In This Episode
Negin Farsad calls herself a “social justice comedian” and she’s been using her skills to leverage entertainment into opening minds for years now – both in her book, “How to Make White People Laugh,” her documentary, “The Muslims Are Coming!” and on a regular basis on her podcast, “Fake the Nation.” Want to know how to turn a master’s degree into a podcasting career? What about how to respond to people Being Mad Online? Oh, and, how DO you make white people laugh? Negin has some answers.
After Negin, stay tuned for a visit from Jolene, the tiny canine companion of Crooked’s Matt DeGroot.
Ana Marie Cox: Hi, I’m Ana Marie Cox. Welcome to With Friends Like These. Our guest this week, Negin Farsad, calls herself a social justice comedian—a phrase a lot of people might consider a contradiction in terms—but she’s been using her skills to leverage entertainment into opening minds for years now, both in her book “How to Make White People Laugh” and her documentary “The Muslims are Coming” and on a regular basis on her podcast “Fake the Nation.” Stay with us for a conversation about turning a master’s degree into a podcasting career. And yes, for some answers to that question: how DO you make white people laugh? And after Negin, stay tuned for a visit from Jolene, the tiny companion of Crooked Media’s Matt DeGroot. But first, Negin coming right up.
Ana Marie Cox: Nagin, welcome to the show.
Negin Farsad: Hi! Thanks so much for having me.
Ana Marie Cox: It’s a pleasure to have you on. I have my very first question, is maybe an obvious one.
Negin Farsad: Yeah, let’s hear it.
Ana Marie Cox: You call yourself a social justice comedian. These are not words that people hear a lot together, let’s say,
Negin Farsad: [laughs] Yeah,
Ana Marie Cox: What is that? What is a social justice comedian?
Negin Farsad: I mean, it’s funny because when I, I started using that term so long ago before people really use the word social justice ever, you know what I mean? It wasn’t like, they were used in circles, but now I feel like it’s used really commonly. It’s there’s like statement Tees, then there’s like social justice warriors and everybody hates them. And so now it’s like there’s a whole different set of connotations to the term social justice. But at the time I started saying that just because people be like: oh, you’re a political comedian. I was like: I mean, not exactly. Like I’m not making jokes about Obama’s tan suit up here, you know what I mean? And so I felt like it wasn’t, it was like I think I’m more I’m more of a social justice comedian because it’s more about, like, stuff that’s right or wrong, but then also just anything else, too. And so I just sort of adopted that term because it felt more accurate than political comic. You know?
Ana Marie Cox: I, I like it. It does make me think of how if we’re going to use that term to modify a lot of things, that it should modify almost everything. If you’re really trying.
Negin Farsad: [laughs] Right. Right.
Ana Marie Cox: I’m a social justice podcaster, that’s what I am. You know? Like . . .
Negin Farsad: Yeah. It’s almost at this point, the social justice is silent. Like it should be implied, right?
Ana Marie Cox: Well, see, not for everyone. Or it’s really silent.
Negin Farsad: Right. Right. It’s still not, we’re still not there. But, but yeah, it is one of those things where it’s just like implied in this, I just want you guys to know I’m into like human rights and stuff.
Ana Marie Cox: Yeah. We shouldn’t have to say it, but maybe there should be a way of saying it? I don’t know.
Negin Farsad: Yeah. No. exactly, exactly.
Ana Marie Cox: It can be a badge alongside the “I’m Vaccinated” pens. So . . .
Negin Farsad: Right. And then right alongside the like, I don’t know, certified gluten free or something. You know what I mean. Like it’s just a bunch of different little markers.
Ana Marie Cox: I do want to know how it is you came to this as a, let’s call it a profession, calling, identity. But it’s a real specific thing in a way. So . . .
Negin Farsad: Sure. Yeah. I mean, well, I so, like, you know, like most comedians, I have a master’s degree in African-American studies and another one in public policy. And so—
Ana Marie Cox: I’m nodding. To the podcast listeners, I’m nodding.
Negin Farsad: [laughs] Yeah. Because naturally. And I, I was I actually, I’m one of these people I like interned for Hillary Clinton, I interned for Charlie Rangle, I interned for—wait for it—CSPAN. That’s where the action was. They’re, they’re the most insane over there, you guys. But I, you know, when I was, so then after, after grad school, I was at Columbia so I sort of like applied for some jobs in the city. And I, I got a job as a policy advisor for the city of New York for the Campaign Finance Board. And I you know, and I was like a real career-track person, you know what I mean? I was like trying to be a good—but I was always doing comedy at night. Even in high school and in college and grad school, and I went, my grad school was so serious. Everyone was really like doing it hard. And I, and they would be like: let’s do a study group tonight. And I’d be like: um, that’s really cute, but I have to go do a set downtown so I’ll see you guys later. You know what I mean, I was always, I kind of always had one foot out the door with comedy. And then eventually I had to sort of admit to myself that, like, comedy was the thing I wanted to do full time. And then I, also did it—but the thing is, like I always wanted to go into politics. You know, as a kid, I thought, oh, I’m going to, you know, I’m going to, I’m going to run for president of United States. I want to do all this stuff. And it’s no big deal, they’ll just like elect an Iranian1American Muslim. It’s fine. And, you know, I—
Ana Marie Cox: Literally stranger things have happened at this point.
