Glee’s Principal Figgins aka Iqbal Theba

When my next-door neighbors decided to throw a raucous party this past Friday night that included (terrible) karaoke versions of N’SYNC, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, I went to Twitter for some relief. While scrolling down the page, I noticed the television show ‘Glee,’ was among the top ‘Trending Topics’ on Twitter. I’d heard much about Glee, which features Matthew Morrison as Will Schuester, a Spanish teacher at McKinley High School in Limo, Ohio who coaches a bunch of misfits as the director of the school’s glee club. Now’s a better time than any to start watching a new show that’s all about singing, I thought to myself as the neighbors burst forth into a fresh rendition of Jay Sean’s Down (That they precluded by saying “Oh man, I didn’t know that dude was Indian.”)

Ever since Glee came out on Sept. 9, my friends have been obsessed with it. I’d resisted till Saturday, because who really wants to see another High School Musical except for my tween cousins? (I didn’t mention I spent the better part of high school singing acapella, did I?) Much to my surprise, the show, despite the occasional annoying stereotype (the sassy black diva singer, the stupid quarterback, the fashionable gay guy), was entertaining. I didn’t much appreciate its approach to teen sexuality (there’s much celibacy-lambasting that parents of high school youth will most certainly take offense at). But by the show’s end, I was loving the character of Principal Figgins played by Iqbal Theba.You might remember Theba from this episode of Friends.

According to the entry on the Internet Movie Data Base, Theba worked as a waiter, dishwasher and cook after emigrating from Karachi, Pakistan in the early 80′s and went on to study acting at the University of Oklahoma after first getting his degree in civil engineering. His work in television is impressive. He’s appeared in Weeds, ER, Nip/Tuck, Two and a Half Men and Chuck among other shows.

On Glee, Theba’s character, the poker-faced Principal Figgins (who sounds exactly like my dad, ha) is obsessed with keeping the school’s budget under check. Gotta love his one-liners. Anyone else a Principal Figgins fan? I’d be curious to know how a character with a clear South Asian accent got the name Figgins. Also, in episode 2, “Showmance” there’s a scene that implies Figgins may be Christian. After the glee club performs a risque number in front of the entire student body, Figgins says, “I took the liberty of calling my pastor to provide a list of family-friendly songs that reflect our community’s values.” Whoa, Nellie. Stop the presses. Could Figgins (*gasp) be a Pakistani Christian? (If so, I still want to know where he got that last name. ‘Cause I don’t know any Figgins…)

Check out the first episode of Glee, on Hulu:

35 thoughts on “Glee’s Principal Figgins aka Iqbal Theba

  1. I find it funny that his background is somewhat ambiguous on the show. Apparently the surname Figgins is an English name so maybe he is English…without the accent? Wonder if they will address this in future episodes. The East Asian student in Glee Club isn’t getting much attention at this point either.

  2. A similar but reverse situation is in the film The Princess Diaries. The high school principal’s name is Ms. Gupta, but she’s played by Sandra Oh, who is of Korean descent.

  3. The high school principal’s name is Ms. Gupta, but she’s played by Sandra Oh, who is of Korean descent.

    Clearly the writer said she was Asian and the casting director got them an Asian.

    If the writer said she was Indian she would have been played by a member of the Cherokee nation.

  4. I went to high school with a Pakistani Christian who also had an anglicized name. He told me most of the Christians in Pakistan have similar names, so this could explain the surname Figgins.

  5. Maybe Sandra Oh’s character just married a Mr. Gupta? Maybe the family of Mr. Figgins chose to name him in the matriarchal lineage? Maybe he was adopted? Maybe? Oh, I give up.

  6. I think they are trying to bring out the funny without explicitly stating that the guy’s ethnicity. Vik Sahay mentioned something about this in the interviews Cicatrix posted. Moreover, a lot of older South Asians do have a faux British accent – that could explain the last name as well.

  7. “He told me most of the Christians in Pakistan have similar names”

    Well, yes, there are anglicized names, but haven’t heard that one in particular. I’ll have to double-check with the parents :)

  8. glee is an awesome show, and principal figgins is fantastic.

    although it does kind of bother me that as of late we’ve seen a ton of south-asian actors on mainstream shows who dont have south-asian names. kal penn on house was “lawrence kutner”, aziz ansari on parks and recreation is “tom haverford”, mindy kaling on the office is “kelly kapoor”…and yes kapoor is definitely a south asian last name, but still.

    just strange that we’d make it all the way to a show, but they cant use south asian names.

  9. I always figured Kelly Kapoor’s real first name was something she was afraid nobody could pronounce, so she came up with an American version. All the Asian kids in my high school did the same thing…

  10. I guess my dad was right – Desis are caucasians, and he had every right to check “white” in the box for race.

    In hollywood, some ethnicities are white (Italians, Jews, Irish, sometimes greek) and soem are not (blacks, some but not all Hispanics). Lawrence kutner and Tom Haverford are opening the door for desis (Tamils even!) to play average American roles.

