dishin' it

Parvesh Cheena on sexy comics, being “queer as can be,” and his brilliant drag name

Image Credit: Getty Images

Parvesh Cheena is everywhere these days, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The gay, Indian-American actor was born in the suburbs of Chicago to Punjabi immigrant parents. After studying musical theatre at the Chicago College of Performing Arts, Cheena relocated to Los Angeles where he began building a robust career in film, television, and voice work.

His first big breakthrough came when he booked a series regular role on the NBC sitcom, Outsourced, where he played one of the employees at an Indian call center for an American novelties company.

Since then, he’s appeared in *deep breath* Arrested Development, The Goldbergs, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Fresh Off The Boat, Craig Of The Creek, Connecting, Mythic Quest, Centaurworld, Shining Vale, and The Resort—just to name a few.

Like we said: Parvesh Cheena’s everywhere! He was even in Park City, Utah last month at the Sundance Film Festival, in support of his new indie comedy Sometimes I Think About Dying, in which he stars opposite Daisy Ridley.

It was at Sundance that Queerty caught up with Cheena and made him the latest guest in our rapid-fire Q&A series, Dishin’ It. Honest and hilarious as always, the actor touched on everything from living his musical theater fantasy to his Drag Race dreams to the Marvel character who made him feel some type of way.

Is there a piece of media/pop-culture—whether a movie, TV series, book, album, etc…—that you consider a big part of your own coming-out journey? Why does it stand out to you?

Well, in terms of coming out through my work, I’ve started to play characters who just feel very close to me—I don’t even want to stretch anymore! Like, this is the level of queerness you’re getting. I have had my partner say like, “Was your character gay?” And it’s like, “I don’t know, probably!”

And I bring that up because on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I played Sunil, whose wife had died and he had kids, I remember. And that’s the most I really took from it, otherwise I played him like me—like, I grew up to be a musical theater-referencing nerd, too! So I really just got to be myself, and that show really ways just full-on gay, musical theater history back and forth with Rachel Bloom. And that’s why I loved the show: Because you just got to be around other people form film and TV who were musical theater kids.

You were recently at Sundance where you were in a film called Sometimes I Think About Dying, which really nails both the good and the bad “office culture.” Have you ever had a job like that, or just one that felt like a slog to get through—even if it wasn’t at an office?

No, and you know what? I totally used Outsourced as a reference. And I even would tell them, like, “I have some experience filming an office comedy?” But filming the movie was a lot like Outsourced without having to do an accent or trying to dramaturg like, “Wait, what do they do in India?”

Parvesh Cheena with his ‘Sometimes I Think About Dying’ crew at Sundance | Image Credit: Getty Images

Anyone who follows you on social media will know you’re a pretty big Drag Race fan! If you were to ever do drag/compete on the show, what would the Parvesh drag experience be? What types of challenges would you excel in?

Well, I would definitely keep the beard! Now that we’ve seen some bearded queens on international seasons, that would definitely be my type. Like, oh my god, Danny Beard from UK was brilliant!

And I’ve come up with so many names over the years. I really always liked Sari Mydear—mostly because when I would inevitably be eliminated the first week, RuPaul would have to say, “Sari Mydear, sorry my dear, you are up for elimination.”

All of the other ones are silly, obvious cultural names—like I’m a white writer from the ’90s—like Chicken Tikka Masala. And my worst one, which is borderline cancelable, is not just Malala, but: He Named Me Malala.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Recently, there’s been talk of the word “queer,” and the fact that certain groups of people would rather block its use, to which you defiantly tweeted, “I’m as queer as can be.” What does it mean to you to be able to say that? Why is it important for you to be out as an actor in the industry?

Well, we do have to remember, to older generations, it’s still a bad word. But I like having a little, quick, all-encapsulating term. So, I’m queer. I’m also a cis gay man—I’m too this side of “damaged Gen X” to really play with gender fluidity and norms. But I do like “queer” because I think it encapsulates all of us—we know what it is, but we also know what it isn’t: It’s not a cisgender, hetero-normative life.

I think that we’ve seen some queer people who are like, “Oh my gosh, should I be more gay? Should I be bi, should I be more poly, should I—,” and it’s like, “No, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do!” And that’s why this simple, broad term works, because it lets you be who you want to be—and it can totally change, too! Who cares?

But that’s also the thing that scares people because they can’t really put us into a box. You know, “What are your genitals? Who do you like?” Who f*cking cares, you know?

Image Credit: Getty Images

Who’s a fictional character you had a crush on at a younger age? What do you remember loving about them?

Quicksilver! Pietro Maximoff, the son of Magneto from the Marvel comics—or, maybe he’s not his son in the retro-continuity, depending on what comics you’re reading. But oh my god, that white hair? I loved him.

Before Bobby Drake’s Iceman or North Star or other modern Marvel characters came out, I’ll always remember this specific moment in the comics. Quicksilver used to be married to Crystal of The Inhumans, and the comic was alluding to the two of them having sex! His shirt was half ripped off, and Crystal was like, “Pietro, for once, can you slow down?”

And I just remember, because he was the speedster, he must’ve been f*cking her fast! I was like, “oh my god!” I’ll never forget that—it was formative.

Who is a queer or trans artist/performer/creator that you think is doing really cool work right now? Why are they someone we should all be paying attention to?

Well, I’m going to shout out my friend Karan Soni who is texting me right now. I remember I first met Karan when he was doing the CBS Diversity Showcase—a lot of us improvisors and actors have done it. It was a different time, it’s all changed now, even within five, ten years.

But I remember that they were pushing Karan to do an Indian accent in some sketch. The idea was that they wanted everyone to showcase the types of roles they would be cast in. But it was Karan’s year that he and Nicole Byer and others were like, “But we’re not these people!” And it was just wonderful to see them stand up to that!

And I was just thinking about this, because I’ve never really been in the closet, but I just thought it was irrelevant to being a character actor. I thought I’d be like Nathan Lane—honestly, all my character inspirations were white. So, for Karan to say, “Well, you can be gay and Indian in this industry!,” it’s like, “F*ck, he’s right!” It’s just so different now. And I’m just so proud of what he’s done with his career so far.