Negin Farsad: I know completely agree. Completely. Like, like electing a Black man, for example.
Ana Marie Cox: And a reality show star, I mean . . .
Negin Farsad: And a reality show star like. Yeah. Within the same ten-year period. And so I, I thought, you know, that I would really go into that. And I and I really believe in public service. I mean, I still believe in public service and being a public servant in that way, and I wanted, I didn’t want my comedy to be like completely narcissistic, which most of comedy really is. Which is fine, but I didn’t want, I wanted there to be some, I wanted to be able to like do dumb jobs that have nothing to do with anything, which I did. I wrote, I wrote on a lot of shows and stuff where, like the you know, they’d be like “I need ten jokes about Nick Jonas abs by one p.m.” and like, I did those jobs and I still will do those jobs. So keep me in mind, folks.
Ana Marie Cox: [laughs] I’ll call you next time I need Nick Jonas’s abs jokes.
Negin Farsad: [laughs. Yeah, please. But I didn’t, but I but I also wanted to be able to do projects that were more in line with my social justice roots, and more, that had a little bit more of an activist element. So I merged the two and a lot of the independent work that I do.
Ana Marie Cox: I’m curious if you could even say kind of which came first as a calling. Like I think, like I feel sometimes at a disadvantage to other woke folks because I grew up in a really woke-ish home. Like I’ve never had, like a decision where I was like, this is going to be my political ideology, you know?
Negin Farsad: Right, right. Right.
Ana Marie Cox: I mean, I believe in what, I believe in all of this stuff. Right? And that’s not the issue. It’s more like I never felt like I was, it’s like being raised a certain religion maybe. I don’t know.
Negin Farsad: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: And then as far as like being a writer, that’s also a thing that I just felt like always, I mean, it was always there.
Negin Farsad: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: And I’m curious if if either of those callings for you was ever a decision.
Negin Farsad: I think definitely because I’m from an immigrant family and Iranian, like [unclear] Iranian Muslim immigrants, don’t want to have comedian children. That’s just not, you know, that’s just—and by the way, no parent should want to have comedian children. Do not wish to have comedian children.
Ana Marie Cox: Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be comedians.
Negin Farsad: Yes! Please. It should be right up there with, like, drug dealers. You know what I mean, like you don’t want it. And it was so, and I tried really to be the kind of person that had a 401K and wore pantsuits. And by the way, going into politics was already like the sideways choice because, you know, this, very stereotypically Iranian immigrants like it when their kids become engineers and doctors and you have these like really August professions that are really reliable. And my going into politics was already weird. And then to top that off with, like but now I’m going to go into comedy. I remember hearing my, I remember like my parents, thinking like that my parents were disappointed that my, that I, that I became a comedian because I heard them say, my mom on a phone call saying to one of her friends, like: I’m disappointed Negin became a comedian. You know what I mean? It was just like, yeah, of course. You know, and then there’s all those years that, like, you have to convince them that you’re a professional, but you’re just the kind of professional who doesn’t make any money. All those years where things are so uncertain, you know, and then you start doing some things that they’ve ever heard of, and then you’re like, OK, then they’re like, they can they can breathe. And I think now they’re, for so many years they just always, my mom would just be like: you can always go back to government. You know what I mean? And I am, let me just see if I can do this.
Ana Marie Cox: That’s now the safe choice, that’s now the thing they would be proud of.
Negin Farsad: Right, like the fallback job in policy. And and then, and then at a certain, now they, now they don’t say that anymore because they’re like, OK, we get it. We we’ve seen you and heard you on enough things.
Ana Marie Cox: My dad only recently stopped reminding me that I could go back and get my PhD in math. I can see how the profession line had to be a series of choices. But I do want to go back to the values part of the equation that I was asking about, because I do think it’s interesting how people come to believe what they believe, especially people who feel strongly enough about it to make that part of their calling.
Negin Farsad: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: So is there a history there?
Negin Farsad: Right. So, you know, it’s interesting because I think my, it’s not like my parents ever said stuff to me about politics. Like that was kind of never a thing, right? Like we weren’t talking about like, you know, what George Bush senior was doing or whatever. I think we, I think it was, I just, I think what my parents, what I just sort of witnessed my parents doing was just always being in service. My dad is a surgeon and he was always like taking, doing the surgeries of people who couldn’t pay for it, always talking about how he could help someone who didn’t have health insurance. I mean, I think that discussion was constant in our home, was like people who couldn’t afford the kind of medical care that he was out there giving and so what ways he could help them figure out, like how to get the surgery, but like also deal with the hospital cost. All of that stuff was always a part of the discussion at home. And so I think, so I saw him sort of like constantly volunteering in that way. And my mom was all, I just, we were, we, my grandparents lived with us for a long period of time. We had my, our house was sort of like the place you came if you had cancer, which sounds dark, but it was! Like my parents were just sort of like what we do is we help people through medical crises, you know, and because we have the expertize you know, we have the know-how, and we care, you know. So there was like just like a strangely large number of cancer patients coming to our house, which, I think like it also, funnily enough, gave me such a strong belief in medical technology and like medical science because I saw so many great stories of survival. And but I also just saw people like constantly being in service to their community, whether it was like brothers and sisters and family or friends or strangers and I think that just maybe got into my bones a little bit without knowing what is the, what is that political ideology like? It’s not like I knew. I just knew that doing stuff for neighbors and doing stuff for friends and family is just something that you’re supposed to do. And I think that that’s always like translated for me in, and building community.
