‘Mideast Minute’ with Lankan born Pardis Parker
Mirror Magazine(MM): Congratulations on being the first Sri Lankan-born actor/comedian to create and star in your own project for a US network! What did it take to get here?
Pardis: A surprising amount of resilience. Things went quickly for me early on, but the move to Los Angeles brought with it a shocking string of almost-but-not-quites, and of flat-out rejections and failures. So it just took perseverance, and the willingness to keep getting back up off the mat. In many ways it was a game of attrition, of outlasting others who more readily gave up.
And before that it took the kindness and patience and mentorship of the filmmaking and comedy communities in Canada. I wouldn’t have been able to take even the first step without their guidance, so I’m indebted to them for their encouragement early on.
MM:Tell us about “Mideast Minute.” Why did Jamsheed al-Jamsheedi become the character you wanted to launch on Comedy Central?
Pardis:This past election cycle in the US was notable for its lies and deception. It showed, I think, better than most years, the dangers of partisanship – of putting the interests of a party above those of a nation or even the world. So it seemed like a fun opportunity – as well as a timely one – to play a character whose entire workday was a conflict between reality on one hand, and the lies he tells on the other. And the discomfort that results.
A character who’s forced to deal live, on-air, with the cognitive dissonance that stems from telling a lie in the immediate presence of evidence that contradicts it. Just the squirming of it, the two-faced-ness, seemed like it’d be fun to portray.
MM:”Mideast Minute” has had segments on immigration and Jared Kushner—how do you choose your subjects? As a comedian, what draws you in?
Pardis:It’s a combination of things. We try to choose subjects that will be of interest both domestically and internationally. And we try to zero in on the most audacious lies and scandals the government’s dealing with. Like the idea that Jared Kushner is being deployed as a Peace Envoy to the Middle East because of anything other than nepotism. That takes balls. It takes major cojones to be able to look your population in the eye and tell them that boldfaced a lie without cracking a smile.
MM:Fill us in on your life before you became a comedian. What did you do to keep afloat? When did you know it was time for a change?
Pardis:I attended McGill University in Montreal, studying computer science and psychology, and planned to go into artificial intelligence afterwards. But then I looked at where AI was headed and realized that things like having “food on the table” and “a roof overhead” and “retirement in my 30s” were overrated, and instead chose a career in storytelling. And if you’re wondering if I ever regret my decision, let’s just say I once booked a role in an Instant Lasagna Casserole commercial, so…you know…pretty sure I’m on the right path.
MM:Your parents are Sri Lankan, and you were born here. Do you still have ties to the island? How did the immigrant experiences of your family influence your identity and your work?
Pardis:My mother’s Sri Lankan, from Moratuwa, but my father’s Iranian. He and his family escaped to Sri Lanka in the lead-up to the Iranian revolution. Then he met my mother, they got married, and I came along. And we lived in Ratmalana a short while before we had to seek asylum in Canada because of the Iranian government’s continued pressure on its expats overseas.
And although we still have family in Ceylon, my most meaningful day-to-day connection with the island has to be the food. Even if what I’m eating isn’t Sri Lankan, I still eat it like it is. Adding chillies to everything. Doesn’t matter what. Steak, cake, Pepsi, whatever. There’s nothing that can’t be improved with chillies.
And my whole background – the mixed heritage, the varied perspective – all of that allows me to come at stories from a different angle. Which is valuable. Especially in Hollywood. You think a white person could have eaten that Instant Lasagna Casserole the way I did? Drawing from the same emotional well I drew from? Please. Impossible.
MM:What are the best and worst things about making a life in comedy?
Pardis:If I’m good, I make you smile – easily the best part. And there is no worst part. Every day I pursue something beautiful – laughter. There’s no downside to that.
Magazine cover and pictures courtesy Mak Management
|Learn more about Pardis Parker on pardisparker.com or follow him on Twitter @pardisparker|