Before Nasim Pedrad impersonated Kim Kardashian and Ariana Huffington on Saturday Night Live, she impersonated Dora the Explorer at children's birthday parties. This was a low-budget operation, definitely not sanctioned by Nickelodeon. Pedrad had to assemble her own costume, complete with a backpack from Target. "Needless to say, parents were very disappointed when they opened the door and saw that they could've, like, asked a local cousin to do this same thing for free."
In her latest project, the live-action TBS comedy Chad, Pedrad plays a kid again — but this time, it's a character of her own creation. Pedrad created the series and plays the titular 14-year-old boy, Chad.
The rest of the show's teenage cast is played by actual teenagers. Pedrad explained the concept to NPR's Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg: "What if we told a coming-of-age story where the teenager at the center of it was played by an adult who has the perspective that an adult has as to why teenagers are so funny?"
Pedrad pulls from her own experiences as an Iranian-American growing up in the United States. She said playing the lead gives the audience permission to appreciate the absurdity of Chad's experiences. "Funny moments get to be funnier and less sad if you're not sitting there laughing at an actual Iranian child," she said
Pedrad is also a lifetime fan of I Love Lucy. For her Ask Me Another challenge, she was tasked with remembering how the sitcom's most famous episodes ended.
On being in Guy Ritchie's 2019 'Aladdin'
It was definitely the biggest thing I've done in terms of scale. I mean, I showed up on set and was like, 'Wow. The money was SPENT, guys...' No corner of the set was spared.
On navigating the comedy world with her sister, Nina
We had immigrant parents so we didn't understand what Hollywood or having a career in comedy even meant. I thought it would be cool to be a comedian in the way that it's like, cool as a child to think of being an astronaut or Rihanna. Like, yeah that sounds awesome, is there a sign up sheet? How do you do that?
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JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Thanks, Jonathan. It's time to welcome our special guest. She was a cast member on "Saturday Night Live" for five years, and now she created and stars in the new TV series "Chad," where she portrays a 14-year-old boy navigating his first year of high school. It's Nasim Pedrad. Hello.
NASIM PEDRAD: Hello. Thank you guys so much for having me.
EISENBERG: I love talking to comics, comedians, actors about early gigs because they're they're always good fun. And I read that when you were starting out, you had a gig dressing up as Dora the Explorer and going to children's parties.
PEDRAD: Starting out with the deep cuts. Yes, I did.
EISENBERG: But I read that the company didn't really provide you with a decent costume.
PEDRAD: No, they didn't. It was pretty - it was - budget was always a concern with this...
PEDRAD: ...Company. And the vibe was basically like, are you a criminal? No? Cool. Do you want to work for these birthday parties? And that was all it took. In my mind, I was like, you know, oh, my God. Like, I get to play a princess. Can I be Princess Jasmine? Will I be in these, like, amazing costumes? And they were like, you're going to be playing Dora the Explorer...
PEDRAD: ...That, like, tomboyish child who's friends with a monkey.
PEDRAD: And you're going to have to figure out your own costume. So best of luck to you. I had a wig...
PEDRAD: ...Which just looked like a short bob. And then, pretty much, just, like, short leggings and a T-shirt and a backpack from Target. It was like...
COULTON: Yeah, the backpack, the famous backpack.
EISENBERG: That's it.
PEDRAD: (Laughter) Yes.
EISENBERG: That's it.
PEDRAD: Needless to say, parents were very disappointed when they opened the door and saw that they could have, like, asked a local cousin to do the same thing for free.
EISENBERG: So you were born in Iran. You moved to the U.S. when you were 3 and grew up in California. And you and your sister both gravitated towards comedy, but not only that, succeeded. Your sister is a comedy writer. She's written for "30 Rock" and "New Girl." So, you know, how did that happen that both of you got interested in, you know, pursuing a career in comedy?