Ana Marie Cox: And policy. I think, I think that those values can happen a fair amount, the idea of being of service. I do think it’s interesting, for the people who see that, and I know people like this who are of service to the world, but their political ideology somehow stops at the door.
Negin Farsad: Right, right, right,
Ana Marie Cox: Or I should say their political ideology starts at the door to the outside, like they believe in doing service in their community and for family. But then somehow it’s like, oh, but government: no.
Negin Farsad: Right. Right. And I, but I also think, you know, like if you’re looking at people like my parents in the ’80s and ’90s, like that was, it was normal to just be of service and then not, and it had nothing to do with politics in general. Like it wasn’t like being of service was more Republican or more Democratic or anything. You know? It just, I think it was just like this person does that in the community. You know? It definitely, I mean, this is not a brilliant thing to say, but it definitely felt less polarized. Also I was a kid and I didn’t know what was going on the ’80s and ’90s, but like, you know, the, it, definitely felt more polarizing. It definitely felt like being of service wasn’t politicized in any way.
Ana Marie Cox: Maybe this is a good time to drop in . . . something that may have had an influence?
Negin Farsad: OK.
Ana Marie Cox: Which is the Iran . . . hostage crisis?
Negin Farsad: [laughs] Yeah, I—
Ana Marie Cox: So you were saying, 80s and 90s, oh it was less polarized and stuff. Uh . . .
Negin Farsad: Wait. So hilarious thing, so for, you know my brother and I had two kind of totally different lives because he’s 13 years older than me. And so he experienced the immigration and the coming here and learning English, and my parents had no money. He experienced the struggle. And by the time I was born, so I was sort of like born in to the Iran hostage crisis and all of that stuff. I obviously didn’t know or experience. Though we lived in Virginia when I was very little and one of my earliest memories is my brother coming home from, it must have been high school, with a black eye because he was getting beaten up because he was Iranian. And so and that was in, you know a small town in Virginia, and not Northern Virginia, Salem, Virginia, and so it was they were not welcome there. And so we ended up moving to Southern California, to Palm Springs, California, which is where I grew up mostly. And so I didn’t, my parents and my brother have this entire experience of being in a southern small town and being Iranian during a really hyper-political time for Iranians and, you know, and my brother getting beaten up. And it’s so funny because there were so few Iranians now, and more so then. [laughs] There’s just so few Iranians in America, like, I guess maybe for these guys that were beating up my brother, like: maybe this is our only chance to beat up an Iranian, like, we better take it. You know? So I think during the ’80s, it was really hyper, there was a lot of hatred of Iranians at that time because of the Iran hostage crisis, because the ayatollah in Iran was just, you know, stirring up some garbage, and it was so, I think for them it was tough. I was a little kid, so I didn’t experience it as much. But I do, but it is, it is interesting to me that my earliest memory is like is like a memory of like, you know, violence and bigotry. [laughs]
Ana Marie Cox: Because it’s interesting to me, when we were talking about, like, how your values developed and how that kind of fed into a desire to to be involved in politics. Like you didn’t mention being Muslim or whiteness or bigotry.
Negin Farsad: Right. I mean, it’s funny, like I, so, so I wrote this book called How to Make White People Laugh, and I talk about this a lot, which is that growing up like in, so I ultimately grew up in Palm Springs, which is completely different from Virginia. And the main population in Palm Springs are Mexican Americans. And you know, as a kid, like really longed to be Mexican, you know, because they had radio stations and restaurants and culture and icons and things that, like my overly-specific, hyphenated ethnic identity, did not have. And so growing up, I just sort of was like, can I glom onto those guys? Because they have all of those things and that like, you know, I remember being like in class where we had these like it, and truly, like I think my high school was maybe like 40 or 50% Mexican-American, and so teachers would be like going down to the roll call sheet and they would be like, you know, Maria Aurelia Rodrigo. You mean? Like they are just like fully could do all of the Spanish names, and they were really like everybody understood the Mexican-American identity. And then it would get to me and they would be like Megan, Magime, you know what I mean. And one teacher said to me once she called me, she called me Noodle, which she just laughed and laughed. And then and then for the rest of the semester, I know, it was, I was like: by the way we’re more of a rrice-based people so that that stereotype doesn’t track lady. I wanted to correct her with that. But then she, and then this is really, really crazy—she couldn’t say my name, and she decided for the rest of the semester she would just call me by my initials, because she just couldn’t figure out how to say my name. Right? And I was just like, oh! Look, if only my name was Aurelia, then she would be able to say my name. Which is this funny thing that happens in American society of, like minorities who presence we understand, right, at the very least, understand. And the ones who we like are still like: no, could you change your name to Rodrigo? That would make more sense.
