the fast mouse to the giant rooster—appearing on his unconscious stage. He positions his blanket right in front of the TV in the living room with his bowl of sugar cookies and a cup of milk. Turning the volume low enough so his parents and the fresh batch of relatives visiting from Tehran won’t wake up, he watches almost two dvds all the way through, so entranced he even forgets he has to go to the bathroom until his mother appears. 

“What are you doing up so early, Amir, and eating pure sugar for breakfast!” 

He can’t bring himself to pull away from the man who discovers a dancing frog that refuses to perform for money. She turns the TV off and stands in front of it.

Sayyyyyy…what’s the big idea!!!” replies Amir, attempting his impression of one of them—Yosememite Sam—for the first time. 

“Come to the kitchen. I’ll make you a proper breakfast.” 

She heats up the fresh bread in the toaster oven as she takes Nutella for him and feta cheese along with cucumber for her and his father out of the fridge. As she begins to chop the cucumber he asks for carrots. 

“Carrots? For breakfast? Since when?” she asks, half smiling as she goes back to the fridge for a couple, which she peels and rinses in the faucet. 

Amir sticks out his front teeth, and chomps into it in rapid succession. 

“Awww….what’s up Doc?” he asks, in the nasal voice of Buggs Bunny, already hands down his favorite. 

“Oh Amir you’re being silly,” she replies, now cutting the cucumber. 

He cradles the carrot in his hands, like a kitten, then begins to sing longingly, in English: “Oh carrots are divine you get a dozen for a dime it’s magic!!!” 

“Shhh…you’ll wake your father!” admonishes his mother. “Those American cartoons are going to corrupt you,” she says, “They’re very violent, and they teach bad manners. I’m only going to let you watch a little now and then. And no more today. Now eat your breakfast and drink your juice.”

Of course he knew she couldn’t keep him from his new obsession. Already it hurt even physically to be away from them, like Rumi when his beloved teacher Shams went missing. But it wasn’t enough just to know that within an hour she’d abandon him for yet another entire day of painting like his father would later in the afternoon. Channeling the most rebellious, destructive model he can summon in the moment so full of sugar, he begins growling and salivating, then sends himself viciously spinning as the Tasmanian devil through the living room. It was as though he’d become some wild dog—considered especially dirty in Islam—rabidly crashing through all semblance of normalcy in the family home. 

He’s sent to his room as his father wakes up in a rage and his mother is left to clean up the pieces of broken lamp and a vase. The sugar crash hits him as he lies on his bed, almost in a kind of coma. Despite his parents yelling at him, he’s sorry for nothing. Soon his father will lock himself in his studio to paint, getting drunk throughout the day, while his mother won’t surface from her room until it’s time to make dinner. He will watch and re-watch as many episodes as he can. 


On afternoons and long Fridays his adult relatives at the garden are so grateful for his shows that occupy all of the usually menacing children for hours at a time. Now and then they might step into the upstairs tv room just to check on their own kids and laugh a little at Amir’s antics, but for the most part they let him do his thing, just grateful to be free of their responsibilities to supervise. 

At first he entertained the little snot-nosed masses of cousins and second cousins simply by acting out every character in every episode as they appear on the screen beside him. Off hours he’d devote all of his playtime to constructing what he’d need for each episode, always improving his go-to costumes like his rabbit ears or duck bill. 

To recreate one of his favorite moments in all of television, he’d even gotten his cousins Bobback and Farbad to carry up an old abandoned TV he’d found in the shed, the kind made out of real wood with the giant dial for the channel changer. Riding his bike early one morning to the garden, he sneaks upstairs with tools he’d taken from his father’s studio. First he drags two mattresses from a room on the first floor of the garden house outside, directly underneath one of the upstairs windows. He unscrews the back of the TV, then after yanking and cutting out all constricting wires, he rips out the bigger components. Putting a sheet down in front, he smashes the screen with a hammer. Then he knocks out all remaining glass. The-clean up takes longer than the destruction, but it was worth it for the big show later that afternoon. 