PEDRAD: We truly have no idea, like, coming from (laughter) our parents who are funny but, like, not intentionally funny. We had immigrant parents. So we didn't understand, like, what Hollywood or having a career in comedy even meant. I thought it would be cool to be a comedian in the way that it's, like, cool as a child to think of being an astronaut or Rihanna. Like, yeah, that sounds awesome.
PEDRAD: Is there a sign-up sheet? Like, how do you do that, you know?
PEDRAD: You know, I won't speak for my sister. But for - she - I mean, she's just inherently - from the moment she could talk, was just born hilarious and funny. For me, you know, growing up, comedy was a way to belong because it really evens the playing field. If you could make someone laugh, it doesn't matter that you have a weird name or that you, you know, have parents that have an accent or that you're, you know, unique in a certain way.
EISENBERG: Yeah, acceptance.
PEDRAD: Yeah, exactly. So that's kind of - that's how I grew to find it.
EISENBERG: So you sort of said - you said your parents were funny, but not in the - like, was your - did you joke around?
PEDRAD: Like, we laugh at the things that they say. But we're like...
EISENBERG: Right. Right, right, right.
PEDRAD: I don't mean to sound rude. It's not like I'm laughing at them. I love them so much. But, you know - and they'll kind of laugh with us and not totally understand what's funny about it.
PEDRAD: And we're just like - but yeah, no. I - we grew up in a household that was always laughing. Like, they do sometimes intentionally make us laugh, too. I don't mean to say that they have absolutely no sense of humor.
PEDRAD: But, I mean, I had aunts and uncles. I was lucky enough to have a big Persian community made up of family, friends and relatives and, you know, distant cousins and - that were really silly and fun. And a few of my relatives were properly hilarious and would, you know, impersonate other family members. And I would just...
PEDRAD: ...Watch. You know, I had an aunt that was particularly hilarious. And as a kid, I would just watch her and, like, study her. And so I was lucky. There was a lot of - I was surrounded by a lot of laughter.
EISENBERG: And so, you know, you were on "Saturday Night Live" for five seasons. And you were known for your impressions - speaking of, like, studying people - Arianna Huffington, Kim Kardashian. And I read that when you auditioned, you auditioned with, like, 10 or more impressions.
PEDRAD: Some impressions, some characters. I think I even did Kim Kardashian in my initial audition. I might have even done Dora, come to think of it.
EISENBERG: That's awesome.
PEDRAD: Come to think of it because...
COULTON: See and you thought when you were doing that job...
COULTON: ...You thought it was just a dead end.
PEDRAD: Exactly. And you guys...
COULTON: But it was basically...
EISENBERG: Like, wait a second...
COULTON: ...How you got your "SNL" job.
PEDRAD: Thanks for making me realize I have a lot to be grateful for with job.
PEDRAD: It did come full circle for me, I guess.
EISENBERG: So your new show on TBS called "Chad," you created it. You wrote it. You star in it. You do all the things.
PEDRAD: I do a lot of things.
EISENBERG: Yeah. And, you know, it's interesting because women voice boy characters all the time, like Nancy Cartwright in "The Simpsons." but you don't see it in live action. How did you, as an adult woman, sell this?
PEDRAD: Well, it wasn't a traditional pitch in the sense that I was already in a development deal with the network when I got the...
PEDRAD: ...Idea. They, I would assume, expected me to write a show where I'm playing a woman my own age.
PEDRAD: In their defense...
PEDRAD: ...That's a very reasonable assumption. And I was like, or I could play this 14-year-old boy. But it was a little scary to the network, maybe. You know, it is a bit of a swing. If you don't get people on board for that buy-in, how will the pilot, let alone the series, sustain that? To me, what was so interesting as an experiment was, what if we told a coming-of-age story where the teenager at the center of it was played by an adult who has the perspective that an adult has as to why teenagers are so funny, right? Like, teenagers don't know what's so funny about being a teenager. They're just sort of living it through.
