Mandvi at the 2010 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival
|Born||Aasif Hakim Mandviwala
March 5, 1966
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
|Occupation||Actor, comedian, writer|
'Halal in the Family' will expose a broad audience to some of the realities of being Muslim in America. By using satire, we will encourage people to reconsider their assumptions about Muslims, while providing a balm to those experiencing anti-Muslim bias. I also hope those Uncles and Aunties out there will crack a smile!
People lament that there's no roles being written for South Asian or Muslim characters. But their parents don't want their children to go into the entertainment field. You don't get it both ways.
The great joy of doing 'The Daily Show' for me is that I get to sit on the fence between cultures. I am commenting on the absurdity of both sides as an outsider and insider. Sometimes I'm playing the brown guy, and sometimes I'm not, but the best stuff I do always goes back to being a brown kid in a white world.
For my parents' generation, the idea was not that marriage was about some kind of idealized, romantic love; it was a partnership. It's about creating family; it's about creating offspring. Indian culture is essentially much more of a 'we' culture. It's a communal culture where you do what's best for the community – you procreate.
I did a play called 'Disgraced' in 2012 at Lincoln Center, which ultimately won the Pulitzer Prize. I played the lead character, a Muslim American, who had renounced Islam and became very anti-Islam.
It is ironic that it doesn't matter how successful I am in any other capacity: ultimately, my parents' marker is 'Do you have a wife?' and 'Do you have children?'
I always used to watch 'The Daily Show,' and there were all these comedic geniuses there. I didn't know if I was going to be hired full time or not. At the beginning, I was sort of hired as a part time, on and off guy. When I first got hired – it was August 2006 – and I was working on and off, and they'd call me whenever.
I rarely went to the mosque, I never fasted, and I only prayed namaaz on the holy nights because my mom bugged me about it.
When you're a standup comic, you get up and you try stuff, and you're always kind of seeing how far you can push things.
My family is Muslim. But I don't consider myself a very devout Muslim, but a cultural Muslim, whatever that means.
I'm Muslim the way many of my Jewish friends are Jewish: I avoid pork, and I take the big holidays off.
In Britain, you never get away from the fact that you're a foreigner. In the U.S., the view is it doesn't matter where you come from.
I think I would like to see more roles for South Asian performers that are more inclusive and part of the American Diaspora, the American tapestry, perhaps the way that African American and Hispanic roles have developed.
I go to Buzzfeed and 'Huff Po,' IMDB, 'Deadline.' And then I just Google myself, like 'Aasif Mandvi in a hat,' and see what comes up.
When I was 11 my friend's mom made a peanut butter sandwich. I ate the sandwich and was like, 'I'm never eating anything else again.' And I still eat peanut butter every day. I would put peanut butter on a steak.
I've actually changed my view of Los Angeles. When I was younger, I hated it, because I thought it was fake and superficial. As I've gotten older, I've found that to be absolutely true, but I don't care.
If you don't acknowledge differences, it's as bad as stereotyping or reducing someone.
In America, people think being South Asian is still kind of exotic. When you go outside New York and Chicago and L.A., there are people who have never tried Indian food… they've never even tasted it!
They wanted to audition people for the Middle East correspondent on 'The Daily Show.' They wanted to hire somebody ethnic for that slot. Helms had left, Cordry had left, and they felt that they needed an ethnic face. So, I went in and auditioned, and I got the job.
I figure if people don't want to make the distinction between a Muslim and a terrorist, then why should I make a distinction between good scared white people and racists?
The experience of being on a show that is very much in the center of popular culture is exciting. You really feel like you're reaching people.
The longer I spent time on 'The Daily Show,' standing in front of a green screen pretending to report from war zones and hot spots around the world – most often from somewhere in the Middle East – the more I began to realize that 'The Daily Show' was radicalizing me.
Religion is so much more than the god you pray to. The religion that you associate with, it's culture, it is family, it is background. That is something that I have always grown up with.
The pleasure from acting comes from having great writing to work with. If it's well written and the character is interesting, then, as an actor, that's the raw material I need.
The average Indian doesn't care about Hollywood movies because they have far too many movies of their own to watch, to miss, and I hope a story like 'Million Dollar Arm,' that is actually about India and deals with these two Indian kids, resonates over there and makes people want to go and see the movie.
I always focused on being an actor. I did stand-up briefly, but I also did a lot of dramatic work. But since I've been on 'The Daily Show,' people think I'm a comedian. That's not how I see myself.
I'm free to see things objectively because I don't consider myself American, and I don't consider myself British or Indian. I'm kind of an amalgam or mongrel of a lot of different places and experiences. In a lot of ways it's been a good thing for me. It's enabled me to do what I do on 'The Daily Show.'
I'm a little bit like a turducken: I'm sort of like an Indian person, wrapped in a British person, wrapped in an American kind of thing.
In order to change the conversation about Muslims in American media, we need a diverse, unified movement of people who are willing to take a stand against anti-Muslim bias.
Being American and being an outsider at the same time, it's a perspective I often bring to a character.
What's great about 'The Daily Show' is I can use satire and push the envelope. I couldn't do that anywhere else. Even if I was a journalist.
My tenure at 'The Daily Show' started during the decade after September 11, and fear of Muslims was at an all-time high. Politicians and the media seemed to dial the fright, mistrust, and animosity up to a fever pitch to gain votes and ratings.
I never consciously got into comedy. It was sort of one of those things where I was a theater student, I was acting, I was doing comedy, I was doing dramatic stuff, so it's been something that I've always done and enjoyed doing and had an instinct to be relatively good at.
Traditional television as we have known it will make love to the Internet and have a child. That child will be the future. It's already happening, and it's hot!
An artist's job is simply to take the mirror in front of your face and hold it there. It's not to give you any answers. It is simply to take that mirror and point it at you.
You can talk about and think about Muslims as you want, but you can't stop Muslims from building a mosque. You can hate Muslims from the comfort of your house or publicly, but when that becomes stopping Muslims from building a mosque or worshipping, then we are crossing the line into something else.
I think Islam has been hijacked by the idea that all Muslims are terrorists; that Islam is about hate, about war, about jihad – I think that hijacks the spirituality and beauty that exists within Islam. I believe in allowing Islam to be seen in context and in its entirety and being judged on what it really is, not what you think it is.
One of the first auditions I had in New York was for a commercial where I had to go in and audition to be a snake charmer… It was either some bank commercial or something where they wanted a guy charming a snake… I remember they wanted to know if I actually knew how to snake charm.
I've always said I'm the worst representative of Muslim-Americans that's ever existed, because I've been inside more bars than mosques.
When I got to Florida, I was a British kid, but I was also an Indian kid: a brown kid with an English accent. Talk about being an outsider. And that's become the theme of a lot of the stuff I write about.
The artist never really has any control over the impact of his work. If he starts thinking about the impact of his work, then he becomes a lesser artist.
One thing I always did in my career was writing. I always was writing. I was trying to create things. For myself, for other people.
I was born in Mumbai, but I grew up in England, and then my adulthood has been in the States. I'm an American stuffed with an English person with an Indian person inside. I feel like those things kind of inform me in some way, which I think helps me as an actor.
That's the Indian in me – you must put spices on everything. As a kid, whenever we got sick, my mom would take milk and put turmeric in it. That was our medicine. That was the cure-all. Some people turn to Robitussin.
I worked with Ismail Merchant on 'The Mystic Masseur,' I did 'Sakina's Restaurant,' I've done plays, I've been on Broadway, I've done movies, I've done TV… but nothing has had the pop culture penetrative impact as 'The Daily Show' has. It's the nature of the beast.