When it comes to sitcoms exploring the challenges of adolescence and maneuvering through high school, awkwardness is pretty much a guarantee. For Nasim Pedrad and her new TBS sitcom Chad, the 39-year-old actress and showrunner ensures audiences will both cringe and laugh by embodying her protagonist, a 14-year-old Iranian boy who is desperate to fit in.
Walking the hallways of Westpark High as Ferydoon “Chad” Amani, the Saturday Night Live alumna portrays a teen desperately trying to become popular in all the wrong, embarrassing ways one can. At times, this means Chad downplays, or sometimes fully ignores, his Persian heritage. No matter the amount of advice or warnings (lots of warnings) Chad receives from those close to him — his single mom Naz (Saba Homayoon), his loving Uncle Hamid (Paul Chahidi), or his best friend Peter (Eighth Grade‘s Jake Ryan) — he seems to be a magnet for humiliation and embarrassment.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Pedrad ahead of the sitcom’s April premiere to discuss her choice to embody a teen boy herself, how Chad’s identity struggles reflect her own experiences growing up Iranian-American, and why the show will be relatable for all (unless you were one of the popular kids, perhaps).
How does it feel to have this series finally come to life on TBS?
It’s been a real labor of love. I wrote the first draft, I think five years ago and it’s been a real journey getting it here. I think for me it was worth the wait that it ended up landing at TBS, which seems to have been such a great fit for the show.
What was your initial inspiration for the series? And the choice to embody a 14-year-old Persian boy yourself?
I love writing about adolescence and the awkwardness of that time. So it was important to me to create something that felt honest to my experience growing up as an immigrant kid in America. I also just thought it would be a cool experiment comedically to tell a coming of age story where the teenager was played by an adult who’s in on the joke — the joke being us all as adults having that perspective of understanding about what’s so funny about being a teenager, right? So I just thought you could push the comedy a lot further if Chad were played by an adult and funny moments can be funnier and less sad because you’re not sitting there laughing at an actual Iranian child, you’re laughing at an adult who has some distance from it. So funny moments can be funnier and less painful with that lens. That was our intent, anyway. Then I really just thought I could disappear into looking like a little dude with the help of the wig and the eyebrows and the posture and dropping my voice slightly. All of that, I felt like I could get further away from myself, the actor.
Narratively, the series is filled with awkward and embarrassing scenarios (such as Chad lying about having had sex to boost his popularity). What did you enjoy the most and what was the most difficult with writing and acting out these scenes?
For me, the most fun aspect I would say of production is getting to improvise because that’s what kept it fun and fresh for me as a performer. You have to keep in mind at that point, I had already been with the material for 14 weeks of the writers’ room. So those jokes and that dialogue, it was quite familiar to me. A lot of times when you hear something that many times or you’re with it for that long, it can start to feel a little stale. So that was a really fun thing, to be able to be on set and open up takes and do alts and improvise and make things up on the spot, that certainly kept it fresh and interesting to me as an actor. I would say maybe one of the most challenging things with the show was in the edit, trying to get it to time. We ended up having to lose a lot of stuff that was really making us laugh just because we didn’t really have time to do it. There were a few instances where we had to cut scenes or we had to cut little runs that were working but to time the show to generally 21 minutes and 30 seconds, we ended up having to part ways with things that did make us laugh. Overall it was just so much fun, every stage of it. The writing phase to production, to the edit. It was really fun to create this character and then bring it to life, which I knew was important if I were going to tackle an undertaking as big as this, where I’m both writing and producing and wearing a bunch of different hats. It was important that the character was fun and made me laugh. And I was lucky enough to have had that with Chad.
From hopes of becoming popular to the push-and-pull of appreciating his own culture, Chad explores adolescence and all of its many embarrassing situations. How much of your own experiences growing up came through in the story?
Teenagers are already struggling to identify their identity and feel accepted by their peers. And then if you’re an immigrant kid on top of that, it’s like this one extra thing to get through in your effort to fit in. But certainly, you don’t have to be an immigrant kid to appreciate the show because everyone remembers what it’s like to be in high school and just want to belong. Specifically with what I drew from and that aspect of Chad is being from these two cultures, being sort of caught between these two cultures. I remember being at that age and obviously I loved my heritage. I loved my parents. But there was this internal struggle in that I also sometimes downplayed my heritage and felt embarrassed by that part of me because all I wanted was to belong and feel like everyone else. I didn’t in particular want to stand out. I just wanted to fit in. I think that’s an interesting tension that I had in my adolescence that I hoped to bring to life with Chad’s character is almost feeling guilty at times for shying away from the otherness that comes with being foreign and how terrifying that can feel when all you’re trying to do is belong.
While the show offers us plenty of situations many can relate to — like a teen navigating their freshman year of high school, living with divorced parents, or struggling to find their own identity — it’s also great to see a sitcom highlight Persian families. Can you speak to why this show can offer laughs for everyone while also putting a positive and relatable spotlight on Persian culture?
When I was growing up, I did not see a half-hour comedy centered around, you know, a Middle Eastern family let alone specifically, a Persian one. In fact, so much of the representation of Middle Easterners on TV that I did see was predominantly negative, which was very alienating. I didn’t see Persian people on TV that seemed anything like the Persian people that I was surrounded by, not just in my family, but in my community. I didn’t understand. I was like, ‘Why are Middle Eastern people on American television only bad guys?’ Like what about those of us living here that are just like the rest of you, except for the specific cultural elements that we still celebrate and hold onto. So my hope is that people watch the show and actually can recognize that yes, this family is Persian American, but hopefully they can tap into just how many similarities we all have and how much we all have in common. I think Chad’s wants as a teenager aren’t that dissimilar from what a lot of teenagers want. I think what Nas is setting out to accomplish in her personal life and as a mother isn’t dissimilar to what a lot of moms want, regardless of culture. So while I was excited to show cultural specificity in an authentic way, I was also hopeful that the show can be accessible and relatable to anyone.
What do you hope audiences take away and enjoy the most from watching Chad?
I hope when people see Chad, certainly first and foremost are able to laugh at how ridiculous he is. I hope people see Chad and relate to him — either in themselves or in someone they knew in high school. That they find something human and funny and specific in this character that allows them to connect on some level because that’s what storytelling is about. It’s about connecting to something and feeling invested in it… overall, hopefully making people laugh, which what better time than now, you know. I think we can all use a little laughter.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Chad premieres on April 6 at 10:30 p.m. on TBS.