There comes a time when every promising “Saturday Night Live” cast member — from Chevy Chase and John Belushi to Amy Poehler and Tina Fey — must think about that treacherous leap to their next comedic station. One morning earlier this month, Nasim Pedrad, a four-season veteran of the show and its senior female cast member, is practically midair in an empty conference room on the eighth floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. News had broken that day that Pedrad will leave the show after four years to costar in “SNL” writer John Mulaney’s buzzed-about sitcom if the pilot is picked up next month.
“As heartbreaking as it would be to think of potentially not being at ‘SNL,’ I can’t think of a better project to potentially go to,” Pedrad says as she fidgets to sit comfortably on a long, beige cloth couch.
She is wearing a black knit hat, faded charcoal jeans, a three-quarter-length army green top and a pair of Cobra Society calfskin boots. She is much smaller in person than she seems on television and strikingly pretty. Her laid-back look belies a nervous excitement.
“It will still feel so in-the-family because Lorne [Michaels] is producing it,” she adds.
Pedrad and Mulaney have had a fruitful relationship at “SNL,” which has included cocreating her Arianna Huffington parody. A respected stand-up comedian in his own right, Mulaney had Pedrad in mind when he penned the pilot. The role will give the actress — whose other characters have included Kim Kardashian; Nicki Minaj; Princess Jasmine from “Aladdin”; Bedelia, a precocious teen, and Tippy, a kind of nerdy busy body — a real chance to break out in her own right.
For “SNL,” her absence would be yet another loss of a strong performer, one who is able to deliver solid, believable and hilarious impressions. Last year, two of the show’s brightest stars, Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig, left. This year, it’s rumored that Jason Sudeikis will move on as well. There has also been talk that head writer Seth Meyers will grab Jimmy Fallon’s show once the “Late Night” host takes over the “Tonight Show” from Jay Leno, who will retire next spring.
But for now, it’s too early to tell what will happen. And Pedrad is just happy to have options. Born in Tehran, Iran, she emigrated to the U.S. when she was two with her younger sister and their parents. Growing up in Irvine, Calif., Pedrad was painfully aware of her family’s differences. Her mom, a patternmaker for A.B.S., and her father, a medical insurance examiner for life insurance, had held out hope that Pedrad would ditch comedy and become a doctor. But Pedrad — and her sister, a former writer for Fey’s “30 Rock — opted for artier pursuits, bucking her family’s traditional values.
“I don’t know how that happened,” Pedrad says, explaining that her parents are “on board” with her career.
“I knew at a young age that I wanted to do comedy, and maybe part of that was trying to fit in at school because I had a weird name and my parents had these accents and I was definitely a late bloomer,” she says, admitting that those moments of feeling like an outcast helped inform the parts she plays on “SNL,” to the point where some of her best characters are the most ill-adjusted. Coincidentally, they also tend range from precocious teen boys to menopausal women.
“I’m gonna say, ‘Thank you,’” the actress says, cracking up at the observation. “I can easily connect with the prepubescent dork I spent much of my life being. And I really don’t know about the old lady. It’s so funny, that does tend to be what I play. Maybe my career is going to peak when I’m in my seventies? I have a lot of waiting around to do until then.”