Pardis Parker, creator of the new Comedy Central web series "Mideast Minute," has no lack of material for a show that satirizes American propaganda in the Middle East. Parker also stars in the show, playing Jamsheed al-Jamsheedi, a talking head for an American news network.
It's Comedy Central's first satirical news show distributed on its digital platform, which released three episodes (each under three minutes) on Jan. 27. The Times spoke with Parker about the show's origins and its relevance today.
How did you come up with the idea for the show?
The first thing I ever did was a Web series called "Mideast Minute." It was back in 2007. The idea at the time was to do a big news show that tried to convince Middle Easterners that everything was OK in the Middle East. After we did the Web series, we found out that the Bush administration, in real life, launched an Arab-language news network in 2004 called Alhurra to compete with Al Jazeera in the Middle East. [They did it] to counteract the news that was coming out of Al Jazeera and put a positive spin on what was going on in the region and America's involvement with it.
It was one of those "truth is stranger than fiction" kind of moments. We had this crazy, wacky idea of, "oh, wouldn't it be hilarious if I was an American mouthpiece" and afterward we were like, "oh my God, they did it."
In the show you address people from the Middle East as "villagers," and there are other similar moments throughout. Can you talk about where they come from?
That was a character that's been in development for a long time. In real life when they launched Alhurra, Bush announced it during his State of the Union address, it wasn't this covert operation. They launched the network, they go and buy this old TV station in Springfield, Va., they converted it into high-tech broadcast facility, then they went and hired a bunch of people that they should not have hired.
The character, he's an American mouthpiece, this guy named Jamsheed al-Jamsheedi. The idea was the network president didn't know the difference between Arabs and non-Arabs. He just hired a brown guy, gave him an Arabic name and said this is good enough. He's basically grossly misinformed about the Middle East and about the region.
If you look at the logo for the show, the Arabic above "Mideast Minute" is just the Arabic word for "logo." If you look at the intro sequence for the show, the Arabic that's in the background is just the Arabic word for "background." It's what would it look like if a bunch of idiots were running American propaganda.
This weekend President Trump banned entry to the U.S. for several Muslim-majority countries, and in the first episode, the show's host attempts to dissuade Middle Easterners from immigrating here. What a coincidence.
The timing has been incredible. As far as what's actually going on, for me I look at what's happening and my only reaction is being filled with encouragement and hope. Look at the action, look at what happened, look at the decision and the immediate and overwhelming response from everyone in the country — not just people who have my skin color, not just people who have my cultural background. The immediate reaction from the country was one of support and defiance. It was coming together to raise their voices on our behalf. This thing that was meant to divide actually has the opposite effect. It's leading to an outpouring of love.
Why do we need comedy right now?
Generally speaking, it's easier to understand why something is crazy and absurd when you make fun of it. Shouting at it and trying to respond rationally and intellectually with something that's absurd isn't necessarily the best approach, I don't think. Sometimes you have to make fun of it.
What issues are you going to tackle in future episodes?
I don't think there's going to be a shortage, I'll tell you that much. It's going to be a fun few years. There's all kinds of specific things that I want to get into that I don't think I'll tease just yet. But I think the best stuff is the stuff where the truth is what provides the comedy. So again, I don't think there's going to be a shortage of funny truths in the next few years.