The Comedian: Nasim Pedrad

04Nasim_Pedrad_Refinery-118_R_SIZEDPhotographed by Rene & Radka.
For most comedians, landing a coveted spot on SNL is basically the holy grail of casting wins. But, this is not a story about getting the dream job; it's a story about leaving it. Last season, after five years of bringing memorable characters like Arianna Huffington and Kim Kardashian to our Saturday nights, Nasim Pedrad high-tailed it out of 30 Rockefeller. Her next move was basically fated, and with her star turn in the soon-to-debut sitcom Mulaney generating loads of critical acclaim (in the form of Seinfeld comparisons), it may also be a career-making one.
When Mulaney debuts on October 5, Pedrad will introduce us to Jane, the female lead. But, the show still stays close to her roots: It stars and is written by former SNL writer John Mulaney, and is executive produced by Lorne Michaels. "It feels very much like it’s in the family still," she told us. And, the members of this family seriously have each other's backs. In fact, it was Tina Fey who first suggested Pedrad get invited to audition for SNL after seeing her one-woman show, Me, Myself, and Iran at the Groundlings theater. Much like Fey’s own departure from SNL, Nasim's next step is looking like it could catapult this funny lady into a whole new stratosphere of stardom.

When was the first time you realized you were funny?
“I was in elementary school and, as a way of fitting in, I sort of stumbled upon the currency of telling jokes."

When did you realize that this could be a career? Something you could pursue for the long term?
"When I started doing improv after college; and then at the Groundlings I also started to write more. That was instrumental in my trajectory, because I realized the value in creating opportunities for myself as an actor instead of waiting around for the right audition to come along that I’m then competing with all these other people for. So, I began writing there, and I wrote a one-woman show called Me, Myself, and Iran, and that’s sort of what led to the whole process of getting to SNL.”

What was the audition like?
“It wasn’t lost on me that it was an incredible opportunity, even just to get the audition itself. And, it’s so hard even just to get those five minutes on that stage in front of those people, that even getting through it feels like an accomplishment in and of itself, because there’s only one show like that, you know? So, then to prepare for it and go there and get through it, you’re kind of like, whatever happens happens. I auditioned the first time with five or six different characters and impressions. And, then I found out they wanted to see me again in a couple weeks, and went back and did a completely new audition with different characters and impressions. And then, after that they said, ‘okay Lorne wants to meet with you.’”

01Nasim_Pedrad_Refinery-102_R_SIZED (2)Photographed by Rene & Radka.

So, how did you finally hear the news?
“I was wandering in Midtown, and then my phone died. I went to a store to charge it, and when I turned it on I had like, five voicemails. It was really exciting. I was very grateful to Tina Fey; she saw my one-woman show and suggested to them that I get the opportunity to audition."

How did you come to the decision to leave the show? What was that feeling like?
“Everyone knows there’s nothing like SNL, so I [didn’t] think it would ever be an easy departure, but I knew I couldn’t pass on this opportunity to play Jane. I got five years there; that’s pretty great.”

Which characters will you miss playing most?
Shallon and Heshy were two characters I played last season. Shallon was really fun to play this last season, because she was just a full idiot, and we were able to really have fun writing that one.”

None of us have seen Mulaney yet. So, give us a preview of Jane. What do we have to look forward to?
“She is a character I think a lot of women can relate to. John [Mulaney, the show’s writer and star] jokes that she’s obsessed with justice but has zero jurisdiction whatsoever over anything that happens in her life. And, she lives with these two stand-up comedians whose profession she could care less about. When John and I were trying to figure out who the character was, when he was writing the pilot for Fox, we had a two-hour discussion about this Huffington Post article that talked about using the word 'crazy' to describe a woman and the implications of that. And, it ended up making it into the pilot — Jane's first line in the entire show is, 'I am not crazy.' I think what some people call crazy can also just be having a dynamic personality. A lot of girls that get called crazy are just some of the most dynamic women out there.

