Nasim Pedrad is a funny lady. She was first cast in her breakout role on Saturday Night Live back in 2009, where she stayed as a cast member until 2014. After her stint on SNL, Pedrad had several other roles on sitcoms including Fox’s Mulaney and New Girl as well as Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens, where she stood out against the rest for her performance as Gigi Caldwell. Lately, Pedrad has been busy working on her own new show for TBS, Chad. The series follows a young boy who’s attempting to gain popularity for himself and his best friend as they enter high school together, all while navigating his Iranian heritage that he pushes away from himself. Pedrad not only stars in the show, but also serves as creator and showrunner on the series, proving that she can really do it all.
Pedrad recently hopped on Zoom with AwardsWatch to discuss her new series, the highs and lows of popularity in high school, and how her father has his own place in the show.
Tyler Doster: Let me start by asking you, how did you come up with this concept?
NP: As I was this coming up with and developing the character, which was now like five years ago, it was really just making me laugh. And I really thought I could just disappear into looking like a little dude and get as far away from myself, the actor, in playing Chad with the help of the, you know, I knew it would take the right wig, and the eyebrows, and the posture, and then the slight dropping of my voice and all of those things that make up the character. And before even landing on those components, I just thought it would be really cool to tell a coming-of-age story where the teenager at the center of it’s played by an adult who’s in on the joke, because actual teenagers don’t yet know what’s so funny about being a teenager. They’re just sort of living it, but as an adult who has some distance from it and is on the other side of it, I just felt like you could bring some fun nuance and specificity to the performance. And really just push the comedy a lot further, because cause funny moments can be funnier and less sad if you’re not sitting there watching an actual Iranian child, but an adult who has some distance from it, suffering through some of those adolescent moments that we explore.
TD: That’s totally understandable. I know when I was watching the show as an adult, I got to see a lot of different things that as a child, as a teenager, I wouldn’t have noticed about being a teenager.
NP: Right. Exactly.
TD: So you were always the choice to play Chad, like even whenever you were coming up with the idea, you always were going to play him?
NP: 100%. Yes. Which was understandably met with a lot of confusion at first. And now there are other shows that also explore that. Obviously like they do such an amazing job on PEN15, but when this was first in development, yeah, it definitely read as a bit of a swing in terms of the conceit at the center of it with an adult woman playing a 14-year-old boy. But to me that was just the entire DNA of the show, because of what I just mentioned in terms of the perspective, and distance, and nuance that an adult can bring to it. That was the goal anyway. And I was just so lucky to have found a home that really understood that and loved that about it. And the fact that TBS is also in the cable space allowed me to be a lot more creative with the narrative as well when we were in the writer’s room. And to let the show live in a little bit of messiness at times. I don’t know that I would have been able to get away with the same material if the show lived on network television rather than cable. So it felt like a great fit in that regard too, just tonally and sensibility wise.
TD: When you started pitching this, how many networks were you just going around to different networks and telling them about the idea? And how was that received?
NP: I had a development deal initially with one network at 20th, and they were wonderful enough to let me develop something there. And I think they were looking for maybe a different kind of show than this, which is very understandable, like I said. But I think when I finally landed on this idea, it was just too hard for me to part ways with it without at least giving it a shot. I was too excited. I mean, it’s so rare to feel as excited and inspired as I ended up feeling with this. Those moments can be few and far between, and so the fact that it was really making me laugh, and the way that it felt just special, and different, and unique, and something that I could really be excited to be involved in every facet of, that made me feel like it was worth sticking with it. And all you need is one place to say yes. And so they were on the fence about it, but I was lucky enough that they let me shop it around. And then that’s when ultimately I pitched it to TBS and they fully understood it, and let us make a season of Chad.
TD: As a creator that must be an amazing feeling when you finally get to somewhere and they give you that yes that you’ve been searching for.
NP: Totally, totally. And I understood why it was, you know, it’s a buy-in at the center of the show… And at that time I hadn’t really been done quite in this way where you’re really just like following this one character in a half hour comedy in this way. So it did feel weird and odd, but I really just saw it. I saw it so clearly, and I understood the character so clearly, which is also incredibly helpful. A lot of times when you’re developing things the writers’ room sometimes can feel tedious if you’re not completely clear on who the character is, or what their comedic dynamic is with the other characters. And so the fact that that all felt pretty clear also just made the writing so much fun, and it was a lot of work, but it didn’t feel tedious, or it didn’t feel like work. It was just like, okay, we know who this boy is. We understand his pathology. He gets in his own way more than anyone else. Now, what situations can we put him in where we can kind of explore the comedy of that? And so, yeah. And I just got really lucky that I ended up with such talented writers, such an amazing crew. And so you can have a great idea, or a kernel of something that you’re excited about, but without the support of other people that are really talented at their jobs helping bringing that vision to life, you’re quite limited. So luckily I wasn’t, and yeah, we’re all pretty thrilled that the first season is finally out and people can watch it.