PEDRAD: They haven't had the luxury of being able to reflect on how, you know, ridiculous that time can feel, how terrifying it can feel. Funny moments get to be funnier and less sad if you're not sitting there laughing at an actual Iranian child, you know what I mean?
PEDRAD: It does change the show. It changes the makeup of the show. If you were watching an actual teenager, it just - it changes the experience, you know?
EISENBERG: Yeah, the other cast are high school kids.
PEDRAD: They are.
PEDRAD: And that was so important to me because to have the audience willing enough to suspend their disbelief that I'm Chad, it really was important to me to ground everything around Chad. And so not only did it help my performance, but I think it helps sell the show and the, you know - the premise of the show to have the actors around Chad be actual teenagers that are earnestly engaging with him and grounding him in a way, you know?
PEDRAD: Because you just see them behaving completely as they would if they were acting opposite an actual 14-year-old child actor.
EISENBERG: Yeah. And, you know, Chad's personality is - well, he's desperate to be popular.
PEDRAD: Yes, he's very thirsty. Yes.
EISENBERG: That's very clear. But since we're talking about his character, what are some of the things that you are thinking about?
PEDRAD: You know, like you said, he has this rigid determination to be popular. That's what he wants more than anything. He's really his own worst enemy. Like, he gets...
PEDRAD: ...In his way more than anyone. It's not a coming-of-age story where - you know, like, in the more traditional sense, coming-of-age stories, a lot of, you know, ones that I grew up on, there was a bully, you know? And the main character was oftentimes actively being bullied, and that bully was the bane of their existence. But with this, I kind of thought it'd be more interesting to not have Chad be bullied. And, you know, the cool kids around Chad are actually quite progressive and tolerant of him. They're pretty nice.
PEDRAD: They just kind of don't notice him, which to him is even worse somehow.
EISENBERG: The worst, yeah.
PEDRAD: But yeah.
EISENBERG: So I also just have to ask you - you were in the live action remake of the Disney movie "Aladdin" in 2019. And your...
EISENBERG: ...Character, Dalia, was the only new main character added to the adaptation. So, you know, did appearing in a huge Disney blockbuster kind of change your life?
PEDRAD: Oh, my gosh.
PEDRAD: It was definitely the biggest thing I had done in terms of scale.
PEDRAD: I mean, I showed up on set and was like, wow. The money was spent, guys.
PEDRAD: The money - no corner of the set was spared. It was just - you know, I wasn't totally sure what to expect. I had put myself on tape and improvised a bunch of different versions and just...
PEDRAD: I gave them, like, different options. So by the time I got cast, I was like, what do they want me to do?
PEDRAD: Which one? Which take? And what I came to realize was that Guy Ritchie is just incredibly collaborative, and he insisted that we have these true rehearsals. Like, a lot of times when you're blocking for TV or film, it's not really a - like, an acting rehearsal. It's more of just, like, a blocking rehearsal. Like, go stand here.
PEDRAD: Say this line. Go over here. But to his credit, like, he - it almost felt like we were rehearsing for a play every day, and I mean that in the best way. Like, he really got into it and would ask us questions about, where is this character at? What do they want? Like, what can we find on the day? So I didn't even know I'd get to do that, so it was really fun to be able to have that experience.
EISENBERG: All right. Nasim, are you ready for an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
PEDRAD: Let's do it (laughter).
EISENBERG: OK, so you told us that as a kid, you loved watching "I Love Lucy."
PEDRAD: I did. Oh, she was so good.
EISENBERG: How did you come across that as the thing that you loved?
PEDRAD: It was just on...
EISENBERG: All the time.
PEDRAD: ...All the time.
PEDRAD: And so it was just kind of a two-for-one in the sense that I was learning about comedy and literally how to speak English as well at the same time because my parents were speaking Farsi or, you know, Persian to me so that I didn't lose that, either. And so some of my earliest memories of living in America is just, like, sitting down and watching "I Love Lucy." And to, you know, see someone that funny and so ahead of her time, like, for a woman to get to be that silly, you know, at the time that her show was on...
