Negin Farsad: Driven to Be Funny: Iranian American puts her life in her stand-up comedy
By Jeff Baron, Staff Writer,
"I really tried to ignore comedy for a really long time," Negin
Farsad says. "I said, 'No, no, no, it's just a 40-hour-a-week
Washington - Negin
Farsad is an industry unto
herself. A smart, funny industry.
"I sort of think of myself as someone who will do
anything in entertainment," she said.
The Iranian American, who lives in New York, is a
moviemaker and a comedy writer for television as well as a stand-up comedian.
She is going to the famed
Edinburgh, Scotland, Fringe Festival in
August to star in not one but two shows: a showcase of ethnic stand-up comics
Dirty Immigrant Collective and a
two-person romantic musical comedy
based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Farsad, 30, took an improbable path to this
improbable career. She grew up in Palm Springs, California, and majored in
theater arts and government at Cornell University in New York state. She said
she is a driven overachiever: "I think it would have been shameful for me not
to get a graduate degree."
So she got two degrees from Columbia University in
New York - one in race relations, and one in public policy. She was going to go
into politics to help run a city and eventually hold high office. And so she
began working for New York City as a senior policy adviser.
She had two problems, though. First, she found that
she "did not enjoy the process" of government and politics. "I was not having
Second, the part of her life that she did enjoy was
comedy. She had been part of a sketch comedy group at Cornell University - "12
white dudes and me," she said - and her comedy hobby expanded in New York City.
"I was leading a double life, and a really
exhausting double life," she said. "I really tried to ignore comedy for a really
long time. I said, 'No, no, no, it's just a 40-hour-a-week hobby. It's not that
"It's very much a craft that needs to be perfected," Farsad says of
Finally, a friend pointed out that she obviously
preferred comedy to public policy and told her that she should make it her
career. So in 2006, once she had found that she could more or less earn a living
by making people laugh, she gave up the policy job.
Farsad has not abandoned her politics for
entertainment: Her comedy has a political edge to it, and some of her paychecks
come from groups, such as labor unions, with which she is sympathetic. "There's
this niche of progressive organizations that need stand-up comedians or video
content that is funny and supports those progressive issues," she said.
Much of her work is as a comedy writer. And she was
a cultural consultant recently for the first season of a planned animated
children's series, 1,001
Nights; theproducers wanted
to develop the program with people who would be aware of the cultures involved.
That's unusual, Farsad said. Comedy writing in the
United States is a small industry, not very diverse ethnically and
overwhelmingly male, she said.
(Production on 1,001
Nights is continuing, and
producer Shabnam Rezaei said it could begin airing in late 2010.)
Farsad's movie career has been a bit of a surprise
to her. She was a producer on a television series, The
Watch List, which featured
Iranian-American and Arab-American comedians, and for a documentary about a
young American sitar player who competes in a music festival in India. Then she
produced and directed Nerdcore
Rising, a feature-length
comic documentary about a hip-hop group on tour. "I sort of ruined my life for
three years making Nerdcore
Rising," Farsad said. But having done it once, she is trying again: She was
asked to produce and edit a feature-length comic documentary on a politically
progressive children's summer camp.
"The problem with making comedies out of
documentaries is that you have to shoot three times as much footage because
people are not funny," she said.
The stand-up comedy portion of her work can be just
as laborious. Farsad has a sharp wit, but she said she has to rewrite her
monologues and experiment on the delivery over weeks and weeks to make them work
reliably. "It's very much a craft that needs to be perfected," she said. And
once she has part of her routine perfected, she doesn't want to use it all the
time. "I want to put my best foot forward, but I also don't want to be bored by
my foot," she said.
Stepping onstage, though, has not become boring. "I
really, really love performing, and I get really, really nervous before every
show," she said.
Farsad draws on her life - her love life, her
political life, her extended family's life - for the material she shares with
all those strangers. "My last boyfriend was really upset when he found himself
in a joke," she said. Her reaction was less than sympathetic: "As long as it's
funny, who cares?" The boyfriend did not last.
"It's a really all-consuming lifestyle," Farsad
said. "You don't check it at the door."
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