Ana Marie Cox: It is interesting how there’s kind of a spectrum of bigotry, but I don’t mean from not being bigoted to being bigoted. I kind of mean like there’s a lot of different ways you can be bigoted.
Negin Farsad: Right. Right. From like, it’s like, like I’ve seen you, your type before to like, oh gosh, I haven’t seen your type before, but I hate both of you.
Ana Marie Cox: Yes. Yes.
Negin Farsad: You know what I mean? [laughs]
Ana Marie Cox: In your book, you also write about wanting to be Black? [laughs]
Negin Farsad: Yeah. Well because I went, I mean, and again, it is not like I, it’s not like I, it’s not like I, I was never confused. Right? Like this is the Rachel Dolezal situation. Like I wasn’t—
Ana Marie Cox: Or trying to pass. Like you were, yeah—
Negin Farsad: Yeah, there was nothing like that going on just to be clear. But I went to college and it’s like I was so used to like having this one major minority group surrounding me. And in college we didn’t, I went to Cornell in upstate New York and it was just like, it was, there was just like no Mexicans as far as the eye could see. It was like very few. But we did, the main minority group we had a campus was, where Black people and I happen to like live next to the Black dorm on campus, and then I just, I just sort of like started—it wasn’t, it was that, it, what attracted me was the language around like struggle and like political action, you know? And so that’s kind of like what I would, I started taking, and why I ended up getting a masters in African-American studies is because that was the most clear language around struggle and political action. And, and like in policy solutions, you know? When it came to like a large minority group in the country and I was like: oh, I’m like clearly not Black, but I have a lot to learn from this group that could, that could maybe be applicable elsewhere to all the like third thing people like me, who are so small in number that they don’t really like, you know, there isn’t enough information about us.
Ana Marie Cox: Kind of get lumped in, to just non-white. You’re just not white.
Negin Farsad: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Ana Marie Cox: We had Kamau Bell not long ago, and he talked about how marginalized people have to develop a sense of humor. But that the struggle, you know?
Negin Farsad: Right.
Ana Marie Cox: —and the marginalization and the, forced to sort of process.
Negin Farsad: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: Violence, bigotry, structural inequality comes out in humor.
Negin Farsad: Uh huh, yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: Do you find that to be the case?
Negin Farsad: I don’t, you know, it, I think, it, I think there’s something to that. Also, just like watching my parents come to this country as immigrants and seeing how they sort of navigated that life and navigated having fun in the middle of it all, you know what I mean? And making friends in the middle of it all and, and being joyful in the middle of it all. I think, you know, you think about also, I remember in Iran, there was a, I was a little kid and we went to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war—not to brag—and I remember like hearing stories about what people would do during bombing raids and stuff like that, and they talked about it like it was so fun because the lights would go out around the country or around the city, wherever they were, and you’d have to turn on candles and you would just kind of be silent, like shutters because they didn’t want any lights in the city, and they would start playing cards or whatever by candlelight, and like and they talked about these bombing raids like they were like a great time. And I think there is like a spirit of, look, this sucks, but how are we going to make it fun so that we can survive it? Because if you get to, like, mired in how sad and depressing something is, like war, you know, you will, you may not survive it just because you’re, you’re emotional. Just your emotional health won’t survive it. And I think there’s a lot of that with marginalized groups.
Ana Marie Cox: Yeah. And that brings me to kind of a flip side of the question. And it, something I started thinking about when I was reading your book about how to make white people laugh, which is . . . see, I don’t want to make you make a generalization. I was thinking about, so are white people not as funny? Are we, are we, like I mean, I kind of think maybe, you know, like it’s possible. And also the whole idea of having to make a white person laugh as being a different thing. Right?
Negin Farsad: Right, right, right.
Ana Marie Cox: We have a, somehow you need to work harder or, and actually, now that I say that, I think it’s probably true because you have to kind of get around the defenses of whiteness.
Negin Farsad: Ri—I mean, so first of all, I just want to say that white people are really funny. And some of my best friends are white people.
Ana Marie Cox: And they’re funny white people, too. I think, right. Yeah, OK.
Negin Farsad: Birthplace of standup comedy: America. So I think, you know, the, the way like I titled this ridiculous title—How to Make White People Laugh—and, you know, part of the book I talk about why I think it’s important to make white people laugh and just because, like, they control a lot of things, sort of like space and like Game of Thrones and um, you know . . .
Ana Marie Cox: You don’t—please don’t make a list. The podcast is only so long.