“It cracks me up, because my guy friends will want to date dynamic women, and sometimes they’ll be like, 'That girl, I can’t. She was just so crazy.' Well, was she crazy or was she just interesting and dynamic? Also, you wouldn’t want to be with someone not that way. You never hear a guy say, 'Oh my God, I’m so into this chick. She’s like so moderate.’”
02Nasim_Pedrad_Refinery-367_R_SIZEDPhotographed by Rene & Radka.

Great point. What kind of similarities do you and Jane share?
“She’s very vocal and says a lot of the things that most people would self-edit. I’m not the best at bottling things up inside. In some ways it’s healthy, in other ways I guess it can terrify people at times. But, you know, she’s not passive-aggressive — she’s just aggressive. She’ll tell you exactly what’s on her mind, sometimes loudly and in a room full of people. But, you can trust that she’ll call people out on their shit. And, she has zero tolerance for idiots.”

Looking at the entertainment industry as a whole, what's your current perception of women in the space?
“I’m almost surprised people are still talking about it like it’s this novel, new thing. I grew up, borderline learned English, watching I Love Lucy. So, that was my example of just a funny person. She happened to be a woman, and was doing things that no one else had done at that time. But, first and foremost she was just an incredible performer and comedian.”

What makes you excited about the future of female comedians and female writers?
“The thing I’m most excited about is women in comedy being such a normal thing that no one’s surprised by it anymore. And, I feel like we’re way past needing to prove that that can be done. Obviously, in the last few years, there have been movies and TV shows that have shown that they can also be commercially successful.”


Do you recall any lessons that you picked up from a co-worker, from SNL or elsewhere, that helped your process?
“I remember [Will] Forte telling me — telling Jenny [Slate] and me when we started SNL — that that particular job, try to think of that job as a marathon and not a sprint. Because, it’s obviously so physically and emotionally taxing, you have to be able to last. In a lot of ways it’s a game of survival.”

03Nasim_Pedrad_Refinery-275_R_SIZEDPhotographed by Rene & Radka.
What’s the absolute best piece of advice you could give to someone who wants to have a career like yours?
“I think if you’re interested in comedy, the best thing you could do is to put yourself in a school like the Groundlings or UCB, and provide yourself with that structure of taking classes, performing, learning, growing, even failing sometimes, and growing from that. You have to just do it. And, that’s one way to do it — to sign up for classes and immerse yourself in a community of other people that also love to perform.
“Another piece of advice: I remember our first day in the theater department at UCLA, they told us, 'If there’s anything else you’d be happy doing in your life, do it, because this is not an easy industry.' And, on some level, that’s true. You really have to love it and not be able to live without it — you’d be crazy doing this without absolutely loving it.”

Your parents brought your family here from Iran when you were three. What do they think about your success as a comedy actress?
“What’s really cool is that they were always incredibly supportive, even though I’m sure on the inside they were shitting their pants that they immigrated here and that their daughter, with a four-year degree, decided to pursue comedy. I’m not sure they even knew what that meant or was going to look like. But, that’s what makes me even more grateful that they were supportive of it. And, then my little sister also went into comedy, and at that point they were just like, 'What happened? How did this happen?'"


Since you have so much experience with improv and live performance, any advice for thinking on your toes?
“I remember my first show on SNL. I got a card from Kristen Wiig. I opened it, and on the inside it just said, 'Have fun.' It’s so simple, but an incredibly easy thing to forget when you’re in a pressure cooker like that. I’m so grateful to have been reminded to do that, because I think when you’re having fun, especially in comedy, it really shows.”

Hair by Bethany Brill; Makeup by Riku ; Styled by Emily Holland ; Photographed by Rene & Radka.

Look 1: Apiece Apart shirt and pants; Topshop coat; Italia Independent sunglasses; Alexis Bittar rings.
Look 2: Chadwick Bell dress; American Apparel T-shirt; Adidas sneakers.

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