Comedian, actor, director, and producer Negin Farsad wears many hats, and now she can add one more: author.
Her new book How To Make White People Laugh is part memoir, part how-to for social justice comedy. As an Iranian-Muslim-American female comic, Farsad breaks down stereotypes one joke at a time as she takes on race relations, gender, social justice, and what it means to have a hyphenated identity.
Farsad joins the Morning Shift to talk about her new book and how she uses the power of comedy to combat bigotry.
You used to be an intern for Hillary Clinton. What’s watching the presidential election season been like?
Negin Farsad: It has been an endless nightmare. I think what I’ve been trying to do is test Donald Trump’s policy proposals.
How did you end up in comedy?
Farsad: I was a committed public servant and I wanted to be involved in saving the world. From 11 years old, I wanted to do that. So I went through all the steps but was doing policy on the side. I’d be going into my job doing policy analysis and at night I made jokes about policy analysis. At some point it became deeply inappropriate and at the end of the day, comedy won out. I had to figure it out—comedy can be so narcissistic and self-serving.
Why is it important to make white people in particular laugh?
Farsad: White people, they control a lot of stuff: war, the economy, breeding of small dogs, printer-ink cartridges, Game of Thrones—this is just a short list. I think in order to keep society humming along, we really have to keep white people laughing and lubed up, and if they’re happy, they’re going to start fewer wars.
Explain how you “used to be black.”
Farsad: I kind of had an identity issue growing up. We doubled the Muslim population of Palm Springs when we moved there. The major minority group was Mexican in Southern California, and I longed to be Mexican. I was like, “Why can’t they just call me Aurelia?” They had issues, radio stations and restaurants, and it seemed like a minority group the rest of America understood.
And then when I got to college in upstate New York, there were no Mexicans as far as the eye could see, but there was a significant black community. I just sort of turned my sights to them, and I decided I would start fighting to black issues and learning black history and really getting in there. And so I think part of me was thinking I was black—this was never a Rachel Dolezal thing. I was never trying to “pass.” But I felt like I was adjacent. I’m not a member of the black community and black issues are not my issues but, eh, close enough.
Was it a form of camouflage?
Farsad: Yes, I was sort of like, “Where are my people and where can I feel comfortable?” I put on the “whiteness” for a while and thought I could pass, but it turns out they just listen to far too much Dave Matthews. I also realize whiteness is sort of rewarding. You don’t get to opt in. Especially if you’re a brown lady. I feel like when you’re a part of an underpopulated ethnic minority, you’re always searching and you sort of glob on to the biggest minority thing people understand.