Surviving 2020 With “Fake The Nation” Podcast Host & Unrelenting Optimist Negin Farsad

Negin Farsad. Photo by Andrew Walker

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a difficult, turbulent, never-ending and WTF year, that just doesn’t seem to end! Whether it is politics, COVID, protests about systemic racism, or the November election, it can be hard to find the positive in our daily news feeds. But one woman who is an expert in finding the good and focusing on it during dark times is comedian, podcast host and unrelenting optimist Negin Farsad.

You may be familiar with her ‘How To Make White People Laugh’ book and TED Talk, her film ‘The Muslims are Coming’, and her podcast ‘Fake The Nation‘, where she has hosted guests such as Samantha Bee, Margaret Cho, Bill Nye and Judah Friedlander just to name a few.

She also started her career in the world of politics before successfully transitioning into a media career, carrying that humorous and positive outlook with her to the masses. If there is anyone we need to talk to right now to make sense of the world, our messy political environment, and refusing to give in to stereotypes and tropes, it’s Negin Farsad. Read our interview below and be sure to subscribe, rate and listen to Fake The Nation to keep this positivity vibe going!

First up we need to know: how do you balance humor and the news cycle in such dark times? We need some advice! 

This may come as a surprise but my advice for balancing the news cycle with life is… choose life! Ignore news! There’s some nuance there, of course, I have a current-events-based podcast so I have to consume a lot of news. But I consume news on a schedule. I look at news when I’m mentally and emotionally ready for it. I turned off all notifications and I never mindlessly scroll. I used to and then the addiction became too real. Plus, my mood sucks when I consume too much news! 

You started out your career in NYC politics and are now straddling multiple mediums as a social justice comedian. How have your various jobs, as well as your background as a Muslim woman, informed your perspective as a comedian today?

My belief in public policy as a force of good fuels my optimism and is an undergirding theme in my comedy. Side note, every time I say “undergirding” I think of girdles. Who’s with me?

I think my various jobs have made me 4% more capable than the average person of reading the news and taking in its salient points. But only 4%. I think my background as a Muslim has made me the ultimate “everyman” – I don’t just see the Muslim perspective but I also see the mainstream perspective because that’s all I got when I was growing up. Its like I speak multiple media languages. 

As a TED speaker and fellow, you gave a brilliant talk in 2016 based on your documentary, The Muslims Are Coming! and talked about how “Comedy is one of our best weapons”. Can you share more about this, and how it relates to your documentary?

For The Muslims Are Coming! film, I rounded up a bunch of Muslim-American comedians, in a non-violent way, and we went on the road to places like Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah – basically, places you don’t typically see a bunch of Muslim comedians. We did shows and street actions and one of our goals was, for these audiences, if they’ve never met a Muslim person before, we’ll be their first point of Muslim contact. They might be wary of Muslims because they never met us! My approach is typically exposure mixed with fun. To me, that’s the way to finding acceptance and love. Comedy is that great mixture of exposure and fun. 

On ‘Fake The Nation’ you’ve interviewed some really interesting mix of people such as Margaret Cho, Julián Castro, Shalewa Sharpe, Samantha Bee, Bill Nye and more. What have been some of the most stand-out political stories that you’ve found a comedic take on? 

Samantha Bee said at one point that she has a mantra for America’s new political landscape, which is “What would Stacy Abrams do? Now do that thing.” She kept the mantra on her phone’s home screen, so you know she was serious. Bill Nye kept saying that climate change is dire but that he’s OPTIMISTIC. “We can save it!”, he kept saying. Margaret Cho said a lot of things but what really stuck out was her commitment to BDSM festivals during a pandemic – they’re virtual now but for her they were necessary to the soul! She was showing us that being in a pandemic didn’t have to be devoid of FUN. 

Who have been the most interesting people to interview, and why? 

Fake the Nation is a panel show so I think the most interesting aspect of it is talking to someone like Larry Wilmore or John Hodgman on issues ranging from serious to dumb – like what they think of Joe Biden but also what do they think of sweatpants? It’s a particular window into how these comedians think. By the way, it turns out sweatpants are a very divisive issue. 

Can you talk to us about the importance of representation and whether you struggled to see more comedians like yourself in the mainstream growing up? 

I did not see comedians like me growing up. Quite honestly, I remember saying to myself in middle school “they’ll sort this out by the time I’m an adult.” I remember specifically saying that with respect to how we didn’t have a female president in American history. I didn’t think that I would be one of the people “sorting out” the representations issues as an adult. I really thought it would have been taken care of by now. It’s cute how naive I was. That said, I could always relate to everything I saw on TV. Which is why I know that audiences can relate to me. 

Who are some political candidates or currently elected leaders that get you excited right now for the future of America?

This answer might be so predictable but I gotta say it: Kamala Harris. What I love about her is that she’s not exactly a progressive’s dream and yet she has had one of the most progressive records of the Senate. She’s not a moderate’s dream because she’s been too progressive. She has gobs of experience and can cut someone with her questioning. She lives in a nuanced space where she’s made artful compromises, where’s she done the hard work, and where she can live to fist bump Lindsay Graham. It seems like she’s here to do the tough, tough work of actual policy making while espousing progressive values AND making friends on both sides of the aisle. That is a remarkable tight rope to walk. And look, she’s walking it! She’s the Vice President-Elect of the United States of America!

If you had to give advice to people who are feeling extremely drained by the continuous negative news cycle, how would you encourage them to feel optimistic? 

Remember the way internet clicks work is that the more negative the better. Remind yourself that algorithms are designed to get you to click – they’re not designed for your mental health. They’re not real. Your neighbors are real. Lean into them. Meet them! Have conversations with them! Then when all is said and done and you still need a dose of optimism to make it through the day, sing really loud, dance, and get a dog. 

While 2020 has been a turbulent year for us all, can you share some positive moments that have given you hope or at least some great comedy material?

I was talking to a neighbor about the vaccine. He was convinced that the vaccine was some kind of hoax. I said, no way! Its been made with real science and the vaccine will help end this pandemic! He asked if I was going to get it. I absolutely will. He said, “if you get it, then I’ll get it because I trust you.” Day made! Month made! It’s these small moments, with a neighbor, with a friend where you might actually have impact. I didn’t realize he trusted me to that extent. But you better believe that when the time comes, I’ll be knocking on his door to make sure he gets the vaccine. Now, if only I could use these powers to make Velcro pants a thing. 

You can listen to Negin on her podcast ‘Fake The Nation’ on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.

Negin Farsad. TEDFellows Retreat 2013. August 17 – 21, 2013, Whistler, BC. Photo: Bret Hartman