With his audience glued to the working TV set along with his performance alongside it, they laugh as he runs around in his black and white outfit with whiskers and a red nose stuck on his face and a long tail c pinned to his butt. He’s painted an actual stuffed nightingale yellow and tied it with strong to his belt. Chasing the bird around with the same stumbling moves as Sylvester after Tweety Bird, the kids all hoot and holler. Then in another episode, when his model cat creeps back inside granny’s house to eat the kitten’s food, only to suddenly discover that he’s caught behind the TV screen, so too does Amir find himself behind his own emptied TV set.

Aware of appearing as himself in a show, he joins the famous cat in breaking the 4th wall. Holding up a can of tuna fish labeled like the original cat’s “Pussy Kins Cat Food” in one hand with the sign, “Ask for it by Name” in his other hand, they both blink knowingly. Then with a foolish grin they dance awkwardly as they sing in time to the commercial jingle:

 “Pussy kins cat foot tastes real good 

Satisfies cats like a cat food should 

Hardens their muscles softens their fur 

Pussy kins cat’s cat food makes them purr.” 

Amir then sends himself flying, as if having been thrown out the actual window like Sylvester by the old woman on the real screen beside him. The danger of the fall draws a collective grasp. All the kids panic until his cousin Esan runs to look out the window, screaming, “He’s okay!!! He’s okay!!! 

Delighted as always to serve as his passive audience, all of his young relatives sitting crisscross applesauce clap and laugh so loudly that by the time Amir comes back upstairs he is followed by one of the old men from the garden below who creeps up to tell them to pipe down. 

This was Uncle Ali Mohammad, his father’s eldest brother, who’d often stumble into the room in various degrees of drunkenness. He yelled in a slobbering slur at the room full of toddlers, Shut the hell up, raving about how they were trying to recite great lines of poetry and couldn’t concentrate. This time as the kids cower in terror, Amir fearlessly grabs one of his seemingly endless carrots picked daily from the garden. Chomping on it, he walks up to the bald man with the big belly, and ask, “Aaaaaa…..what’s up doc?” 

The room explodes with nervous laughter. While his uncle rages and stomps his foot to scare them all into momentary silence, when he turns to leave Amir in his rabbit ears sends him off with one of Bugg’s famous sarcastic lines. “So long screwy…see you in saint louie!” This brings renewed laughter, and even more applause, while solidifying his position as their true leader. Overjoyed at the triumph of their claims upon the upstairs room, without Amir asking they again settle down in greater obedience than to their preschool teachers, waiting patiently to watch whatever episode he next had ready for them. 

All along, however, as he keeps workshopping his own performances he’s been training his minions for theirs. Two months into an especially hot summer, one day he turns the dvd off. “Nooooo…..!” they all cried, starving for the repetition of his mimicry just like he did for the original show. 

“Wait! Wait!” he yells, waving his hands down upon them as if to cool off their outrage. “You know it all now…like me. Instead of just watching Looney Tunes, who wants to play Looney Tunes?” A chorus of kids screamed so loudly the old men sent his own mother up to control them. 

After assigning his young relatives various roles and doing what he could to get them in costume, with Ali Reza as the new Sylvester and Miriam his youngest and by far the cutest cousin as Tweety Bird, they rehearse the scenes they watched and saw their great teacher act out. Baback, stocky and inherently ornery, made the perfect Yosemite Sam, especially in the cowboy hat Amir made for him by cutting and refiguring one of his mom’s hats with her sewing equipment. Eson and Elhan, brother and sister, wanted to take turns as roadrunner and coyote, so no argument there. Though nobody would ever have thoughtlessly asked Kaveh to play Porky Pig because of his stutter, he himself volunteered. Ironically, he had a hard time stuttering once he’d put on the foam pig nose and ears. 

Without question Amir would stay eternally as Buggs, and to that end he kept perfecting more and more of his costume. Soon he ended up with an entire rabbit suit. The other roles were flexible, and some got to play two or even three parts. For some reason, though, Amir was never satisfied with anyone as Elmer. He’d let everyone, even his teenage cousin Farhang, try on a stocking for the appearance of baldness, then cover it with a brown hat he’d painted red in the back. Still, despite the rifle he created out of cardboard tubes used to ship his father’s special paper, nobody seemed to pull it off. So they all took their turns, and he learned to live with what they could offer. 