Negin Farsad: Yeah, very long list of things, right, right, right. Very long list, but I have a list in there if anyone wants to check out my list. And because they control so many of these things, it’s important to, like, keep them happy and laughing because if they are happy laughing, then they’ll let us let us in on some of that stuff. And so that’s just kind of like the idea. And I think, obviously, like, you attract more bees with honey. And I, I’m you know, I think we’re also in a transitional space right now where I kind of feel like people like me are ambassador types, you know what I mean? You know, we’re here to, like, make that cultural transition to like when 20 years from now you’re not going to think it’s weird or anything to see an Iranian American was doing something or whatever. But until then, people like me are the, like, little bridges, you know? And I, and I know people are like, oh, no one can have that responsibility or whatever—but I relish having that responsibility. Like, it’s great! I can go out there and I’m creating new stereotypes every day! You know what Iranians do? They don’t enrich uranium. Uh, instead, they are comedians. Iranians? Oh, God, they’re always comedians. Like, you know what I mean? Like you are like, if you’re out there doing that, you kind of get to be more in charge of the narrative, you know? And I, and I kind of enjoy that.
Ana Marie Cox: And there are people who feel called to do that, who take on the emotional work of interfacing with white people. You know? Like not everybody can do it, and that’s great, you know?
Negin Farsad: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: It is, I do think it’s important that you’re like, this is what I want to do. Like, I’m here to do this.
Negin Farsad: And I’ve been trained. I mean, I watch, I’ve been watching, like, you know, rom coms since I was a child. Like, I get, you know what I mean? I get it. I get it. I get. I get like, I feel like I understand how to communicate and, and also because I’m able to understand everything about cultures—you know the thing is like I you know, I”ve been all over America and doing standup and I remember I was on tour for this Muslims Are Coming tour that we are turning into a movie, and this woman said to me once—and then I’ve gotten this question many times, but this was on camera, it’s in the film—she said, what do you what do you think of 9/11? And it’s funny because I think if you were to ask that question—I know. It’s. Right? OK. But were in, I don’t remember where we were, I think you were in Mississippi or something—and if you, and like I always put myself in someone else’s shoes, it’s just like, oh, my God, this woman has truly never met a Muslim before, and you’ve never met a Muslim before and you’re watching Fox or you’re listening to whoever, Rush Limbaugh or whatever, you may literally think that Muslims have like, liked 9/11 or something. And so she’s asking me and I was like, oh, my God! I’m the first person she’s ever been able to ask that question, here, like, it’s 15 years later, let me answer her and let her know that I thought it was heinous. Like she’s never heard that. She’s never asked. She’s never been in—so I think, like we have, we make things, we give people a hard time for not knowing everything about the world. And guess what? Like, I’m going to be in a situation, I’m going to be in Slovenia one day and I’m going to say something real dumb to a Slovenian. And I hope that they take that compassion with me, because, and I, and that’s, and that’s just like the kind of thing I wish we all did for each other, as opposed to like, I feel like there’s an instant rage reaction with questions like that from people.
Ana Marie Cox: You know. Thanks so much, Negin. We have to take a quick break for ads, but we’ll be right back.
Negin Farsad: Yeah. Let’s do it.
Ana Marie Cox: So what you were saying about being an ambassador and being curious about why people say things that are ignorant or offensive, I actually had the thought that there, it may be worthwhile to sometimes think about the difference between ignorant and offensive. Is it marginalized people have to imagine the whiteness perspective all the time, right? It’s was like double consciousness. Like you cannot assume, you know what the other person is thinking, where we white people were like, I know everything, I know how Black people think, I know how Mexicans like whatever like . . .
Negin Farsad: Right.
Ana Marie Cox: And as if you’re not centered, if you’re not a centered-kind of privileged person, you’re kind of forced to do that imaginative leap. And, you know you’re making the leap. You know what you don’t know.
Negin Farsad: Right. Right.
Ana Marie Cox: And I think that outsiderness, maybe that’s one of the reasons why I always stay away from the word funny, but it makes for sharper observations.
Negin Farsad: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s like—
Ana Marie Cox: If you choose to do it, like if you choose to engage in that, which not everybody wants to do and not everybody has to, whatever.
Negin Farsad: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, because I think you’re maybe just getting a like a more three dimensional view of what’s going on in any particular situation. You know, it’s sort of how like bilingual, they did a study on like bilingual kids and they end up being more like aware of what people are thinking because they they know that they speak two languages, and I wish—
Ana Marie Cox: What a wonderful metaphor. I just want to stop you. That’s such a great, well a great example maybe, not metaphor, for that doubleness. Right?
Negin Farsad: Yeah. Yeah, no, exactly. And so I think, you know, like with marginalized people, it’s like we know that we speak to cultural languages, so, you know, and so, and so, so it’s easier for us to constantly be aware of two things, which IS . . . a form of privilege. [laughs] Like, like the privilege I have is mostly like there’s a fruit stand guy who when I asalam alaykum, he gives me a dollar off. That’s mostly my privilege, but I do think, I do think it’s like nice that I also feel like yes, in a lot of situations I like speak both languages.
Ana Marie Cox: Let’s turn to your podcast.