  11. The part probably was written for a generic Mr. Figgins, and then the producers happened to cast this South Asian actor. Kudos to them for not immediately changing the name to Mr. Patel and adding a bunch of dumb Indian jokes.

  12. although it does kind of bother me that as of late we’ve seen a ton of south-asian actors on mainstream shows who dont have south-asian names. kal penn on house was “lawrence kutner”, aziz ansari on parks and recreation is “tom haverford”, mindy kaling on the office is “kelly kapoor”…and yes kapoor is definitely a south asian last name, but still.

    Mindy Kaling is actually a writer on “The Office,” so she probably thought to keep an Indian name on the character that she wrote for herself. The other shows the Indians aren’t writers as far as I know, so the presumably not South Asian writing staff likely just didn’t care.

  13. It’s great to see more desi–esp. Pakistani actors:)

    I saw the pilot episode of Glee this summer and loved it… but I’m a huge musical theatre dork:)

  14. Maybe Iqbal will pull a John Stamos and ask for the character’s name to be changed. When Full House started Uncle Jesse’s last name was Cochran, Stamos made the producers switch it to Katsopolis to reflect his Greek heritage at the end of the first season.

  15. Figgins totally got in touch with his desi side on the last episode where is blackmailed based on an ad he did for Mumbai airlines with bollywood music playing in the background..hilarious!

  16. “although it does kind of bother me that as of late we’ve seen a ton of south-asian actors on mainstream shows who dont have south-asian names. kal penn on house was “lawrence kutner”, aziz ansari on parks and recreation is “tom haverford”, mindy kaling on the office is “kelly kapoor”…and yes kapoor is definitely a south asian last name, but still.”

    A name like ‘Kelly Kapoor’ isn’t that out of the question at all, especially amongst indo-Caribbeans. In fact is probably more common than “Vera Mindy Chokalingam” turning into ‘Mindy Kaling’.

    And regarding Kal Penn’s character being named ‘Lawrence Kutner, I’m sure that was tied into his character’s biography (I believe he was adopted).

  17. The latest episode of Parks and Recreation explains the mystery behind the Tom Haverford name for Aziz Ansari’s character..no spoilers but during a heart to heart tete-a-tete..Aziz Ansari reveals that he was born Abdul something something Ghani (some long desi name I could not catch) but changed it to Tom Haverford to avoid being stereotyped, so much for that mystery! Prof. Figgins definitely desi character based on the ad he did for Mumbai Air in hindi that the gym teacher uses to blackmail him!! The plot thickens..

  18. “although it does kind of bother me that as of late we’ve seen a ton of south-asian actors on mainstream shows who dont have south-asian names. kal penn on house was “lawrence kutner”, aziz ansari on parks and recreation is “tom haverford”, mindy kaling on the office is “kelly kapoor”…and yes kapoor is definitely a south asian last name, but still.

    just strange that we’d make it all the way to a show, but they cant use south asian names.”

    And what pray, is a typical south asian name? & come to that, what’s the big deal? Granted Kutner and Haverford are not typical south asian names but I like the fact that they are not doing the cliched let’s have an unpronounceable bizarre name for the south asian character.

  19. Let’s not forget Baljeet Patel from Phineas and Ferb on Disney.

    http://phineasandferb.wikia.com/wiki/Baljeet_Patel

    Love the excerpts from the bio:

    “Baljeet is great at math, passive, and very polite. He enjoys trivia, learning, and has a compelling need to get good grades.”

    His friends have nicknamed him, “Jeet.”

    Baljeet believes that a failed math test is the “scariest thing known to man”

  20. Iqbal Theba is also playing the israeli dad on the new show “Community” now, he sure is on a roll! More power to him..I remember seeing him as Dr.Sundaram on “Everyone loves Raymond” too..

  21. I’ve met a Pakistani-American who was a Christian. She told me her family came from Karachi.

  22. okay i LOVED mr figgins, but i had no idea he was a karachiite!! he and dilshad vadsaria from greek officially make karachi proud haha. there are christians in pakistan but most are of goan or punjabi descent so they either have portuguese or punjabi (= very south asian sounding) names…maybe he’s supposed to be anglo-indian? i think they have british names. but yeah i wish desis on tv could be shown as ordinary Americans while having desi names, like other asians are, but either way, mr figgins is AWESOME! :)

  23. I’d jst like to say that it’s definitely possible to have a white name and be from Pakistan. I’m Christian and my family is from Karachi (my last name is Peter). :) But yea, i love love LOVE principal figgins!! he makes me proud to be a Paki haha and his one-liners are hilarious XD

  24. Haha! I effin’ love Mr.Figgins. Btw, I don’t get the “gasp” in refrence to their bring Christians in Pakistan. There are churches,synagogues and temples in Pakistan.