After rehearsal, they started to take their show to the garden, performing their little seven minute skits for various packs of relatives able to give them their attention. To a point the grown ups seemed encouraging, stopping their backgammon and ping pong to watch the coyote chase the roadrunner by flapping wings made from umbrellas Eson took out of a box labeled ACME. After his exaggerated fall from the heights of a chair, they’d all clap then return to their own entertainment. 

The old men, though, had none of it. Invariably if they got within earshot the same irascible Uncle Ali Mohammad would complain, now more than ever. Even worse, he’d get his otherwise seemingly tolerant reciters of poetry on his side. 

“Hey! Hey!” he said, clearly drunk in the early afternoon. “We are discussing poetry right now, so shut the hell up! Or else…I’ll give you all spankings!” He raised his hand as if to swat their backsides. From a safe distance, Amir once again munched on a carrot, saying, “Ehhhh…what’s up doc?” With his pack of animated animals under his direction, he would count off the time to the big song and dance opening. “Okay, ready? Yek, do, seh!” Just as in the show, they all came out dancing and signing. 

Overture, curtain, lights 

This is it, the night of nights 

No more rehearsing and nursing a part 

We know every part by heart 

Overture, curtain, lights 

This is it, we’ll hit the heights 

And oh what heights we’ll hit 

On with the show this is it

 Having seen the routine so many times, most of the grown-ups would just tune it out. Ali Mohammad, though, had reached a breaking point. Already too drunk to recollect lines from Hafez he was to recite at the shab-e-sher, after downing the lukewarm tea his niece had brought him, he threw the glass as hard as he could. It smashed against the wall, but shards reached Amir, still dressed as Buggs, actually hitting him in the side of the head.

His entire Looney Tunes cast stood still, waiting for his reaction. Touching the bleeding wound near his real ear, then raising his fingers to show the blood, he declared with eerie calm, “Of course you know this means war.” 

But those expecting an immediate and comically violent reaction were soon disappointed. Strangely, and rather tragically, the show stopped for a while. Completely stopped. Amir started dressing like himself, and despite the constant pleading of his entourage, he refused to act his part as Buggs or direct the others. He wouldn’t even join some in going back to watch the original in the TV room. Soon burned out on the reruns, the kids just congregated near, but not too near, their disaffected leader. Some wore their costumes for a while and tried acting out scenes on their own, but soon they too abandoned the get up. Though it went without saying, all of course hated Uncle Ali Mohammad more than ever. 

Every so often Amir would leave them altogether, or at least try to, walking beyond the walls of the garden and into the streets and alleys. There was considerable construction, with workers laying pipes for some new buildings. He stood beside a hole, a new one that seemed rather deep, beside a mid-size digger with the fresh dirt on the teeth of its scooper. “Hey Buggs, are you going in that hole?” asked cousin Ali Reza. 

“Yeah, you going to hide from Elmer Fudd?” asked Bobback. 

He brushed them off as he kicked a little dirt into the opening, clearly studying what was down there. Soon he returned to the garden, and they’d all settle into some new routines of kicking a soccer ball and eating watermelon near their parents. 

Then one Friday early evening, when most adults beyond the old men reading poetry had decided to pay a visit to a sick relative before coming to the garden, Amir showed up in his bunny suit. His cousins were dying to join him again, but instead of directing them, he just stared at his Uncle Ali Reza, so the kids all stared at him too. Since the old man’s wife was not around he seemed to allow himself to get especially drunk. At one point he tried to get up for the restroom, then fell back down in his chair. Even worse, since the kids weren’t misbehaving, this time he started to take out all of his bullying aggression on his small circle of friends. 

“Heeeey Emmmmmdod,” he said, slurring his words. “You don’t know shit about Hafez. You know that? You think you’re so fucking special with your PhD. I’m surprised you passed kindergarten. And Hisham, yeah…you Hisham!” he continued, as the men looked to each other. “You only stay with us because your wife…she looks like an old goat…and your kids are even uglier.” 