Negin Farsad: Which you’ve been on and you’ve been delightful.
Ana Marie Cox: Thank you so much. I’m curious, I haven’t had a chance to ask this of a comedian yet about the post-Trump comedy scene.
Negin Farsad: Yeah, un huh.
Ana Marie Cox: Especially like newsy comedy, right?
Negin Farsad: Yes!
Ana Marie Cox: There was a prediction that the bottom would fall out, you know?
Negin Farsad: Right. Right, right. Like we’d have nothing to talk about.
Ana Marie Cox: I’m curious. I know that there’s still shit to talk about, but I’m curious how it’s changed because it must have changed.
Negin Farsad: Yeah, it’s, I mean, it’s so funny because I think, like almost immediately after the inauguration, it became just less stressful to talk about politics. I think there is so much like anger before and weirdly anger on both sides, anger from the people in power, and anger from the people outside of power. And now it’s weird, like I also think we get to, like, have larger discussions because we’re not talking about tweets or whatever. We’re, we get to be like, what are you talking about, like this huge American Rescue Plan or the American Families Plan, or like we can kind of be, a little bit, talk more a little bit about ideas, and less about personality. I think before we spent a lot of time parsing through whether or not someone was in a bad mood, or what, or whether they got their KFC that day or whatever. And it was like we wasted a lot of energy on that, you know, because that wasn’t actually important. One person’s mood and how it affected the planet?! It’s crazy how much time we had to devote to that. And we don’t. We actually get to talk about, like, ideas and stuff. And, and I think it’s like more fun this way. I actually don’t, even though it seemed like there was a lot of fodder then. It wasn’t. It was, it was harrowing, and it wasn’t fun.
Ana Marie Cox: I think of humor in a time of less obvious criticisms as being harder. And I will try to say that again, because what I mean is when you have instinctive reactions to something that you think is bad, to me, the comedy flows pretty easily then. Like, you have a heightened reaction, your mind is like click, click, click, click, click. I can be funny about this because I have to be funny about this, because this is really pissing me off.
Negin Farsad: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: When things are, when I have to think more about things, maybe? [laughs] Like when an issue is more complicated and I don’t know how I feel about it, I think it’s harder to be funny. And I’ll compare it to something that I’m actually much more familiar with, which is reviews. I think every critic knows that a pan is the easiest thing to write.
Negin Farsad: Right.
Ana Marie Cox: A rave is the second easiest thing to write.
Negin Farsad: OK.
Ana Marie Cox: It’s pretty good, but not great, is the hardest thing to write.
Negin Farsad: Right. Right, right. Right. Right.
Ana Marie Cox: So, am I on the right track here about thinking about how funny you can make something, or the path to funny if it’s a complicated issue, if you don’t have that instinctive reaction,
Negin Farsad: Like, I think that the, well my question for you, is have you seen Gutfeld on Fox?
Ana Marie Cox: Oh, I have a question on here is why aren’t conservatives funny? So if that’s what you’re, where you’re going, like . . . [laughs]
Negin Farsad: I mean, so I’m wondering because, so if you’re, if what you’re saying is right, then it should be very easy for a show like Gutfeld on Fox, and you like, conservative-themed—
Ana Marie Cox: Oh, interesting.
Negin Farsad: —show to be funny, right? Because theoretically, like, they’re not in power and they probably hate everything that Biden is doing, but I think they’re actually having a hard time finding it. This is why I think it’s easier for me now than it was before, because I don’t like talking about, I don’t like making fun of people. I’ve never enjoyed making fun of people. It makes me feel bad. And so even though Donny was like the worst guy ever, I still didn’t enjoy the comedy that made fun of him. Like, it just none of it felt really good. And so I think it’s more fun, I mean, I just, I like, I, to me, I’m just like, where is the self-deprecation? [laughs] Like, how do we make fun of ourselves? And that, and that I think is where like conservative comedy, I think for some reason, doesn’t naturally go to self-deprecation or something.
Ana Marie Cox: Oh for some reason—do you want me to weigh in?
Negin Farsad: [laughs] Please.
Ana Marie Cox: Do you think it’s a mystery? I don’t think it’s a mystery.
Negin Farsad: I do. I don’t understand because it feels like an easy way to make comedy work. And it’s not they’re not taking that.
Ana Marie Cox: Coming from a position of power, that is, I think, what was is a big hurdle for them, because you could say they’re out of power, but no, they’re not. You know, I mean, like in terms of just like state houses, you could do it that way.
Negin Farsad: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: In sheer numbers they’re not in control and yes there’s a Democrat Pr—but, yes, structurally, the kind of people that become Republicans have a lot of power. And I think that maybe this sort of goes back to the idea that it’s hard to step out of yourself.
Ana Marie Cox: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: Then? And so they are kind of blind in a way, to their own frailties and their own idiosyncrasies and their own hypocrisies.
Negin Farsad: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: And if you are, and I’m not, and I think humor has to be aware of that, even if it’s you’re not going after yourself, even if it’s not completely self-deprecating. You can’t just like, you have to know you’re own weaknesses.