    Oh and btw? Jay Sean is Pakistani as well. His parents are from a town in Pakistan called Jhelum.

  25. I happpened here after watching a rerun of the “Intro to Film” episode of Community, in which Iqbal Theba features prominently. His character is an Arab… it’s refreshing to see an Arab character with a South Asian accent, rather than the lame Arab accents that most South Asian characters end up with!

    I’ve met several Pakistani Christians, one of them, who was of Punjabi background was called ‘Aaliya Fancy’ — she’d laugh and say it’s Nancy, with an F, her husband, also Pakistani was named Philip.

  26. I guess Figgins is probably a south asian of european descent, aka “anglo indians”, “anglo pakistanis”. In short, we got some vanilla mixed with our chocolate. Proud to have someone like that representing my community :D .

  27. IM A TOTAL GLEEK! yeah, Figgins might be from English descent. I’m indian, and Catholic…and sort of offended that you always think we’re either Hindu or Muslim. That’s stereotypical….We don’t ALWAYS have to follow those two religions. It depends on where you’re from in India. Both my parents are from south india..and Catholic. So yeah. Don’t ever assume we’re always Hindu or Muslim or something….we can be born in Christian families… it’s totally possible.

  28. Where is he??? My favorite GLEE character is missing, AGAIN! Sue needs to get out of that office! Is he coming back?????

  29. i was so disapointed today…there was a live chat with The director Ulrich on oxygen and i asked him the following question : Glee has been an advocate for Christianity and Judaism ,all the races , and even sexual orientations (mostly anything that could be discriminated against). Don’t you think that Glee should present a Muslim character to help end the discrimination and the misunderstanding of the religion and help us to understand what’s moderate what’s not ? guess what ? i got ignored plus some gleeks started attacking me stating comments like :”that no muslim should be on the show” or “did ou forget 9/11 “or “i hope they block you” “nobody cares about your queston”"you are asking political question “–i mean what political about it will there be a muslim caracthr on the show or not ?simpe question! …ect and to be fair a guy named jonah found the question interesting and said that wouldn’t be a bad idea and others thought that figgins was a muslim caracther which he’s not butthe question brought me here… anyway by watching glee every week i learned the acceptance even some things that weren’t discussed or looked at in my religions …the show opened my eyes to some realitites and fell in love with it but i was really disapointed with the fact that there are muslims in high schools getting bullied but glee hasn’t tought of adressing the subject? i personally felt cyber bullied just by being an hour on that chat…thanks for the interresting article…much love

  30. i was so disapointed today…there was a live chat with The director Ulrich on oxygen and i asked him the following question : Glee has been an advocate for Christianity and Judaism ,all the races , and even sexual orientations (mostly anything that could be discriminated against). Don’t you think that Glee should present a Muslim character to help end the discrimination and the misunderstanding of the religion and help us to understand what’s moderate what’s not ? guess what ? i got ignored plus some gleeks started attacking me stating comments like :”that no muslim should be on the show” or “did ou forget 9/11 “or “i hope they block you” “nobody cares about your queston”"you are asking political question “–i mean what political about it will there be a muslim caracthr on the show or not ?simple question! …ect and to be fair a guy named jonah found the question interesting and said that wouldn’t be a bad idea and others thought that figgins was a muslim caracther which he’s not butthe question brought me here… anyway by watching glee every week i learned the acceptance even some things that weren’t discussed or looked at in my religions …the show opened my eyes to some realitites and fell in love with it but i was really disapointed with the fact that there are muslims in high schools getting bullied but glee hasn’t tought of adressing the subject? i personally felt cyber bullied just by being an hour on that chat…thanks for the interresting article…much love

  31. i was so disapointed today…there was a live chat with The director Ulrich on oxygen and i asked him the following question : Glee has been an advocate for Christianity and Judaism ,all the races , and even sexual orientations (mostly anything that could be discriminated against). Don’t you think that Glee should present a Muslim character to help end the discrimination and the misunderstanding of the religion and help us to understand what’s moderate what’s not ? guess what ? i got ignored plus some gleeks started attacking me stating comments like :”that no muslim should be on the show” or “did ou forget 9/11 “or “i hope they block you” “nobody cares about your queston”"you are asking political question “–i mean what political about it will there be a muslim caracthr on the show or not ?simple question! …ect and to be fair a guy named jonah found the question interesting and said that wouldn’t be a bad idea and others thought that figgins was a muslim caracther which he’s not butthe question brought me here… anyway by watching glee every week i learned the acceptance even some things that weren’t discussed or looked at in my religions …the show opened my eyes to some realitites and fell in love with it but i was really disapointed with the fact that there are muslims in high schools getting bullied but glee hasn’t tought of adressing the subject? i personally felt cyber bullied just by being an hour on that chat…thanks for the interresting article…much love