Former Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi speaks about being brown and Muslim in America

    A planned one hour event ran almost twice as long Friday night, as The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi spoke about his religious evolution, career and more in Ryan Auditorium.

    According to South Asian Student Alliance (SASA) Co-President Justine Hung, about 200 students and community members attended the talk, SASA’s annual co-sponsored event with the Muslim Cultural Student Association (McSA). Mandvi talked for almost an hour, had a moderated conversation with history associate professor Dr. Rajeev Kinra and answered several audience questions.

    Throughout the whole event, Mandvi talked about heavy issues (like how he went back to his Muslim faith after 9/11) while mixing in humor (“and then suddenly, I was Muslim!”).

    “It’s hard to do comedy in the way we used to back in, I don't know, the early part of 2016,” Mandvi said, calling it “quaint” to make fun of former President George Bush years ago.

    Mandvi, who grew up in a Muslim household (there was never any alcohol in their home until his mother discovered Baileys, he said – then there was just Baileys), responded to Trump’s Muslim ban, joking that the Million Muslim March should surround Trump Tower, and that Trump “should build a wall of bacon – just a big wall of bacon” if he wants to keep Muslims out of America.

    Mandvi learned Arabic so he could read the Quran on the promise that his grandfather would pay for his college tuition (Mandvi did, but his grandfather didn’t), and after his family moved from England to Florida, he began to pursue acting. He moved to New York, saw success off Broadway (and won an Obie, an off-Broadway theatre award, for his one-man show) and played a slew of minor Indian characters on TV. He was hired on the spot by Jon Stewart after taping an impromptu segment.

    “It was the most visible gig I’d ever gotten,” Mandvi said about being on The Daily Show.

    Over ten years later, he has written a book, created a series of web shorts called Halal in the Family, which won a Peabody and was recently picked up by TBS as an animated series, and recently appeared in A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix as Dr. Montgomery Montgomery.

    Discussing his views on the current political situation, Mandvi displayed feelings of uncertainty and worry.

    “We’ve gone through the looking glass,” Mandvi said about Trump’s presidency. “It’s like life has become a reality TV show.”

    Mandvi also talked about the dangers of living in a political bubble and how working at The Daily Show under Jon Stewart was “always about finding the bullshit,” no matter what the political leaning. He touched on the double standards of race (“a white guy can walk into a place with an AR-15 and it’s like, it’s just bad parenting”) and how, in England in the ‘70s, he “had no brown role models. All my role models were white.”

    “He’s well known for his role in The Daily Show, and he’s versatile,” Hung said. “He’s been a writer, a producer and an actor, and we thought it’d be cool to see his perspective – and being South Asian in a field where you don’t see as many Asians, both East Asian and South Asians. We thought that was something he could really talk about.”

    Audience members seemed to agree with Hung.

    “I thought he did a really good job of pacing it in terms of it being about his South Asian Muslim identity, but also his career in entertainment – he wove those things in together pretty well,” Weinberg junior and former SASA board member Chandra Muthiah said. “It was a very real story of a guy losing touch with his faith and what brought him back to it. I feel like that’s not a story you hear often, so it was really cool to hear that.”

    For some, like communication junior and aspiring filmmaker Abitha Ramachandran, Mandvi’s experiences in and thoughts about show business were insightful and struck a chord.

    “I really liked what he said about brown or minority artists having to be held to a higher standard in their art,” Ramachandran said. “They have to make sure it’s an accurate and good representation of their community because there are so few of them to help carry that burden that the few that are in the artistic world need to make sure what they put out is not going to be used to support a bigoted agenda.”

    Others agreed with his message, but not his methods.

    “I didn’t necessarily agree with everything he said or the way that he presented things, but it was still nice to have a Muslim voice on campus – a well-known Muslim voice,” Weinberg sophomore Maryam Salem said. “He didn’t really say anything I didn’t already know. But, I still think it’s useful for people who aren’t Muslim and don't come from that background, introduced to them a new perspective, because he’s very liberal and not what you would expect a Muslim to be.”


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