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Saturday Night Live Hires First Iranian-Born Cast Member


By Grace Nasri, Iran Times


Saturday Night Live's first Iranian-born cast member Nasim Pedrad joined the popular late night comedy and variety show last September and has since impersonated celebrities and first ladies including Kathy Griffin, Kim Kardashian and Iran's first lady.


Nasim Pedrad joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in the 2009-10 season from The Groundlings Theater in Los Angeles, where she trained and performed in the Sunday Company.

Pedrad also performed at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles. Her one-woman show "Me, Myself and Iran" debuted at the UCB, and was selected for the 2007 HBO Comedy Festival in Las Vegas. In addition, Pedrad has been featured elsewhere on NBC, playing "Suri" in several episodes of "ER". She also appears in the upcoming season of "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia."

Originally from Tehran, Iran, Pedrad was raised in Irvine, California. Pedrad received her degree from UCLA's School of Theater in 2003. Her birthday is November 18.


Nasim Pedrad was born in Tehran on November 18, 1981.  She told the Iran Times that her parents, Arasteh Amani and Parviz Pedrad met in the States while both were students in Berkeley, California. The couple now resides in Southern California, where her father works in the medical field and her mother works in the fashion industry.  Before her parents settled in the United States in 1984, however, Pedrad was born in Tehran where she lived until she was two.


An Iranian citizen, Pedrad grew up in California, where she later attended college at the University of California at Los Angeles.  From there she received her bachelor's degree in 2003 from their School of Theater.


Pedrad told the Iran Times that although she was always interested in performing and had grown up acting in plays in junior high and high school, it wasn't until college that she made up her mind to pursue comedy.


"My training at UCLA exposed me to a variety of theater, but as I went through the program it became clear that my favorite roles were always the comedic ones.  Upon graduating, I started taking improv and sketch writing classes at the Groundlings Theater in Los Angeles," she told the Iran Times.


Before joining the cast of "SNL," Pedrad appeared in episodes of several shows, including "ER" and "Gilmore Girls."  She also wrote a comedic one-woman show called "Me, Myself & Iran," wherein Pedrad portrayed five very different Iranian characters.  It was from this show that the former "SNL" star Tina Fey, known for her impersonation of the former Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, recommended Pedrad for the late night comedy and variety show.


Pedrad has also performed at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, the New York and Los Angeles-based comedy theater that is a popular starting place from which the careers of many "SNL" cast members have begun.

The Iranian-born actress told the Iran Times that landing a job at SNL was a dream come true, adding that the show gave her the ability to perform a variety of different characters and a range of ethnicities.  In one episode aired in October, Pedrad comedically portrayed the Iranian first lady, President Ahmadi-nejad's wife, in a mock interview news sketch.


"Well, Mahmud had to be here for the UN and I made him promise he would take me to America so I could go shopping.  Maybe buy this one [Ahmadi-nejad] a neck tie.  Oh, wait, I forgot, he's allergic to neck ties," Pedrad, playing Ahmadi-nejad's wife, said in the mock interview.


"Look at him, sir," Pedrad said jokingly to the mock host.  Then she turned to the person playing Ahmadi-nejad.  "Hey! Why are you smiling all the time?  Nobody likes you," she joked with an Iranian accent.


"He is completely oblivious.  He thinks he won the election!" she continued during the mock interview.


The Iranian-American actress said that while the segment made light of Iran's first couple, she encouraged people not to take it too seriously.  "I think the idea behind this piece was just to consider, 'What if Iran's president and his wife fought like every other married couple?' she explained to the Iran Times.


Pedrad looks forward to playing Iranian roles in the future. "I love and am very proud of my Iranian heritage. It's shaped who I am as a performer, and if I ever poke fun at it, it's coming from a place of love."


Pedrad, however, does not typically play Iranian women.  "The cool thing about SNL is that you get to portray a wide variety of characters," she told the Iran Times, adding that some of her favorite roles have been portraying celebrities like, "Kathy Griffin, Barbara Walters and Kim Kardashian."


As for any future plans, Pedrad said she hoped to stick with SNL.  She has been in every show since this season's September 26, 2009 premiere and is currently working on the eleventh episode of the season.


 "I wouldn't mind sticking around here [SNL]. Down the road, I hope to continue to be a working actor.  Working at SNL is the most fun I've ever had. You get to do a live show for a studio audience that's also broadcast to millions of people," she said.


Pedrad hopes that her future plans will one day include visiting her place of birth. Though she left Tehran at a young age, the Iranian culture, cuisine, language and people remain an integral part of her life.


"Most of my memories start from when I was in the states, but I do want to visit Iran someday. My dad's side of the family is still in Iran-there are so many cousins I have yet to meet," she said, adding that she speaks Farsi and enjoys Iranian food.


"My parents really encouraged my little sister and I to take Farsi classes when we were little.  I'm so grateful to be bilingual."  Another aspect of her heritage that she enjoys is the cuisine.  Of all the aromatic and flavorful Persian dishes, Pedrad said her favorite is, "Zereshk polo. Hands down."  Zereshk polo is a colorful Iranian dish that includes rice, barberries, saffron and chicken.


Throughout her career, Pedrad said her family-which includes her parents and a younger sister Nina who is currently an undergraduate student at New York's Columbia University-have been "extremely supportive" of her choice to pursue acting and comedy.


When asked about joining the cast of SNL now that she's been with the comedy show for more than four months, she said, "It's exciting to be the first Iranian cast member on the show, and I feel incredibly lucky.  Getting this job is a dream come true."


SNL is broadcast live to millions of viewers at 11:30 p.m. each Saturday night on NBC.

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