PEDRAD: It's pretty remarkable. And she was just obviously the best. Like - so I have a lot of nostalgia associated with the show. That being said, I also have a horrible memory, so let's see how I do on this quiz.
EISENBERG: So yeah. So based on that, we do have an "I Love Lucy" trivia game for you because we were told that you can remember what happened at the end of almost every episode.
PEDRAD: Who told you that (laughter)?
COULTON: Uh-oh (ph).
EISENBERG: It's OK. It's all right. It's all right. We're going to do this together.
PEDRAD: We're going to make this work.
EISENBERG: It's going to be great.
PEDRAD: Well, we're about to find out (laughter).
EISENBERG: Yeah. So the game is Jonathan and I will tell you how an episode of "I Love Lucy" begins, and then you tell us how that episode ends. So in the classic episode "Job Switching," Lucy and her best friend Ethel try to prove that they can work jobs, while their husbands, Ricky and Fred, try to prove that they can do the housework. So Lucy and Ethel take jobs at a candy factory. Ricky and Fred attempt to cook. What happens? How does it end?
PEDRAD: The belt speeds up.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yes.
PEDRAD: And they can't keep up with the chocolates that are flying by them. So am I wrong to say Lucy starts to eat them and shove them in her hat?
EISENBERG: Yeah, that's all right. That is correct.
PEDRAD: OK. Cool. Cool. Cool.
EISENBERG: Yeah. Do you remember what happens with Ricky and Fred?
PEDRAD: Drawing a blank with those two on that episode. What happened with them?
EISENBERG: Yeah. They make a mess. They're terrible at cooking.
PEDRAD: Oh, my gosh.
EISENBERG: It's a catastrophe.
PEDRAD: That was what my gut was telling me. I should have gone with it.
EISENBERG: That's right.
EISENBERG: And then - yeah. And then there's, like, a little - the button is that Ricky and Fred give Lucy and Ethel a 5-pound box of chocolate as a gift.
PEDRAD: Oh, that's right.
EISENBERG: And it's like, yeah.
PEDRAD: Remember this - it's like, remember this trigger?
EISENBERG: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
COULTON: All right, here's another one. "In Lucy Does A TV Commercial," Lucy gets a gig promoting a health supplement called Vitameatavegamin.
PEDRAD: Vitameatavegamin (laughter).
COULTON: Yes - which contains 23% alcohol. The commercial is performed live during a musical variety show hosted by her husband, Ricky. How does this one end?
PEDRAD: She gets wasted, right?
COULTON: She gets wasted.
PEDRAD: She gets wasted on live television.
COULTON: That is correct.
PEDRAD: And she starts slurring her words, and it does not go well. Yes.
COULTON: That is absolutely correct. And she, at some point, drunkenly interrupts Ricky's singing performance during the live broadcast.
PEDRAD: Yes (laughter). Yes, she was just wandering the set.
COULTON: And he ultimately has to carry her off stage. Yeah.
PEDRAD: That's right. That's right.
EISENBERG: Come on.
PEDRAD: I remember that performance. I'm like...
COULTON: Yeah, really brilliant.
PEDRAD: So good.
EISENBERG: So good.
PEDRAD: So good.
EISENBERG: And, yeah, that one is incredible. And actually, there's a world record - as you know, there's a lot of world records that Lucille Ball lookalikes love to try to achieve.
PEDRAD: Oh, my gosh.
EISENBERG: And there was a world record for the most Lucille Ball lookalikes, which is 915, by the way.
EISENBERG: Just imagine that - like, you know in the way that one lady bug is sort of adorable, but, like, 915 would be frightening.
EISENBERG: But they are under a Vitameatavegamin sign...
EISENBERG: ...In Jamestown. Yes.
