Nasim Pedrad, a five-season veteran of “Saturday Night Live,” says her TV show, “Chad,” streaming on The Roku Channel, is “loosely inspired” on her memories of being an Irvine immigrant teen.
It’s not the first time Pedrad has drawn from what she calls “a typical OC childhood.” On “SNL,” she played a hyper high school student in a skit based on her years at University High, where she was president of the drama club.
Creativity runs in the family: Pedrad’s younger sister, Nina, is a TV and film producer and writer who has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and their father, Parviz, is a recurring character in “Chad.”
Pedrad, who played the handmaiden Dalia in the 2019 live-action movie “Aladdin,” wrote, produced, and stars (yes, as a 14-year-old boy) in “Chad,” which Entertainment Weekly dubbed a “gem.” We recently caught up with her to ask how growing up in Irvine influenced her comedy.
Will Ferrell has said that growing up in Irvine made him funny. What did an Irvine childhood do for you?
My parents insisted on moving us to Irvine because of the fantastic public schools. They wanted to make sure that Nina and I could attend a school system that would nurture our education, which, incidentally, Irvine completely delivered on. Looking back, Uni was such a unicorn, because not only did it provide such an incredible education, but it was public, with racial diversity and socioeconomic diversity. I’ve come to realize that’s special and rare. I feel so lucky I was able to go there. Time moves slower in Irvine, and I cherish that about it now. It’s become my docking station when I need to recharge. Especially after a busy workweek in L.A., I’ll head there for the weekend to slow down, shut off from work, and enjoy my mom’s delicious Persian cooking.
What brought your family here from Iran?
My dad, who later became an engineer, had a student visa to attend UC Berkeley and was living there when he met my mother. They had every intention of starting a family in Iran, but then when the Iranian Revolution happened in 1979, he decided it would be more prudent to raise me in the U.S. They went back to sell their house and wrap up their lives – and that’s why I was born in Iran.
What made you want to become a performer?
My mom came from a creative family. My grandfather was a poet in Iran, and my uncles and aunts are all highly creative, some as a hobby and some professionally. At a young age, I was surrounded by very funny relatives, and performing was always a big part of our gatherings, as we roasted each other and told jokes. For me, comedy was always a tool for fitting in and making people laugh and connecting with other students.
How did University High contribute to your later career?
At Uni, I was immersed and engaged with everything to do with performing arts, including being head of the drama club and fine arts commissioner of the student body.
Will Ferrell was before my time there, but we both have nothing but fond memories about that school. We both had Dan Wroblicky (for physics), and he was so entertaining. I also had a drama teacher, Daniel Trevino, who was incredibly supportive as I was finding my way as a performer. I remember the letter of recommendation he wrote for me for UCLA. He wasn’t so mushy in person! He was tough on me, but I always knew it came from a place of pushing me to grow and to thrive, and I needed that.
What are some of your best memories from growing up in Irvine?
I remember weekend movie marathons at the theaters, an endless array of community swimming pools to use, and getting lost at the Spectrum.
I’ve heard you were a fan of “SNL” years before you were a cast member, from 2009 to 2014.
In high school I wrote in my student will, “See You on ‘SNL.’ ” But it always felt like a reach. I wanted to be on ‘SNL’ in the same way kids would want to be Rhianna or an astronaut. It sounds great, but how do I actually get there? So I decided I would apply to the theater program at UCLA, which involved a pretty rigorous application process. I was either going to do that or be pre-law at UC Berkeley.
How much did you draw on your own experience in writing “Chad,” which is set at “Westpark High School”?
I wanted to write something that felt authentic to my experience growing up as the child of immigrants. When you’re an immigrant kid, it’s like there’s this extra obstacle to get through, and you can often feel caught between two cultures.
As much as I loved my time growing up, as an immigrant kid you have moments when you’re told you’re not Persian enough and not American enough to fit in, and you’re surfing between those two cultures. I have memories in junior high when a teacher couldn’t nail down ‘Nasim’ and kept calling me ‘Nissan.’
Still, I wouldn’t say I’m too close to the character of Chad. I mean, he’s a complete pathological liar! I didn’t go to the lengths Chad does to become popular. But that’s sort of the comedic engine of the show, about a kid who’s willing to become popular at all costs, and you still love him because you know it’s coming from such a sweet and desperate place of wanting to fit in.
Season 1 of “Chad,” which previously aired on TBS, launched on The Roku Channel on Aug. 25.