When a comedian realized she could fight Islamophobia

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to another in our Brief But Spectacular series, where we ask interesting people to describe their passions.

Comedian Negin Farsad describes how she uses comedy to fight bigotry. Her latest book, "How to Make White People Laugh," was released earlier this month.

NEGIN FARSAD, Writer/Comedian: I'm an Iranian-American Muslim lady, and, as such, growing up, I didn't really have any icons to look up to.

I yearned to be Mexican because there were so many Mexicans in our schools, and they had issues and icons like Cesar Chavez, and everyone could say their names like Aralia and Rodrigo.

And then, with me, they just — they were just like, Megan, Megrime?

I grew up in Palm Springs, California, and Palm Springs is a really weird place. It's simultaneously like one of the top five retirement communities and also one of the top five gay cities in California. It's the kind of place where you will see people dancing to Lady Gaga while adjusting their catheters.

One of the main problems of being a Muz in today's world is that people immediately conflate that with terrorism and violence. I'm like 5'3-and-a-half, and I dress like a cartoon character.

And I ended up getting a master's degree in African-American studies. I was the only non-black person in the department. The purple represents all the black students, and then the non-purple part is the me. People were sort of like, it's weird that — don't you have your own people?

And I would be like, how could you say that? I will fight for African-American rights whenever and wherever. I have a DVD box set of "A Different World" on my backpack. I'm about to change my name to Tyler Perry Presents Negin Farsad.

At a certain point, I sort of realized, you know — and this is well after 9/11 — that like I do have my own people. Islamophobia is on the rise. And there's actually something I can do about it, comedy but about stuff that mattered and had some kind of social impact.

I wrote a musical called "The Israeli Palestinian Conflict: A Romantic Comedy." I made a feature documentary comedy called "The Muslims Are Coming." I basically rounded up a bunch of Muslim-American comedians in a nonviolent way, and we went around the country to places like Tennessee and Alabama and Georgia, and places where they love the Muzzies. And we did these stand-up shows.

"How to Make White People Laugh" is a memoir meets social justice comedy manifesto. I talk about being Iranian. I talk about Islamophobia. I talk about xenophobia. I talk about being a brown lady dating online. There are some really earth-shattering chapters in it, like the one called "Immigrants Spit Out More Patriotic Babies."

My parents are immigrants, and they raised, like, an uber-dorky patriot who had a giant American flag in her bedroom all growing up. That's how in love with the country I was raised to be.

So, I feel like, every time I take the stage, I have to announce to everybody, hey, I'm an Iranian-American Muslim female, like all of you, and just to calm people down that, like, I know that you know that this is not the normal package for a comedian, and it's going to be OK.

My name is Negin Farsad, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on being an Iranian-American Muslim female comedian…lady.

JUDY WOODRUFF: She's a winner.

HARI SREENIVASAN: She's got enough adjectives at the end there, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: You can watch more episodes of our Brief But Spectacular series on our Web site, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/brief/.

Recently in Brief but Spectacular