PEDRAD: Oh, that's awesome.
EISENBERG: Yeah. All right. I remember this one. In "Ricky Has Labor Pains," Ricky starts developing the same symptoms as his pregnant wife - nausea, dizziness, stomach pains. His doctor says it's because Lucy isn't paying enough attention to him.
PEDRAD: (Laughter) Wow.
EISENBERG: And he's feeling neglected. Lucy convinces her neighbor Fred to throw Ricky a daddy shower.
PEDRAD: Oh, my gosh.
EISENBERG: I'm so surprised that this just didn't take off, by the way - the whole idea of a daddy shower.
PEDRAD: A daddy shower.
EISENBERG: And Lucy and Ethel get suspicious when they hear Fred refer to it as a stag party. How does it end?
PEDRAD: How does it end? How does it end? OK, so he had a baby shower.
EISENBERG: A daddy shower.
PEDRAD: They did the daddy shower, a stag shower. I mean, I definitely don't remember this, but I'm just going to take a wild guess.
EISENBERG: Yeah, great.
PEDRAD: Did the women dress up as men and show up? Yes? Am I right (laughter)?
EISENBERG: I mean, basically.
COULTON: That's correct (laughter).
EISENBERG: Yeah. They dress up...
COULTON: They try to blend in by being one of the guys?
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah. They dress up as newspaper reporters that are supposedly writing a trend piece on daddy showers. So, yeah, that's exactly it. And, of course, it...
PEDRAD: I wonder if that episode was reverse-engineered - like, if they started from, let's have Lucy show up...
COULTON: Yeah, right, right.
PEDRAD: ...In this. And then how can we get there, I wonder.
EISENBERG: That's possible.
PEDRAD: To have been a writer in that writers' room. What a fun room it must have been having someone like that.
COULTON: All right. This is the last one. In "Lucy And The Loving Cup," Ricky is hired to present a trophy honoring horse jockey Johnny Longden. Lucy buys a new dress and a fuzzy hat for the event. Ricky thinks the new hat is ridiculous. How does it end?
PEDRAD: Oh, I absolutely remember that clip of her getting her head stuck in it. Am I crazy?
COULTON: Yes, that is (laughter)...
PEDRAD: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That's it.
COULTON: Yeah. It ends with Ricky presenting the trophy to Johnny...
COULTON: ...With Lucy...
EISENBERG: That's right.
COULTON: ...Still stuck...
COULTON: ...With the trophy on her head.
PEDRAD: ...(Laughter) Her head, yes.
COULTON: And they just never in the episode revealed if she gets the trophy off.
PEDRAD: They ran out of time.
PEDRAD: They had to cut to commercial. They didn't have time to wrap that up.
COULTON: Yeah, that's right.
EISENBERG: They were like, that's the wrap.
PEDRAD: Yeah. Go out on the joke.
EISENBERG: Go out on the joke.
PEDRAD: She's wearing a trophy.
COULTON: Go out on the joke. That's right.
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EISENBERG: Nasim Pedrad's new TBS show, "Chad," is out now. Nasim, thank you so much for joining us.
PEDRAD: Oh, my gosh. Thank you guys so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
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EISENBERG: That's our show. ASK ME ANOTHER's house musician is Jonathan Coulton.
COULTON: Hey. My name anagrams to thou jolt a cannon.
EISENBERG: Our puzzles were written by our staff, along with Madeline Kaplan, Cara Weinberger, Emily Winter and senior writer Karen Lurie. ASK ME ANOTHER is produced by Travis Larchuk, Nancy Saechao, James Farber, Rommel Wood and our intern Sophie Hernandez-Simeonidis. Our senior supervising producer is Rachel Neel, and our bosses' bosses are Steve Nelson and Anya Grundmann. We'd like to thank our production partner WNYC. I'm her ripe begonias.
COULTON: Ophira Eisenberg.
EISENBERG: And this was ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR.
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