Negin Farsad: You have to speak both languages. You have to be aware of what’s going on and you also have to be aware of yourself and that, and if, and if, yeah, I see that. And if you’re not aware of yourself, then it’s really hard to be self-deprecating.
Ana Marie Cox: I did sincerely have a question about that, but I wanted to, I wanted to know if you had a [laughs] because it is yet still kind of a mystery. I will say, like I do think that the point we’re talking about explains some of it. Maybe my actual, the real mystery for me is why some conservatives find conservative humor funny. That’s sort of like: like you really like this? Like you think this is funny?
Negin Farsad: Right? Well, the thing is, too, is I am truly rooting for conservative comedy because I think that they, you know, the entertainment on offer is mostly people talking with, like, hints of funny and but mostly it’s a lot of anger and that has become a form of entertainment. But that’s not actually entertaining because it’s like, you know, it’s like taking you on a journey of jokes and fun. It’s like it’s just still talking about the world and being angry about it with occasional jokes. And that is not I think, I would love to see conservative comedy that really, I don’t know, focuses on, I don’t know, jokes about family or whatever, jokes about the kids. What are they doing? Like, it’s weird to me that they, and in fact, I’ve seen Christian comedy be more successful at this than conservative comedy. And I’m always like, guys, can you take a page from your Christian comics, like they’re doing a way better job? And I think also, like Christian comics don’t immediately go to like just like trashing liberals. Like, it’s because it’s a little not Christian. [laughs]
Ana Marie Cox: I’m going to point out as a Christian, that there is a little bit of that double awareness for Christians, especially if you’re someone that considers yourself fairly devout, like a believer, like someone who was a practicing Christian.
Negin Farsad: Right.
Ana Marie Cox: And that’s not just your identity that you mark on a form.
Negin Farsad: Right. Right, right.
Ana Marie Cox: And also, if you’re like a practicing Christian, you’re going to have some humility. That’s the whole thing, I don’t know if you know about that. That’s [laughs] there’s a whole thing.
Negin Farsad: You’re right. Christian’s are big on that. And humility isn’t really like a part of like the right-wing, you know, ecosystem. And so I think, so I’m really rooting for conservatives to find something that softens them to themselves because I think it’ll just be more fun, like it is OK to like for that whole, you know, for, for right-wing conservative people to, like, just have more fun and like and not have it be about being against and angry about something.
Ana Marie Cox: And I also, then I have to wonder sort of this identity group finds humility and finds the double awareness, then are they conservative anymore. Are they right-wing anymore?
Negin Farsad: Right. I think it lifts them out. I mean, I think that’s what it could, what , Like me, like what a great, like comedy could do for them is like pull them out of it a little bit so that they’re not so there. Yeah. I just think it would soften. I think it would soften.
Ana Marie Cox: Negin, got to break in again.
Negin Farsad: OK.
Ana Marie Cox: But we’ll be right back.
Ana Marie Cox: So I’m going to go all the way back to the beginning of the conversation.
Negin Farsad: OK.
Ana Marie Cox: You’re a social justice comedian. What does success in that field look like for you?
Negin Farsad: Oh, my God, that’s a really weird question. I mean, it’s like, no, it’s, oh my God. That that makes me have some existential angst, because success in that career, I guess, means we then live in Utopia? It means I solved racism? It means there’s a universal child care for every? I don’t even know why. It’s so it’s so crazy. Yeah. So there’s like that big, big global thing that obviously we’re all working for. You know, and for me personally—you know, it’s crazy, I got an email from someone the other day that was like: I listen to your podcast, and I want you to know that, like you, you’re one of the reasons I’m now a liberal, you’re the second most influential person in making me a liberal. I was a conservative then I was a libertarian. I been listening to your podcast for years, and the first most influential person was Donald Trump, and you’re the second person influential person. And I was like, wow. And it, I was just utterly moved, and I’m not trying to get people to, like, be, come, be a part of a party, you know what I mean? It’s not, that’s what my goal is, like get you to be a Democrat. But if being a Democrat makes, means that you’re going to be more accepting of your fellow person and if you’re going to be, and you care about the climate and that you care about housing for more people or whatever—then that’s great. And that’s a win. And so I think those are the small successes for me. That man, I really hold on. Like that email, it’s like I’m printing it and making it my, the wallpaper of my entire house, you know what I mean? Like, that’s like it feels so good to hear something like that from someone. So it’s really, really small wins that I think I can hang my hat on sometimes.
Ana Marie Cox: And I want to give you a chance to maybe elevate some other people, because I assume there are more people doing the stuff that you do. And I would love to hear about them.
Negin Farsad: Yeah, I mean—
Ana Marie Cox: Sorry. You want to take a break and think about it? But I am curious, like I think like it, it’d be good to know, right?
Negin Farsad: Yeah. Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: Who do you look to for inspiration? Maybe that’s a better question.
