It has, of course, been an interesting year for the Philadelphia Inquirer, what with employee buyouts, the Mohammed cartoon controversy, and a change in ownership. (Twice.) Even with all the drama, though, the most unexpected development took place this spring: Somebody on staff apparently got the okay to be funny.
That would be Tirdad Derakhshani, who writes the paper’s newly named celebrity gossip column “SideShow” (recently changed from “Newsmakers”). Since taking it over, Derakhshani has managed to make the column literate, sophomoric and oddly compelling. To wit: When Country Weekly published its list of sexiest male artists, Derakhshani predicted: “You’ll see! Someday the New York Review of Books will release its list.”
Yeah, Jon Stewart’s job is probably safe, but Derakhshani, 39, has at least given the Inky — once worth about as many laughs as the Khmer Rouge — a regular, if tiny, shot of irreverence. “It comes from when I was in grad school,” he says. “I had to develop a sense of humor about always feeling like I was too stupid or behind.”
Born in Iran and raised in London and North Jersey, Derakhshani started as a clerk at the Inky while an undergrad at Penn. A few years ago, after the grad-school hiatus — he’s working on a Ph.D. in religious studies — he returned to the paper. One of his jobs was to edit “Newsmakers.” Meantime, his bosses decided it needed a single distinct, not entirely credulous voice — Derakhshani’s.
It helps that he has long been into movies and music — and that he became a TV junkie in grad school. “You’d have, like, eight hours straight of Hegel,” he says. “The only thing you could do is cook some spaghetti and zone out in front of the TV.” It also helps that so far, he’s been allowed to actually sound like himself.