Half a decade ago just after Nasim Pedrad left the “Saturday Night Live” ensemble, she came up with the idea for “Chad,” a sitcom centering on an awkward teenage boy who just desperately wants to fit in. After first being developed for broadcast television, “Chad” found a home at WarnerMedia cabler TBS and is finally premiering on April 6. Pedrad not only created the show, but she also serves as showrunner and star, donning a wig, fake eyebrows and a binder to portray the titular high school freshman.
What inspired you to write “Chad” from the point of view of a teenage boy, as opposed to a younger version of yourself?
I love writing about the awkwardness of adolescence and I really wanted to write something that felt authentic to my own experience growing up as an immigrant kid in America. So it started there, and this was five years ago [so] I hadn’t ever seen coming of age story where the teenager at the center of it was played by an adult who’s in on the joke. Because to me, he doesn’t know what’s so funny about being a teenager if [he’s] still living it. I thought it would push the comedy so much further if you had an adult playing Chad that could bring that perspective that only an adult would have to the role. And honestly, I just really felt like I could disappear into looking like a little dude. There’s aspects to playing a young boy that I thought would really [work] with the goal of having fun while playing this character. It helps to be able to disappear behind the wig, the eyebrow, the binder. I lower my register a little and he fumbles over his words. That all kind of organically came together and I felt the least like Nasim, and I knew if I were to play a teenager, those things would really be helpful in making the character feel as far away from feeling like me today.
Some elements of adolescence are not gender-specific, such as awkwardness around crushes or the desire to fit in, which Chad so clearly has. How much did you find you could still pull from your own younger years for the character and the situations he is in?
I know this might sound disarming to hear because I was not ever a 14-year-old boy but Chad does feel more like me than not me. I don’t know why at the core of my spirit I feel like a 14-year-old boy — [maybe] because I grew up with a lot of guy cousins; I was such a tomboy; I played sports; I was a bit of a late-bloomer when it comes to finding my femininity. So even though he is a boy, every corner of this character reminds me of myself at that age — certainly the desire to fit in and the paralyzing fear of being different. I was caught between these two cultures: my parents were Persian, but I very much wanted to assimilate and feel like I belonged in America. And it’s already terrifying enough to be a teenager when you’re just wanting to not feel different than your peers, but when you’re an immigrant kid there’s almost this extra layer to get through to fit in. And I wanted to create something that felt authentic and honest to my experience in America. When you are coming from an immigrant family, you and your parents are assimilating to a new culture at the same time: you’re both learning what prom is, you’re both learning that American kids bring Lunchables to school and not lamb stew, so you’re often times taking the role of the parent and guiding them in terms of what’s in the culture. So Chad navigating high school was a lot like mine in that regard where I was just finding myself between these two cultures and trying to blend in. Maybe it’s more therapeutic than I give it credit for. But to me, the driving force has really been that at the core I feel like it’s a funny show, and if I’m laughing I’m having fun. And what better time than now? I think we can all use some laughter in our lives.
There are elements about the high school experience that are a bit more specific to the time, even just looking at the way kids communication through social media now. What made you want to tap into that and make this a modern-day set show?
I thought it’d be more interesting to say, “Well what if you went to school with kids are somewhat woke and not interested in bullying him but just didn’t even notice him?” Chad’s going completely unnoticed; he can’t get anyone to pay attention to him. That’s its own challenge [for Chad] and to me, it just felt like a more fresh take on a familiar template for a show.
What inspired the look for Chad and the specific choice of wig? Were you drawing on anybody in particular?
Chad is physically a blend of all 10 of my male cousins. In fact, I used their childhood photos for the set decorations. My brilliant set designer was building Chad’s home and asked me for photographs and I pulled actual photographs from my childhood pictures. The wig was an interesting exploration because we tried on so many different wigs and there was such a razor thin line between me looking like a little boy or just looking like Kris Jenner. The eyebrows also really helped physically make any trace of femininity disappear.
What part of you won out when making decisions on things like the wig, where one option may be uncomfortable to wear all day as an actor but is the best choice for the story and the character as the showrunner?
At the end of the day, my No. 1 goal is for the show to feel honest and truthful, so I will do anything I can to help in that regard [and] to make sure that people can really forget that I’m a grown woman playing the 14-year-old boy. It’s certainly not always comfortable. I mean the binder alone was not something I was dying to get into every day but it’s obviously necessary. But my hope was to do whatever I can within reasonable realms to help people with the buy-in that I’m really Chad and it’s not anything other than an earnest take on a young boy who’s struggling.
Was it always the plan to cast actors still in or close to their own teenage years to play Chad’s classmates?
When I figured out who the character was and decided it would be fun for me to play him, in order to have Chad feel grounded, it felt very important to surround him with actual teenagers. Having me opposite Jake Ryan playing Peter hopefully helps you forget that I’m playing Chad because he’s just earnestly playing his part as an actual teenager. I felt that helped make the world feel honest and real.
Since the show has had such a long gestation period, what adjustments did you make for how the world has changed for issues facing high school kids today, as well as leaning into or away from tropes and depictions of high school on shows that have premiered in the last five years?
Whether it’s conversations surrounding toxic masculinity or trying to stay current with what teenagers are even just into and talk about today, it really felt important to me for the show to feel timely and current, especially because it’s a modern show, not a period piece. So, part of my process in the writers’ room when we first started was to literally just FaceTime with a bunch of different teenagers. It was pretty amazing how many of them were willing to talk to me and had zero questions about why I was asking. They were just ready to get to the next portion of their day but were helping because someone asked them to. So, there was a good amount of research that went into it. And also, it was set up at a network and then ended up in cable, so there was a tonal shift there from a writing perspective. But the core character and the essence of Chad has remained consistent throughout.
Things you didn’t know about Nasim Pedrad:
Mood music: “Chad is a big Drake fan, so I had these hip-hop workout playlists that I listened to when I was trying to get pumped up because it was pretty much what Chad would listen to.”
Cause she most cares about: Center for Human Rights — “They focus on violations happening in Iran today and obviously that’s very personal to me.”
Role she’s most recognized for: Aly on “New Girl”