It could be one of Negin Farsad’s punchlines: on International Women’s Day, shouldn’t the focus be on international women? Negin is a Connecticut-born American with an international career, at home in many cultures. She’s a multi-hyphenate creator of incisive work across many platforms: film, podcasting, theater, corporate gigs, and stand-up comedy. Oh, she’s also got a memoir.
We first fell in love with her when she was named a TEDFellow (TheHF was among the founding funders of that program). Her comedic “charm assault” against America’s anti-Islamic voices in such work as The Muslims Are Coming! and How To Make White People Laugh put her on the comedy map.
“I have focused a lot of attention on immigrant rights, Islamophobia, bigotry, race issues in general but in terms of where I feel I get the most pushback, it’s probably from being a woman,” says Negin. “Being a woman is where I find myself in the most landmines, and I think that has always consistently been a bigger issue for me personally in my career. Comedy has been such a male-dominated sport since the beginning of comedy time so one thing that we’re dealing with is just letting everybody know that female comedians exist! That’s just like Thing Number One, they exist.”
Negin has role models in the “Nevertheless, she persisted” department, including the original “she” who persisted.
“Elizabeth Warren gets knocked down, but then she comes back with plans, every time,” Negin says, citing an earlier influential woman with a plan of her own: “One of my best friends growing up, Jenny, her mom. I saw how Jenny’s mom was going to college when we were kids. And then grad school, to become a teacher. She had four kids before she was able to get her education. But by the time we were done with high school, she was teaching.”
Negin has appeared on both Huffington Post’s list of “53 Of Our Favorite Female Comedians” in 2012 and their 2015 list of “18 Funny Women You Should Be Following On Twitter,” as well as Paper Magazine’s list of “10 Best Feminist Comedians”.
“I think a lot about Serena [Williams] saying ‘I’m not the best female athlete, I’m the best athlete’ and I think that’s absolutely true for her,” says Negin, considering the implications of honors by gender. “When it comes to [“best of”] lists, when it comes to a number of professions, when it comes to comedians, women have been hidden, right? They haven’t had as much exposure, as much attention. They haven’t been given access to the pipeline to rise through the ranks. I’ve looked at lists like that, to see ‘Who are the female directors working today?’ There’s also a competing idea, which is: Let’s not sequester women onto a list, as if they can’t play in the big leagues with the boys. I think sometimes we have to look beyond those competing ideas, because I do think the lists are helpful. At the same time, I’d like to mix up the men in there, and put them all on one list. Let’s not act like women aren’t as good as men in this field. I feel like we’re part of a guinea pig generation, and eventually, we will all be on one list. Until we get there, until there are as many female comedians as male comedians, we might just need a couple of the specialized lists as well.”
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, what do you feel is the final frontier for women in the entertainment industry?
“I feel we’re still at this time where I might be introduced as this Iranian-American Muslim comedian and filmmaker. ‘Oh, we have this interesting Muslim writer Negin Farsad,’ we’re still at this point. I think the ultimate goal is that I don’t have to be identified every time I open my mouth. That I can just make stuff. My most recent film was called 3rd Street Blackout, a romantic comedy set in the blackout after Hurricane Sandy. And it just so happens that the lead character is an Iranian-American Muslim. And it just so happens I say a couple things in Farsi. In no way did I want to make that a big deal. I would love to be able to do work like that in the future, where my identity is a casual presence in the work. No footnotes needed! No post-screening Q & As involving multiple nonprofits trying to parse through ‘the issue.’ That’s what so many marginalized groups want, right? To simply exist, and we don’t have to talk about it. I think that would be really exciting, almost like living in an episode of Bridgerton. That there’s no elephant in the room, that the elephant is more like a small cat.”
This interview with Negin Farsad was conducted by Ondine Jean-Baptiste on February 25th, 2021. It has been lightly edited for clarity and flow. Featured image is courtesy of The Standard.