Muslim comedian hopes to change world with laughs
By Kathleen Daminger, Staff Writer email@example.com
Negin Farsad writes about the stuff of life -- as she sees it.
It's not her intent to be political; it's just kind of her lot in life.
The New York City-based comedian, the daughter of Iranian immigrant parents, will perform Friday, Feb. 8, to conclude Franklin & Marshall College's Multi-Faith Week programming.
"When I'm doing jokes about my family or my upbringing, it just naturally takes on a political bent,'' she says. "Even though I'm just talking about being a stupid kid or whatever.''
It would be naive of Farsad, who is Muslim, to think stereotypes aren't out there. And Farsad is not naive.
She has received the occasional hate-mail letter or nasty "drive-by'' demands to "go back where you came from.''
Admittedly, her first instinct in moments like those is to yell. But she has learned to discipline herself away from reaction and toward action.
Instead of resenting those stereotypes and the misguided passions they fuel, the petite, 30-something dynamo has made it her life's mission to change them.
Since she was just a child, she has wanted to be a part of social change in the world. In fact, she says with only the slightest hint of exaggeration, "my goal was to be the president of the United States. I wanted to end racism'' and make a change for the better.
She studied politics and theater at Cornell University and went to grad school at Columbia. The theater part of her educational pursuit was just fueling a hobby. Her goal, she says, was to get a real job and "be an adult.''
But after graduation, stand-up beckoned, and although by day she was working as a policy adviser for the city of New York, by night she was on comedy club stages making people laugh.
"(The comedy) started taking over all aspects of my life,'' she says. "But I struggled with it because I thought it wasn't going to help change the world, and that bummed me out.''
Later she realized that maybe getting on stage, talking about her life and making people laugh might have more power to change hearts than anything else she could have pursued.
She remembers some advice from her father that continues to shape her vision of what she does.
"He said, 'You're like a scientist, and the stuff you're doing, you might not see the benefits in your lifetime, but what you're doing might change the world.'''
His words have had a profound influence on her.
"A lot of people have their misconceptions,'' she says. "But for the most part, they're not born out of hatred; they're born out of ignorance.''
"Humor tends to open people up,'' she says. "It tends to make sense of things while not making people feel like they're being accused.''
And it helps her cause that she happens to come in a small package.
"I'm a girl. I dress like a cartoon character,'' she says. "I'm not a very intimidating figure.
"That physical demeanor speaks to a larger approach. I should be able to talk about being Muslim without offending and without riling people up. A spoonful of sugar is how you do that.''
Farsad has appeared on various shows on Comedy Central and has performed in comedy clubs and other venues across the country.
She describes her humor as experiential rather than observational.
"When you're the daughter of immigrants, you see through a different lens that might be bit more international and a little more sensitive to the plight of minorities,'' she says.
Two summers ago, Farsad took her mission of reaching out through humor to the next level.
A group of comics, all of them Muslim, took a multicity tour of the country. At each stop, they set up "street sessions," where people were encouraged to interact, ask questions, laugh and generally engage with them.
The entire tour, called "The Muslims are Coming Comedy Troupe Tour," was filmed and will be released as a documentary soon. Farsad, the director, will show some clips from the film when she visits F&M.
By and large, she says, the experience was rewarding. Still, there's much work that remains.
"I feel like bigotry has taken on new dimensions, and the Internet has made it worse. There are outlets for people to be outrageous and anonymous.
"We're wearing them down through friendliness.''
Negin Farsad will perform at 8 p.m. Feb. 8 at Miller Recital Hall/Nevin Chapel in the second floor of Old Main on the campus of Franklin & Marshall College. Admission is free. For more information about Multi-Faith Week events, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit calendar.fandm.edu.
"I feel like bigotry has taken on new dimensions, and the Internet has made it worse. There are outlets for people to be outrageous and anonymous."