Nasim Pedrad as the teenage Chad
Nasim Pedrad knows that life's funniest moments can be both deeply personal and universal in nature.
So, the actress and former Saturday Night Live writer-performer decided to create a show based on her experiences as an Iranian immigrant growing up in America — and make it one that could resonate broadly.
The result is Chad, a comedy about a 14-year-old boy who's seeking popularity and his own cultural identity as an Iranian American. It premieres April 6 on TBS.
The twist most viewers won't see coming is that Pedrad also stars as that teenage boy. "I believed that if an adult could bring nuances to the performance," she says, "it would really push the comedy further."
Playing Chad makes Pedrad a creator, writer, executive producer, showrunner and star, a workload that went into limbo when the pandemic shut down production in March 2020. Only six of the season's 10 episodes had been shot.
She began editing from home, and when production resumed in August, Pedrad decided that only two of the last four episodes were needed to complete the season.
"We were block shooting, so we filmed episodes out of sequence," she explains. "One good thing was that the [seasons] had changed, so we were able to pick up some sunny exterior shots we didn't have before."
Born in Tehran, Pedrad came to the U.S. with her family when she was three. She always wanted to be an actress but found few interesting roles. Most characters with Middle Eastern backgrounds, she says, were written as villains.
Playing Chad, she points out, is like playing her adolescent self: he's a late bloomer, as she was. For the teenage Pedrad, though, it became easier to connect with classmates when she learned she could make them laugh. And when she discovered theater and improv, she found her passion.
After graduating from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, she wrote and performed with the Sunday Company at The Groundlings and also appeared at the Upright Citizens Brigade. That's where Tina Fey saw her.
In 2009 Pedrad joined the cast of SNL, where she made her mark for five seasons. Now, in Chad, she's probing what it means to be an American boy in a multicultural society. Her character's divorced mom (Saba Homayoon) is dating for the first time. So, in many ways, Pedrad notes, mother and son are on parallel journeys, both navigating new phases of life and longing for social acceptance.
"I like exploring messiness," she says. "The episodes don't always end with a happy, lesson-learned feeling. But they still show hope."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 2, 2021