His pack of friends and relatives soon had enough, and decided to take a walk without him. As the drunk old man dropped his head on the table, Amir as Buggs Bunny now sensed his chance. Clipping on his father’s crisp white collarless shirt and his mother’s white gloves, he went to the portable sound speaker on a nearby table. He’d once played dj for his father at a gathering, mostly just choosing from songs on a preset list, something his dad hoped would keep him busy and out of trouble. Thankfully, though, it had given him just enough instruction for this performance. 

Putting on Rossini’s opera, like Bugs before him in the episode from “Rabbit of Seville,” he stuck a comb in his hair and picked up a pair of scissors and a razor he’d taken from the bathroom. Then, he started to sing along to the intro, just like in the episode:

How doooo! 

Welcome to my shop 

Let me cut your mop 

Let me shave your crop! 

Daintily! Daint-til-ly! 

Hey yoooou! 

Don’t look so perplexed 

Why must you be next 

Can’t you see you’re next? 

Yes, you’re next! 

Yoou’re so next!

How about a nice close shave 

Teach your whiskers to behave 

Lots of lather lots of soap 

Please hold still don’t be a dope 

Now we’re ready for the scrapin’ 

There’s no use to try escapin’ 

Yell and scream and rant and rave 

There’s no use you need a shaave! 

As the kids started to applaud and scream in delight, he began pouring drops of oil on his drunken uncle’s bald head. In time with the violins, he manically rubbed it in, all the while looking at his usual audience of eager children who cheered him on. 

“Buggs is back!” they cried, “and look what he’s doing to Elmer Fudd!” He then took off his dampayees and took turns lifting each foot high above him, awkwardly rubbing the oil into his uncle’s head with his toes. Then he went away, to the kitchen, with the music still playing. That panicked his audience, and they all screamed, “Come back, Buggs come back!” Thankfully he soon returned with a container of homemade whip cream and a bowl of fruit. Even though they knew he’d make a circle of white with the cream, then balance bananas, apples, and grapes on his head, it still profoundly amused them. They all chanted now, in unison, “Buggs! Buggs! Buggs!” 

When he added more cream on top, followed by a cherry, even though his uncle made no acknowledgement like the original Elmer as Amir held up a mirror for his client to see his new hairdo, the recognition of the details from that episode killed them all with laughter. Of course they wanted to see him in a turban, like a mullah, playing a flute as a razor came out of a basket like a snake to bite the old mean man on the behind. For that matter, they’d also wanted the whip cream to have been sprayed around his head, as opposed to dolloped on with a spoon. Like Amir, though, they’d learned to make do, using their imagination to fill in the blanks. 

Children charged with great imagination, just to see Amir gesture toward key moments was more than enough for them to fill in the rest. As Amir sat next to the old man and called for the kids to rock, and even try to raise his chair, though they barely could move the old man back a few centimeters they could easily pretend they were enacting the infinite ascension of the barber’s chair to the climatic classical music. 

Completely in sync with their fearless leader, when he next reached down to take off the old man’s shoes they beat him to it. As a few of them together heaved his bare feet onto the chair where Amir had been sitting, Elhan ran to a room where her older sister spent a lot of her nights since a big fight with her parents. In less than a minute she returned with the nail polish, which Amir put on the old man’s toes. 

Of course there was no cement to affix to his face and let dry in a block before chipping off. But when Buggs cried for a container full of mud, all his minions went scrambling. He waited then, with the music playing, his gaze right before him as though in front of a camera. Soon he had options: pots and pans filled with dirt from the garden moistened with water from the tub, flour mixed with water from the kitchen, and even their grandma Taj’s leftover fesenjan. 

Near the end of the song, Amir went for the mud, packing it on the old man’s face, which they tilted back for maximum exposure. Though a little off script, Amir allowed the addition of fresh tulips picked from the garden, which he planted on his drunk uncle’s upper forehead with more handfuls of mud. 

