by We Are Sikhs — February 16, 2022

"We love the comic legends of the past and the ones of our generation, but the next generation is going to look a lot different. They are going to look more like us and that is exciting." - Hans Sahni

Hans Sahni is a Hollywood producer and the Head of Content for Will Ferrell’s Big Money Players podcast network. He has worked on films, television shows, and digital media, including our award-winning comedy sketch “Let’s Talk About Turbans” that we made in collaboration with Funny or Die.

With over a decade of experience in the entertainment industry, you have produced projects for TV networks, including Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and E! Network, as well as films, podcasts, and more. What led you to the entertainment industry? And comedy specifically?

I always knew that I wanted to work in the entertainment industry. My parents worked high-pressure jobs when I was growing up, so I spent a lot of time watching television and movies. I quickly became obsessed with storytelling and entertainment.

In any immigrant community, it’s a tough sell to parents to say that you want to pursue something creative. But I was really fortunate to have parents who supported and encouraged me to move to the west coast, go to film school, and pursue a career in entertainment.

I went to a graduate program at Chapman University to study Film & TV Producing. After I graduated, I just started working on the jobs I could find. My first job was as a PA (production assistant), which is the bottom of the food chain, but it got me on the set of the movie Lincoln.

When filming ended, I followed the chain of referrals. That’s how careers in entertainment tend to go. You work for some people, do a good job, and they refer you to somebody else. I did that for a while, but after doing a lot of production and working on big movie sets I realized that I was mostly just running errands, doing office work, making coffee. None of the stuff that I got into the entertainment industry to do. I wanted to start working creatively and be involved in shaping the stories we were telling.

Shortly after I had this realization, I met a producer at Funny or Die. At the time, Funny or Die was known as a place for young people without a long resume to get a foot in the door and start making content that lots of people could see.

It was honestly a coincidence that they produced comedy sketches, I didn’t set out to build a career in comedy, but I had always enjoyed making people laugh, and I knew I had a good sense of humor. I sort of fell backwards into comedy and did well with it. The entertainment industry works in such a way that once you find what you are good at, you tend to stick with it, so that led me to where I am today.

You directed our short with Funny or Die, “Let’s Talk About Turbans. Gasp!” What made you want to take on the project? Do you feel the short accomplished your goal?

That project was such a happy coincidence. I wasn’t aware of the National Sikh Campaign at the time, and Funny or Die was not aware that they had a Sikh person (me) working at the company already.

Every few months, our CEO would share decks with upcoming projects he was excited about. In one of these decks, I saw a project with the National Sikh Campaign and knew I had to be involved. I emailed the CEO and asked, “who is running this thing? You know it should be me, right?” He welcomed me to the project with open arms and then I got to meet everyone at Sikh Campaign and get working.

We had such a good, collaborative process. There were a lot of ideas going back and forth, and I‘m really happy with what we ended up making out of it. I think it struck a great balance of being funny and educational. It is not easy to do both, but we did it and it’s amazing to see how many people have watched and reacted to it.

The whole process was also a testament to why representation in the industry matters and how important it is to put people in front of and behind the camera who can tell their stories authentically. I understood the message and how sensitive and important it was. That video just wouldn’t have turned out the same way if different people were involved – that’s not to say it couldn’t have been good, but it definitely would have been different.

Today, you’re working for Big Money Players Network, a joint comedy podcast venture between Will Ferrell and iHeartMedia. What is it like to work there and be so near to Will Ferrell?

Will Ferrell is a dream. I have worked with and around a bunch of celebrities. Sometimes it goes great, and sometimes it doesn’t go well at all. I can happily say that Will is genuinely one of the good ones.

Aside from being a comedy legend, he is very much a human being. He is kind, generous, and trusting. He is one of those people who will find somebody who is right for a job and trust them to do it. He is not going to get in their way but is ready to be helpful and supportive where he can. Working with him has been a great experience.

Likewise, IHeartRadio has been great. The company, Big Money Players, is a joint venture between Will Ferrell and iHeartRadio that produces comedy podcasts, and iHeart has always been supportive and ready to help with everything Will and I pitch.

It has been an exciting opportunity, and we are placing a huge emphasis on diversity. Representation has been very important to me, and Will and iHeart have been very supportive of that. We all agree that the future is going to be more diverse. We love the comic legends of the past and the ones of our generation, but the next generation is going to look a lot different. They are going to look more like us, and that’s exciting.

How has Sikhi influenced your life and the work you do?

All of my passion for representation and inclusion in media comes from the fact that I grew up feeling different. Not seeing people who looked like me in the media made me feel like an outsider.

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Superman. I remember watching the original 1970s Superman movie over and over. Yet even as a kid, I remember thinking that I wished I could BE Superman, but I knew I couldn’t because I didn’t have white skin and blue eyes. But now, they’re literally in the middle of making a movie with a Black superman. That happened because there are people of all backgrounds working in media now.

My Sikh background definitely is a big part of why I am so passionate about representation. Sikhi preaches equality between everyone and says that everyone is on equal footing. No one is born better or worse than anyone else.

What advice would you give to young Sikhs who are interested in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry?

I would say two things. The first piece of advice is to lean into your story. Today, more than ever, entertainment has become very personal. If you look at comedy, some of the most popular stand-up comedians are doing an incredible job turning their personal stories into amazing work that we all love. Think of shows like Master of None or Ramy. They are all very personal. They’re telling their stories and leaning into what made them different, and they’re finding the humor in that. This is also true of drama of course.

Growing up, many of us were taught that there is shame around being different and that we should tell stories that fit a certain mold that’s expected and comfortable. But today, the opposite is true. Lean hard into what makes you different or unique. People appreciate that and are hungry for that right now.

My second piece of advice is more logistical for finding a job and building a career. If you are a young Sikh, chances are high that you do not have a famous movie producer for an uncle. I certainly didn’t. But, unfortunately, relationships like that are how a lot of people get into the entertainment industry.

People like us probably don’t have that option, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a network. You should absolutely be looking for any way in. There are plenty of other people in the industry who are like me. Don’t be afraid to reach out to us. All of us who are in the business know how hard it is. I can’t imagine anyone would hesitate to help someone who was genuine, hard-working, and talented. Reach out and use your network.


published this page in Turban Talk Blog 2022-02-16 17:13:00 -0500

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