Negin Farsad: Oh, my God. It’s funny because I would say, you know, there’s like, I don’t even know who I would, obviously like you mentioned Kamau Bell, you know. You mentioned Kamau Bell, he’s obviously doing a lot in this space. I made my film, The Muslims are Coming with Dean Obeidallah, a comedian in this space. There’s, I think, the thing is like I’m around really brilliant comedians and artists all the time who just don’t get enough attention generally. And so what I would say is just like go support your locals. I mean, go find the local comedy club, go find the local coffee shop that has comedy, like go find your local community theater. Those people are really talented and they just need some support. And so that’s what I would, I would want, I think there’s just so many good people working out there and they just don’t get the attention that the famous get. So go give them that attention.
Ana Marie Cox: On this week’s With Adorables Like These, you’re going to hear from Matt DeGroot, Crooked Media’s Director of video production and his pup, who has him wrapped around her little paw, Jolene.
Negin Farsad: All right, Matt, thank you for coming on the show.
Matt DeGroot. Of course.
Ana Marie Cox: Please tell us your adorable’s name, and could you describe your adorable?
Negin Farsad: Sure. So her name, her full name is Jolene Pooty Toot DeGromez, but just Jolene for short. She is a little black and white, mixed, mystery dog. She’s about 10 pounds. We actually did one of those DNA tests to see what her sort of background was and it came back 25% Chihuahua, 25% terrier, 50% mystery. So we’re not really sure what’s going on there. I think there might be some otter or Ewok or something, but she’s cute.
Ana Marie Cox: I’ve heard the term super mutt for that kind of combination, which I really like.
Matt DeGroot. Exactly.
Ana Marie Cox: And how did Jolene come into your life?
Matt DeGroot. We actually we found her through a rescue organization here in L.A. called Mayday. They have an Instagram account where they posted the dogs that they’re currently rescuing and saving. And we had been sort of looking around for a while and we were scrolling through the account and we saw a picture of Jolene, and both of us being big Dolly Parton fans, we were like: oh, my God, that’s our dog. And so we reached out, and then like within a week, she was our pup.
Ana Marie Cox: It’s fun when the adorable comes with the right name.
Matt DeGroot. Yes.
Ana Marie Cox: Like I had I’ve had a couple come with the right name too. It’s awesome.
Matt DeGroot. It’s the best.
Ana Marie Cox: So what’s the most you’ve gone out of your way for Jolene, or the biggest way you spoil her?
Matt DeGroot. Oh God. We always spoil her way too much, to be honest. I think the biggest thing lately is we recently moved to a new place back in November and we knew the move was like—not traumatic for her—but it was a big change of being in a new space. And so she used to always sleep in her crate at night. And for the first few nights in the new home, we were like: oh, she might be stressed out, let’s just let her sleep in bed with us. It is now six months later and she has not returned to the crate.
Ana Marie Cox: It’s very rare that they go back, I think. And how does your adorable support you? I mean, all animals are emotional support animals, but is there a particular way that Jolene supports you?
Matt DeGroot. She supports us honestly, just by being a constant source of humor and joy for us. She is a very goofy dog. She likes to, like, randomly get angry at text on screen if she sees it on the TV. That for some reason sets her off, which we find hilarious. She is very proud. Like if she ever uses her pee pad or finishes her food, she’ll come over and stomp her foot at us to tell her she needs more or she deserves a treat. She’s just hilarious and we love having her around. And especially this past year when we’ve been at home so much, it’s hard to imagine going through this year without her presence.
Ana Marie Cox: And is there a cause that Jolene would support if she could throw her support?
Matt DeGroot. Oooh. I feel like she would be in support of universal health care, if only selfishly, because she doesn’t want medical bills getting in the way of us buying treats for her.
Ana Marie Cox: Right. I also have it on good authority that there is, in fact, another thing that she does that’s hilarious, that we have not mentioned. Which is: running in circles around your legs?
Matt DeGroot. [laughs] Yes.
Ana Marie Cox: Is this the thing that she does?
Matt DeGroot. It is. Every time we enter the apartment, she immediately just starts running in circles to show her excitement and she will spin around and then eventually, like, get up on her hind legs and tap you with her front one.
Ana Marie Cox: And does she have a voice that you can do for us?
Matt DeGroot. [laughs] She sure does. [in raspy voice] She talks a little bit like this. It’s kind of like a sassy Marcel Marceau.
Ana Marie Cox: Matt and Jolene, thank you for coming on the show.
Matt DeGroot. Thank you for having us. [as Jolene] Thank you.
Ana Marie Cox: And that is it for the show. Thanks to Negin Farsad. You can find Fake the Nation anywhere you get your podcast. Her most recent book is How to Make White People Laugh. Also, thanks to Matt and Jolene.
Ana Marie Cox: This show is a production of Crooked Media, produced by Alison Herrera with assistance from Jordan Waller. Izzy Margulies is our booker. Louie Leeno engineered this episode. Whitney Pastorek is fully-vaccinated and ready to rumble. Once again, have a glorious Pride month and let the queer people in your life know you love them exactly as they are. Just like I hope you love that person in the mirror. Take care of yourselves.