As the music ended and Amir took a bow, his ears flopping down to his knee caps, the garden gate opened and they saw the pack of his relatives, including his parents and, much worse, Ali Mohammad’s wife. Instantly she registered what was happening. She raised her purse, swinging it wildly as she ran toward Amir. He zig zagged around her, then took off into the lemon trees. Though his wife couldn’t keep up, she now had a host of adults on his trail, including her athletic youngest son Mirdad in his 40’s, who years ago had played semi professional soccer. 

But Amir as Buggs could weave in and around the legs of these grown-ups, slipping passed them with a kind of poise. It helped of course to have the kids cheer him on. At one point, back near the outdoor tables where the family would have the big meals, he grabbed a cloth napkin and held it like a bull fighter’s cape. As Mirdad ran to grab him, Amir took two quick hops to the side. Seeing Amir now in the episode of Buggs fighting the bull, a couple of them grabbed tulips off the old man’s head and threw them at their hero matador. 

They gasped when Mirdad did grab him by the arm of his rabbit costume, but Amir quickly twisted out of it, then charged for the garden door. The pack of grown ups all followed, of course, then the kids after them, running into the dusty twilight of the outside village. Here and there kids did what they could to impede the pack of adults, jumping onto their own parents back and even running ahead and stopping short, forcing them to fall onto the gravel road. 

Though Amir was obviously fast, he still ran with the ironic grace of his character, kind of half skipping now and then, when he’d sensed he had a decent lead. Though quick at the start, however, the legs and lungs of his fiercest opponent was soon proving too much for him. The footsteps in dress shoes got so close he knew he’d be grabbed any second. But just as Mirdad reached with both hands for his neck, he plunged, feet first, down into the hole. It’s as though it really were a real episode, where he once again evaded capture by Elmer Fudd and others. At first in anger, then in real concern, his father shined a flashlight down in search for him. The fall looked much further than they’d imagined, and though they could ultimately see the ground below, he didn’t seem to be anywhere around. Soon his mother was calling frantically, “Amirjan, of course you are in some trouble, but we love you and won’t let you get hurt. Please just come out where we can see you…we need to know you are okay.” 

As her voice echoed through the hole, his audience all got very still. They wanted, even had to believe, he was okay. Now, however, they had some doubts. At first cheering for Buggs, suddenly the kids called him by his real name. “Amir! Amir! Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Eson got on his knees by the edge, as if to climb down, before his father stopped him. “I need to save him! He’s…he’s down there!”

Soon the adults decided to send someone for some rope, in the hopes of hoisting someone down in search of him. It would take some doing, for at least over an hour, and by the time Mirdad reached the bottom and shined his light, in real distress he cried out, “I don’t see him! He’s not there. I mean, did anyone see him actually fall into the hole? I’m not so sure now. Maybe at the last minute he made it look that way?” 

As his father now called the authorities, who would also get down there and look, some of the parents soon took their kids to bed partly out of fear of what they might find. All the while, though, Amir was back at the garden. Having fallen down the hole on a mattress he’d dragged there earlier, then out of sight upon landing, like Buggs before him he’d found an alternate escape route through a narrow passage deep underground. Now with a pillow and blanket taken from one of the guest rooms, he settled into bed between rows of corn. Chewing a carrot he plucked directly from the garden, he said as if to a camera in front of him: “Ain’t I a stinker?”

About The Author

Roger Sedarat, an Iranian-American writer and translator, is the author of four poetry collections: Dear Regime: Letters to the Islamic Republic, which won Ohio UP's 2007 Hollis Summers' Prize, Ghazal Games (Ohio UP 2011), Foot Faults: Tennis Poems, and Haji as Puppet: an Orientalist Burlesque, which won Word Works 2016 Tenth Gate Prize. A recipient of the Willis Barnstone Prize in Translation, his fiction has recently appeared in Construction Literary Press, Book XI: a Journal of Literary Philosophy, Caesura, The Nonconformist, Kestrel: a Journal of Literature and Art, and Plato’s Cave. Selections from his emerging collection of fiction were awarded a 2022 Grant from the New Jersey Council of the Arts. He teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Queens College, City University of New York.