TD: Yeah, definitely. The collaborative process it’s really it brings out the creativity of everybody. So I can assume that once you got into a writer’s room with this, it was even more exciting.
TD: Speaking of Chad putting himself into these kinds of situations, I wanted to ask you the pilot revolves around this lie that Chad tells to his classmates that he has had sex over the summer.
TD: And the lie catches up to him. Whenever you guys were discussing this, was this always going to be the lie that he tells? Was it always going to revolve around him losing his virginity?
NP: You know when I was breaking the story for the pilot, because I’d shot a different pilot a few years back when it was at a different network, and when I was kind of breaking the one for the TBS version that ultimately became our pilot, I knew I wanted him to, in a moment of panic, and in a desperate moment of trying to gain some sort of social traction with the popular kids, I wanted him to blurt out a lie. You then find out through the series he can have a bit of a compulsion when it comes to lying. But I wanted it to be something that the lie goes too well, right? People actually buy it. And I wanted it to be something that wasn’t just a lie, but a lie that he couldn’t possibly live up to because he’s also really caught between childhood and adolescence. So the fact that he lies about having sex over the summer, which clearly he has not had sex, it ends up overwhelming him because he has no idea even really how to lie about it. And he’s not yet ready for sex. In fact, he’s put in a position where he’s basically challenged to follow through on that and he can’t, and it builds to him just crying to his mom that he just wants to play video games with Peter. So the idea behind the lie was something that would really send him into a spin-out and it felt fun to have that lie just be that he lies about having sex.
TD: Was there any part of playing a teenage boy that you found either surprisingly difficult or surprisingly easy?
NP: Maybe because I’ve now been with the character for so long, by the time we got to shooting season one in Portland, I was able to really… It’s at this point just for better or worse in my bones a bit, and I was able to kind of get in and out of him pretty quickly, but I think that’s also because I just can’t emphasize enough how much really his exterior shell informs everything. Like the wig, and the eyebrows, and the posture, and the gait, and the binder I wear and the baggy clothes. Like once all of that comes together every morning as I head into the hair and makeup trailer, it really informs the performance. And when I was first developing the character, there was a bit more of like, all right, well, how does he sound? And I would just improvise as him until I kind of landed on his mannerisms and his idiosyncrasies.
But once I discovered those things, it was just a matter of keeping him consistent. And it is really fun. I certainly did interview a bunch of actual teenagers to make sure that we got it right. It’s obviously a show that’s in many ways inspired by the awkwardness of my adolescence, but I wasn’t a teenager in 2021, so we wanted to make sure that with it being set in present day, it just felt as real and honest as possible. So we did end up speaking to a lot of our writer’s room, actual teenage boys, and all of that felt incredibly helpful, but yeah, it’s really just more than anything fun to play him. It’s fun to improvise as him. I think when you have clarity on who a character is, that’s kind of the hard work, and then you get to just make it funny and have fun.
TD: Bringing up that it kind of comes from your own adolescence and the other writers and stuff, I wanted to ask you about Uncle Hamid. He so consistently wants to understand and care for Chad, even when Chad’s being Chad. Was he inspired by anyone in your real life or was that a conglomeration of like all of you guys discussing the character?
NP: He was directly inspired by my own father, who in the episode that just aired where Chad goes on this adventure with his uncle to find the LeBrons. My actual dad is in that episode, he plays the character of Mohsen. He has one line in the episode, but he was so wonderful, and it was so fun to have him join us. But yeah, the uncle is inspired by my dad. My dad was a little more dialed in and perhaps more assimilated than the Hamid character is, but the core of his just crushingly, sweet human spirit, and just a bundle of love, all of that. The heart of Hamid is very much based on my dad.
TD: That’s really interesting to find out. He’s such an fascinating character to me because, like I said, he’s always trying to care for Chad and support Chad, even when Chad is just not even interested in him.
NP: Yeah. Much like my father, who, again, my friends would meet and be like, oh my God, your dad is the sweetest man on planet earth. And you would never know he suffered a revolution when he was living in Iran and the things that him and my mom, really intense things that they went through and proceeding their coming to the United States. There’s this whole backstory there, and you get a glimpse of that with the Hamid character. You wouldn’t believe what he’s been through and the harrowing things that he’s experienced. And so that felt interesting to me. And also, I think a character like that creates an interesting tension for a character like Chad, because Chad’s in pain, and by virtue of that, he’s incredibly selfish. Right? And so, because he just wants to fit in, and because he just wants to seem American. He’s at an age where he’s like really trying to downplay his Persian heritage. He’s trying to downplay the part of him that makes him feel different, right? I certainly did. Maybe not to the extreme that he did, but it wasn’t until I was older, that I was able to celebrate my cultural identity. And now I feel so grateful that yes, I feel very American and that I grew up here, but I also love this other part of me, this beautiful culture that I grew up experiencing through my aunts, and uncles, and my parents who all came here from Iran. So I think when you’re a teenager and you’re trying to downplay that, you’re both embarrassed by your foreign relatives at times, but you also love them so much. And the tension that that creates, I think, was something I was excited to explore. You’re torn, you’re caught between these two cultures, and you’re sometimes embarrassed by your family members, but you don’t want them to know, because he also love them so much. And so, Hamid being the one that’s maybe the least assimilated right now, I thought would just create some interesting tension for our young boy at the center of this show.
