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Q&A with Nasim Pedrad

| Sunday, November 10, 2013

This week, The Observer talked with Nasim Pedrad, currently the longest tenured woman on “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), after her stand-up set at Legends on Friday. The event was presented by the Student Union Board. Scene writer Jimmy Kemper talked with Pedrad about stand-up comedy, SNL and her future plans.

Jimmy Kemper: Thank you for doing this interview. So first, I was hoping to ask about your stand-up. How often do you get to get away from “Saturday Night Live” and do this?
Nasim Pedrad: I usually do college shows whenever I get a chance, and it only ends up being on hiatus weeks from SNL. And we usually have – every 3 or 4 weeks at SNL, we’ll usually have 1 to 3 weeks off. So sometimes we’ll be on for 2, off for 2, on for 1, off for 1. Those are a lot of weeks off. And it’s a fun way to visit places that I haven’t been, like I’ve never been to Indiana before. So yeah, whenever I’m off from SNL.
JK: How is doing stand-up routines at colleges, compared to at comedy clubs?
NP: What I love doing about college shows and the thing that keeps it fresh and interesting for me is that I try to find out a little bit about the college before I come, because I remember being in college and loving it when a performer came and had learned a little bit about the school. Because when you’re a student, you don’t necessarily know that they’re going to be knowing some of the specifics that maybe the people at that school joke about. It’s a real fun payoff when you can kind of make fun of that specific school for the same reasons that the students make fun of it or laugh about it or refer to a thing on campus, like Touchdown Jesus or whatever. Every school has their own unique little specifics, but I try to do that just so the show is always different. Then my act, depending on what school I’m going to, I might pick one thing over another. I always try to mix it up to keep things interesting.
JK: Very cool. How is SNL going for you now that you’re now the longest tenured woman on the show and there are so many new cast members?
NP: I am having so much fun. I think the longer you’re there, the more you understand how the show works. It’s my fifth season, and when it’s your fifth season, a lot of times you get to bring in a writer you’ve worked with, so this year they hired my friend Mikey Day, who I have done comedy with for a long time. It’s been great having him there because we already have the shorthand that exists from years of working together. So that’s been fun, having a writer who I work well with. In terms of the new people, they are just the loveliest, funniest people, and I just try to be there for them in any way I can. But honestly, they’re all such pros that I’m like “Oh, you guys got this.” It does feel weird to be the longest tenured woman on the show because it’s so new and I feel like I just got there. What I mean by “so new” is that every week is so different that sometimes I’m like, “Jude Law, was he my first season or third season?” It all kind of blends together.
JK: And is the show different with all these other longtime SNL members like Bill Hader and Fred Arimsen gone now?
Yeah, I think so. I miss them very much. But Lorne [Michaels] knows how to run it in a way that it’s interesting. There’s so many casts that come and go that people are like, “Oh, the show’s going to be screwed if these people leave.” It’s such a well-oiled machine that I feel like he’s been doing it for so long now that he knows how to keep it going even when we lose really big stars like that. It’s always evolving, and there’s always going to be new casts. Maybe there’s a little bit of a new adjustment period. But honestly, this year I feel like it’s going to take time for people to get to know everyone who’s on the show because there’s so many of them. It’ll take time, but they’re already starting to understand their function.
JK: So what’s the day-to-day SNL process for you?
NP: So Monday we meet the host and we pitch them ideas. Sometimes we’ll stay after that and start thinking of things we’re actually going to write. Then Tuesday is our writing night, and we’re there from 1 p.m. to as late as you want to be. Sometimes I don’t leave till Wednesday morning. We’ll table-read Wednesday night, where we read all 40 sketches that were written the night before. And then after the table-read, we find out which sketches got picked, and we go home and sleep a lot. Like, we sit in our offices and drink wine, and they’ll basically show us what’s called “picks,” and it’s the rundown where they circle the sketches that got picked. Then Thursday and Friday, we rehearse. Then Saturday we rehearse all day. Thursday and Friday we’re blocking for camera. Saturday we have dress rehearsal at 8 p.m. and then the show at 11:30. Then Sunday we usually wake up in the middle of the day and shove Chinese food down our throats in bed and then do it again on Monday.
JK: Can you tell us about any horror stories from the set?
NP: I’ve definitely seen sets like almost fall over because you’re moving in those sets so fast in such a small space. But we have the most amazing crew, so even that time I saw it almost fall over, there were three guys that ran immediately to catch it.
JK: Wow, that’s crazy. What about your favorite moment?
NP: I guess the one that sticks out is the very first time that I got to say “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night” in a cold open where I played as a translator. It was just an out-of-body experience. I was like “Oh my God, I’m saying it.” You can almost feel the camera lens zoom in on your face. That was the most exciting. And then there’s nothing more terrifying then the SNL audition itself. So after the SNL audition you’re like, “I can do anything now.” Nothing will ever be as scary as that.
JK: Can you tell us a bit more about that audition process itself?
NP: I auditioned twice. I was just told that you can do five minutes of material, whatever you want. So I did three impressions and three characters the first time and the second time I again did three impressions and three characters. And then I went back to L.A. and they were like “Turn right back, you’re heading back to New York to meet Lorne.” I went back to New York, met with him, and then the next day I got hired.
JK: So who is your favorite sketch character of all time?
NP: That one’s hard. Can I do maybe my first impression? [Arianna] Huffington is really fun because it’s really cool to talk about politics on [Weekend] Update through the lens of a smart, sassy woman. She herself has a great sense of humor, so it’s fun to play someone who’s totally competent. Like, in that piece she’s very flirty, so we have a lot going on. She’s also very bright, so we can actually talk about real issues going on.
JK: What are your future plans looking like right now? You recently did a pilot for a show with John Mulaney that got picked up by Fox. What do you think is going to happen with that?
NP: I have no idea what’s going to happen with it in terms of how many episodes or what the situation is. I’m just trying to focus on SNL right now, but if it were to happen it would be in L.A., and I couldn’t think of better hands to be in than John Mulaney’s. He’s an excellent writer, and obviously he wrote for SNL, like he wrote Stephan from Weekend Update.
JK: So would it be nice for you to move back to L.A.?
NP: I would really miss SNL if I had to leave the show, obviously, but I’m from L.A., so it wouldn’t be the most insane transition. At least it’s a city I’m familiar with. Right now, I’m having so much fun in New York that I’ll deal with it if it comes up. I’ll deal with that bridge when it comes to it.
JK: Okay, so I’ve got one last question. If there was one you thing you could tell college students who want to get into comedy, what would you say?
NP: To write and to get on stage as much as you can. It’s the only way. If you want to do comedy, you have to learn how to write. Whether it’s for yourself or for someone else. Whether you’re writing a comedy script and don’t want to be a performer, or if you want to be in front of a camera and do stand-up or sketch comedy, you have to get yourself on stage. So I always tell kids to sign up, depending on where they live, for [comedy groups like] Groundling or UCB or Second City or ImprovOlympic.
JK: All right, that’s all the questions I have. Thank you so much for doing this.
NP: Awesome. This was so much fun. I love your school and wish I could be longer.