Nasim Pedrad Was Inspired To Make ‘Chad’ To Bust Stereotypes and Capture the Persian-American Experience
Nasim Pedrad felt there was something missing on television. It was her story. Rarely, if ever, is the Persian-American experience represented in popular media. The same could be said for many communities in the United States. While doing stints on multiple TV shows, including five years on “Saturday Night Live,” and roles in major films like Disney’s remake of “Aladdin,” Pedrad continued developing what would become her TBS sitcom, “Chad.” Pedrad is not only the main showrunner but she also plays Ferydoon Amani, a Persian 14-year-old boy growing up in suburban America who goes by Chad. It is freshman year and Chad is desperate to fit in. At home he lives with his mother, Naz (Saba Homayoon) and sister. Also living with them is Uncle Hamid (Paul Chahidi), the most Persian of the bunch who has stories to tell about life in pre and post-revolutionary Iran. But Chad would rather not even think about his heritage, he’s more obsessed with convincing classmates he lost his virginity over summer break. Funny, heartfelt and full of the universal follies of high school life. Pedrad’s “Chad” celebrates American diversity while delivering some hilariously cringe-worthy moments culled from when as teenagers our common sense stops working. Whether it’s bringing a sword to school Chad believes his father sent him from Iran, only to give it away to some jock for point-scoring, or hoping to look cool with Naz’s Black boyfriend, the show is brutally honest but full of naïve charm. Pedrad recently sat down with Entertainment Voice to discuss the making of “Chad.”
“I love writing about adolescence and mine happened to be very awkward (laughs). I feel very comfortable writing about awkward adolescence,” said Pedrad with the hint of someone who knows those formative years all too well. “I knew I wanted to create something that felt honest to my journey as an immigrant kid trying to fit in in an American high school. When I started to think about the coming-of-age stories I grew up with, I had never seen one where the teenager is played by an adult who’s in on the joke.” As Chad, Pedrad does such a convincing effort in pulling off the concept that we never stop to think of the character as an adult in teenage clothes. Deepening her voice, but perfectly bringing out the mannerisms and selfish whims of a teen, Pedrad completely disappears. At the same time, like another similar show, “PEN15,” we feel the nightmare of what it would be like to walk through those school halls again, like a trip back in time. “An adult can bring a perspective we have on why teenagers are so funny. Obviously teenagers don’t know what’s so funny about those years. They’re just living that nightmare. Like these moments can be funnier than sad because you’re not actually laughing at an Iranian child, you’re laughing at an adult that has years of distance from that painful era in our lives. You can get away with plot more and sit in the discomfort longer when you’re not watching a teenage actor suffer through it. So that was the kernel of that potential experiment. It’s what excited me.”
But for Pedrad, who was born in Iran but grew up in the U.S., “Chad” also contributes to an essential need to diversify the kinds of stories we see on television. “I’m just so grateful that a story like this can be told. Certainly when I was growing up most of the Middle Eastern representation I saw on television was predominantly negative. It was often times centered on themes like terrorism,” said Pedrad. Either Iranians are represented as fanatics in movies like “Argo” or flashy L.A. ballers in “Shahs of Sunset.” In “Chad,” the characters have Persian cultural traits, but the generational clashes or explaining your name to WASP classmates, is relatable to countless immigrant viewers. “I remember being a kid and being flooded with that kind of rhetoric, that kind of programming and stereotyping. I felt very alienated and also that it didn’t reflect the Persian-American experience that I knew, the Persian-American relatives that I had, or the Persian-American community that I grew up with. I couldn’t even relate to the limited representation I was seeing. Even when I graduated from theater school the representation that did exist was so negative.”
For Pedrad the idea of “Chad” came years ago when as a theater student, she decided the best option for an under-represented artist is to represent themselves and start writing. “It’s one of the reasons I began my career as a writer because the parts I wanted to play weren’t available to me. I knew if I wanted to play them I would have to create them myself. With ‘Chad,’ the notion of creating a Middle Eastern character that was written from an empathetic place, who had humanity and depth, who could be relatable to not just immigrants but all Americans, because everyone knows what it feels like to want to belong, or how horrible high school can be, that was so important to me. It had to be a show for everyone but through a Middle Eastern character who is relatable.” But at the same time Pedrad emphasizes the need to allow new shows to let communities really express their unique, particular experiences. “It’s not about checking off some box and having ‘the Middle Eastern person’ on TV. It’s about doing it with specificity, humanity and depth. When I was growing up I had never seen a half-hour comedy about a Middle Eastern family, and now you do see shows like ‘Ramy,’” said Pedrad in pointing out Hulu’s hit award-winning series about a Palestinian-Egyptian family in New Jersey. “You’re seeing other shows, where under-represented people are telling their stories and I like how we’re starting to see that change. I can’t wait until we get to the point where it’s no longer a novel concept but common. The truth is there’s a lot of diversity even within a Middle Eastern community! Not every Middle Eastern person’s story is the same. If you look at ‘Chad’ and “Ramy,’ there’s obviously a lot more different there. For example in ‘Ramy,’ it explores Islam from a more aspirational perspective.”
Movie star, comedy hit but now a showrunner, Pedrad’s creative energy is completely being taken over by the show. “I’m going to go straight from promoting season one to writing season two (laughs). I’m gonna go straight to the writer’s room. The network has committed to that and hopefully we’ll know within the next month or two if we get picked up for season two,” she said. “‘Chad’ is basically most of my calendar year. The writer’s room is about 13-16 weeks, then I’m shooting the show for a couple of months and then the edit takes a couple of months. Then I go from the edit to press and publicity. But I knew this would be all-encompassing. I knew it would be a huge undertaking especially given that I’m involved in every facet of the show. That’s why I was determined to make something I knew I would have a lot of fun playing. I knew I had to play someone I didn’t tire of playing, because, again, it’s most of my calendar year.”
But for Pedrad the journey is full of its own spontaneous pleasures as an actor. “For example, when we’re shooting, I often go off script and improvise. You can only spend so many weeks and months with the same jokes (laughs). But that’s why it’s so fun on set to open up takes and improvise. It’s to keep myself entertained, to keep the character funny. I’m so lucky that I get to make this and I feel especially lucky that I get to hire all these incredibly talented people around me. The other actors, for example, really help ground the character. Chad is so ridiculous but the teenagers around me are so grounded and the performances are so honest and real.”
“Chad” premieres April 6 and airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on TBS.