TD: I think it works perfectly. It’s such an interesting dynamic to be able to see.
NP: Oh awesome. Thank you. That was the hope anyway.
TD: Another thing that’s prevalent in the show is popularity. Popularity in high school, what it means to be popular. It seems to be a main theme of the show, as it is in real life. Chad attempts to gain popularity pretty much through any means throughout the show. Why was that so important for you to include?
NP: I just feel like it’s such an accessible and relatable theme. Everyone who went to high school understands that need of wanting to fit in, and wanting to belong. And yes, Chad happens to have a rigid determination to be popular because you find out maybe things weren’t so easy breezy for him and Peter in junior high. And he’s hell bent on changing that. He’s hell bent on not letting high school be that way. He’s thirsty and desperate to feel accepted by his peers. And he’s willing to do it at all costs, which is where a lot of the comedy comes in. But I was also really interested in exploring a show where the teenager at the center of it isn’t being actively bullied by his peers. We’ve obviously seen a lot of coming-of-age stories that do that, where the popular kids are just ruthless to the teenager at the center of the show.
But I was excited to write a show where, well, what if like the kids around Chad, even the popular ones are generally pretty tolerant and accepting of him, and it’s really Chad that gets in his own way more than anyone. I just thought that would be fun, and different, and ultimately also funny. Reid, the popular kid, he’s in therapy dealing with what a pain in the Chad is. And our main character just can’t help himself. He gets his ass handed to him by something he often does. And yet, doesn’t lose hope that tomorrow it could be different.
TD: I absolutely love the fact that you guys didn’t include any kind of bullying. That Chad’s his own worst enemy. I think that that’s an interesting decision that really makes the show even more elevated, to be honest.
NP: Oh, that’s so cool to hear. Yeah. I mean, yeah, I was like, I haven’t seen that as much. So it was just fun to break stories where, what would that look like? And then, in the penultimate, the second to last episode of the season, sending us into the finale episode, Chad actually does gain some social traction with the popular guy. And so that was I think that’s the next episode coming up actually, episode seven, where he gets as close to being Reid’s friend as possible. And I don’t think it’s a spoiler alert to say that it does not go as Chad would have ideally liked for it to go. But then it sends us into the finale where we ultimately end season one on a bit of a cliffhanger.
TD: For my last question, I was just going to ask you kind of something simple. So you’re the star, the creator, the executive producer, the showrunner, you do it all on this show, which one of these roles do you most enjoy?
NP: I mean, that is so tough. I think like any TV show or movie exists in three very distinct stages. It’s kind of one thing in the writing phase. We had 14 weeks in the writer’s room, and I was so lucky to have had the writers that I had, that that part was genuinely so fun. Just riffing as Chad and coming up with different storylines and situations to put him in. Then you’re in the second phase of once it’s up on its feet and you’re shooting it, and it kind of feels like its own thing in that stage. And you make changes from what it was on the page. And then the third stage of it is obviously the edit, which is really where you’re still crafting the narrative and there are so many decisions to be made in the edit, especially on a show like this, where we improvise and open up takes. And it’s not like a procedural, where you’re really kind of sticking to the script more. So there’s so much fun even in the edit. And it takes on a bit of its own identity there. So I can honestly say each of the three allow for so much creativity in their own way, that it’s really fun. The one part of the middle stage of actually shooting the show, that’s really exciting is obviously getting to improvise, because that’s where you’re just the most free and untethered to any specific notion. And just seeing if you can come up with things in the moment that make yourself, or ideally the crew laugh. And so there’s a special joy that comes with actually shooting it. But I don’t know, I feel lucky to be involved in all three, and I’ve never taken anything on like this. I mean, normally as an actor, you’re a guest in someone else’s home, and you kind of show up and do your job, and they take care of it from there. And you hope you just give it your best. But it was really cool to be able to create something from scratch, and then just hire all these talented people around me to help bring that little idea to life.
TD: That sounds awesome to me. That sounds like all three jobs would be just incredible.
NP: Yeah. It’s cool to see something through. From its early nascent stage to, oh my gosh, we now have a season of television under our belts and it really takes an army. I mean, you have to rely on other incredibly talented people to help bring the vision to life. You really cannot do it all. But luckily I had an amazing crew, and amazing producers and writers, and people that also really understood the show. It’s not in many ways the most obvious show. It’s very specific in a lot of ways. And so the fact that everyone I worked with got the sensibility and tone was really huge for me. So I feel very lucky in that regard.
TD: Well, it sounds like an incredible experience. Thank you so much for talking to me today. This has been incredible conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it.
NP: Me too, Tyler. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Season one of Chad aired on TBS. Nasim Pedrad is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
Photos: TBS; Sami Drasin